Milton Babbitt

Milton Babbitt was an American composer, music theorist, and teacher. He is particularly noted for his serial and electronic music.

Born in Philadelphia, Babbitt attended New York University, where he studied music with Philip James and Marion Bauer. There he became interested in the music of the composers of the Second Viennese School and went on to write a number of articles on twelve tone music, including the first description of combinatoriality and a serial "time-point" technique. After receiving his bachelor of arts degree from New York University College of Arts and Science in 1935 with Phi Beta Kappa honors, he studied under Roger Sessions, first privately and then later at Princeton University. At the university, he joined the music faculty in 1938 and received one of Princeton's first Master of Fine Arts degrees in 1942.

Babbitt later became interested in electronic music. He was hired by RCA as consultant composer to work with their RCA Mark II Synthesizer at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (known since 1996 as the Columbia University Computer Music Center), and in 1961 produced his Composition for Synthesizer. Babbitt was less interested in producing new timbres than in the rhythmic precision he could achieve using the Mark II synthesizer, a degree of precision previously unobtainable in live performances.

Although he would eventually shift his focus away from electronic music, the genre that first gained for him public notice, by the 1980s, Babbitt wrote both electronic music and music for conventional musical instruments, often combining the two.

Babbitt's many honors include membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters; Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; the 1982 Pulitzer Prize, Special Citation, "for his life's work as a distinguished and seminal American composer"; and a MacArthur Fellowship (1986).