La Folia
Grant Chu Covell
January 1, 2015

I met Babbitt once. We shook hands as I received an award, one student among many others on a winter afternoon a long time ago. Babbitt was a great raconteur. However, the anecdotes I heard are not suitable for print. He wrote dense articles, and yet his music can have straightforward elegance (Composition for Twelve Instruments) or humor (All Set). Truly, All Set is a snazzy 12-tone piece for jazz ensemble. Were it scored for a Pierrot ensemble it might seem bone dry, and if a jazz combo were provided atonal charts, this wouldn’t be the result. Regardless, I can’t help but listen and grin throughout.

We must marvel that these six spry pieces span six decades. Correspondences aligns string orchestra with a tape of synthesized tones. The pointillist target practice reflects its time. This piece was once considered impossible to play; BMOP makes it easy. A scant four minutes, The Crowded Air’s 80 measures for Carter’s 80th birthday addresses a poem which Carter had set decades before. From the Psalter groups Psalms 13, 40 and 41. You might think that after Correspondences, Babbitt couldn’t present a winsome tune: not true. The composer of All Set grew up on American popular music and knew a thing or two about setting words to music.

Cover and booklet show Babbitt hanging out with the RCA Mark II synthesizer. The slipcase shows Babbitt with Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center heavyweights Vladimir Ussachevsky, Bülent Arel, Pril Smiley, Mario Davidovsky, Alice Shields and Otto Luening.