Milton Babbitt: An Elizabethan Sextette

Composer(s): Milton Babbitt
Album Title: Milton Babbitt: An Elizabethan Sextette 
Cat. No.: NWCR521
Genre: Classical
Release Date: 02/2007
Description: The Group for Contemporary Music; Harvey Sollberger, conductor; Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Alan Feinberg, piano; Daniel Shulman, conductor

This title, originally issued on the CRI label, is now available for order from New World Records as an on-demand CD (CD-R). You may select this disc for purchase by clicking the Add to Cart button on this screen.

Getting to know Milton Babbitt's music is like discovering a new world. For more than forty years Babbitt has been publishing compositions that explore the ramifications of Arnold Schoenberg's epochal insight, and each successive work opens up new vistas or reveals striking new perspectives within the twelve-tone universe. On first encounter, the rigours of twelve-tone composition might seem overwhelmingly restrictive, but Babbitt has used fundamental principles to create a realm in which each work is a fabulous voyage.

Babbitt's compositions are not merely the output of some generational system, the dependable product of some fixed métier. On the contrary, they reflect the constant recombination of a small number of principles, preoccupations, and predilections that may be traced through his entire oeuvre. These "musical genes," which range from technical abstractions to his love affair with the female voice, combine uniquely in each piece, yielding the balance between individuality and communality, local spontaneity and global inevitability, characteristic of each work and his work as a whole.

The present recording spans Babbitt's compositional career, touching on most of the musical veins that run through his work. The variety of his compositions is immediately apparent from their diversity of ensemble and scope; their underlying communality emerges upon greater familiarity. On first hearing, An Elizabethan Sextette and Playing for Time would appear to have little in common; yet they contain identical underlying abstract structures. About Time employs a simple variant of the same structure, and Groupwise contains structures closely related to those in the aforementioned works. Briefly put, these underlying structures are contrapuntal webs of twelve-tone rows, craftily woven together to yield a maximal variety of ways of combining segments of different rows into collections of the total chromatic. Supple enough to afford a wealth of different interpretations both of detail and mode of presentation, these contrapuntal networks nevertheless preserve certain recognizable large-scale attributes in all their incarnations. The markedly different surfaces of the various compositions using versions of one of these networks attest to their flexibility of interpretation, while their shared qualities allow the listener to hear each work as a new venture over familiar terrain.

Andrew Mead 
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