Milton Babbitt (1916-2011)

George Tsontakis just wrote to tell me that Milton Babbitt died this morning, just in time for me to get his death date into both my Ashley book and my introduction to the new edition of Cage’s Silence. I’ve written so much about him that I don’t have much left to say; it was a love-hate thing. I was looking up a reference in one of his Perspectives articles just this morning. The one time I met him (I was representing the ailing Nancarrow on a Babbitt/Nancarrow panel) he didn’t seem too thrilled. He was certainly a sharply-defined character. Had he not lived, we should have had to invent him.


  1. Eric Grunin says

    He was a man, take him for all in all,
    I shall not look upon his like again.

    KG replies: I saw him once. He was a goodly king – I should have said.

  2. Powell DeGange says

    We have recently learned that the American Musicological Society is hosting their upcoming conference at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. On June 8, 2010 employees at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco went on strike and called for a boycott of their hotel. We write to inform members of the AMS about the dispute and respectfully ask your organization to relocate the event to a different venue and to not eat, sleep or meet at the Hyatt Regency.

    The members of Local 2 have been struggling to renegotiate a contract that secures affordable health care and retirement benefits. In San Francisco, and in cities around North America, Hyatt Hotels is squeezing housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bellpersons, and others harder than ever, trying to lock in ever-higher profits as the hotel industry grows. In wage and benefit agreements over the last several decades, we have forgone larger wage increases to keep our medical benefits affordable for ourselves and our families. Now Hyatt is pushing proposals that would lock workers into a permanent recession even as Hyatt benefits from the economic recovery.

    Recent multi-city strikes represent a major escalation in a labor dispute involving Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have been the target of a number of major demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across North America this summer. Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt has become an obstacle to the recovery of working families. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009.

    On January 18th, 2011 Hyatt workers took to the streets to defend their Legal Fund from Hyatt hotel management. The Legal Fund protects members from evictions and foreclosures and facilitates legal immigration (citizenship, work permits and family reunification).

    In recent negotiations, Hyatt went backwards in their pension proposal and it has become abundantly clear that this labor dispute is going to continue well into next year.

    The AMS and its convention patrons are caught in the middle of this contentious labor dispute. The dispute will continue to escalate as will demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience actions and the on-going boycott, until workers secure a fair contract. AS members of the larger Bay Area Community we ask you to respect SF Hotel Workers and encourage your organization to avoid the labor dispute and meet at an alternate venue.

    For more information about hotel labor disputes in San Francisco, you can visit our website at Please contact us to address any questions and so that we may assist you in moving to a hotel not subject to a labor dispute.


    Powell DeGange

    415.864.8770, ext. 759

    Meetings and Conventions Department

  3. John Chesnut says

    I am sorry to hear about Milton Babbitt’s death, although I was never a serialist.

    I studied composition with Iain Hamilton years ago. He was in his atonal period, but he encouraged me to rely on my intuition. I liked your comments about Feldman and intuition, by the way.

    Hamilton introduced me to Babbitt. He probably thought that I would find Babbitt to be congenial, because I had a math degree. I found Babbitt to be personally likable. The intuition thing was a hangup for me, however. If I couldn’t compose intuitively, I couldn’t understand why I should be composing at all. If Duke had had a graduate program at that time I probably would have been well advised to have continued my studies with Hamilton. As it was, I just floundered.