Milton Babbitt, noted composer, theorist, electronic music pioneer, and Princeton’s William Shubael Conant Professor of Music emeritus died Jan. 29, 2011. He was 94.
Babbitt graduated from NYU in 1935, and joined the Princeton music faculty in 1938, earning an M.F.A. in 1942. In 1946, his avant-garde doctoral dissertation on the 12-tone system of modern composers was not accepted. Babbitt remained at Princeton and was instrumental in the music department’s rise to prominence in the postwar period. Along with complex orchestral compositions, he wrote for piano, voice, and chamber ensembles.
In 1965, he succeeded Roger Sessions as the Conant Professor of Music, and in 1984 he retired. A great teacher and mentor, he had extraordinary wit, encyclopedic knowledge, and was generous with his friendship.
Among his many honors, he received a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 1982 for his life’s work, and in 1986 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Princeton bestowed on him the James Madison Medal in 1986, and in 1991 the University gave him an honorary doctor of music degree (his sixth).
In 1992, the music department accepted Babbitt’s 1946 dissertation (now viewed as groundbreaking), and he finally received his Ph.D.
Babbitt was predeceased by his wife, Sylvia, whom he married in 1939. He is survived by his daughter, Betty Ann Duggan; and two grandchildren.
Graduate memorials are prepared by the APGA.