Composers' Forum: Milton Babbitt

Originally aired January 8, 1973 on WNYC with host Martin Bookspan

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

In this 1973 interview from the WNYC archives, Milton Babbitt speaks with legendary announcer Martin Bookspan. For a composer whose personality was unfairly characterized by the density of his theoretical writings and rigor of his serialist compositional techniques, he reveals a warm sense of humor and deep humility. When Bookspan hints about a hitherto untouched interview topic, Babbitt quips: "I insist upon you touching it though I can't even begin to infer as to what it might be. I'm frightened."

The musical portions of this show feature live concert recordings of performances that were not commercially available at the time, including excerpts from Philomel with soprano Bethany Beardsley; Relata I with the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Gunther Schuller; Sextets with pianist Robert Miller and violinist  Rolf Shulte; Sounds and Words for soprano and piano with soprano Bethany Beardslee and pianist Robert Helps; All Set with members of the Contemporary Chamber Ensemble conducted by Robert Weisberg; and String Quartet No. 4 with the Juilliard String Quartet.

In the 1970s, National Public Radio aired the series entitled Composers' Forum touting it as an interview show "where men and women involved in contemporary music listen to and discuss the music of our time." The host Martin Bookspan was already a key figure in the contemporary arts field having served as WQXR Music Director from 1956-67. He went on to become one of the most widely heard voices for classical music serving as the announcer of live telecasts and broadcasts from Lincoln Center, the Met and the New York Philharmonic.

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