Composer Snapshot

Milton Babbitt: Synthesized Music Pioneer

Performing with a pre-recorded electronic track is an increasingly popular demand on the modern flutist. Such works by Steve Reich (Vermont Counterpoint), Eve Beglarian (I will not be sad in this world), and JacobTV (Lipstick, The Garden of Love), just to name a few, have made a significant mark on the contemporary flute repertoire. The content of these pre-recorded tracks ranges from multi-tracked instruments to the composer’s own voice to digitally manipulated sound bytes and synthesized sounds. The live performer must learn to interact with these unwavering electronic counterparts.

Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) was a pioneer of the synthesizer and an important figure in American serial music.  Electronic serial composers experienced significant backlash for removing the human element of performance in favor of complete compositional control. Babbitt’s composition, Philomel (1964), was one of the first compositions to combine live performance with a tape part created by a synthesizer, thus helping to create a new performance medium. This genre has since expanded and found its own place in the modern repertoire. The following is a discussion of the collaboration that produced Milton Babbitt’s seminal 20th century composition, Philomel.

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Composer Snapshot: Sigfrid Karg-Elert

Sigfrid Karg-Elert (born Oberndorf am Neckar, 21 Nov 1877; died Leipzig, 9 April 1933) was a German composer and teacher whose most notable influences included Carl Reinecke, Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg, and Alexander Scriabin. Though he is known to flutists for the Thirty Caprices, op. 107 and Sonata Appassionata, op. 140, he primarily composed for the organ and the harmonium.

Karg-Elert’s early musical training began in Leipzig at age five. He participated in a church choir, learned to play the piano, and studied composition with the church cantor. In 1891, he enrolled in a teacher training course in Grimma where he learned to play the flute, oboe, and clarinet. Before completing his studies in Grimma, he moved to Markranstädt to work as a freelance musician. He returned to Leipzig in 1896 to study at the Conservatory as a student of Carl Reinecke, among others.

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