2.A.1. Rethinking Milton Babbitt’s “Serious Music” as Play Alison Maggart - 28 juin 2017, 11h00-11h30, amphithéâtre 5


Le 28 juin 2017
de 11h00 à 11h30

Le Patio (université de Strasbourg)
22 rue René Descartes, 67000 Strasbourg
amphithéâtre 5

Séance - Opposing Opposites in America: Babbitt and Reich

Pré-acte / Acte

Auteur : Alison Maggart

     For many scholars, it is evident that there is a deep sense of play, of immediacy, and of spontaneity in Babbitt’s compositions and that perceiving this dimension of the music is vital for experiential pleasure. Indeed, the rhetorics of play have often shaped the casual discourse on his music. Theorists characterize Babbitt’s compositions as witty, Haydnesque, and charming. They call attention to the interplay between different musical parameters and to the shimmering brilliance of the musical surface. Such language both reveals and influences how meaning in Babbitt’s music has been and is constructed. Yet, it has often been overshadowed by more emphatic pronouncements of the music’s “seriousness.”

     This paper traces why this has been the case and then explores what an interpretation of Babbitt’s music as “play” might entail. I argue that contemporary understandings of play have been informed by deconstructionist perspectives that preclude the ludic potential of formalist aesthetics. Insofar as “play” connotes ambiguity, dialogical engagement, and a dismantling of totalizing systems, absolute meaning, and authorship, it is perceived as antithetical to Babbitt’s agenda. Yet, conceiving Babbitt’s music as “play” not only emphasizes dimensions of the music that are often minimized (particularly within musicology)—his exploitation of serial ambiguities, linear indeterminacy, interplay of invariances, and witty titles—it also elucidates aspects of the experiential pleasure that listeners have intuited. Amid the collection of analytic priorities advanced by new musicology (subjectivity, pleasure, historicity, etc.), “play”—particularly as theorized by Gadamer—presents a new way of understanding and analyzing Babbitt’s music.

Musées de la Ville de Strasbourg
Opéra National du Rhin
Conservatoire de Strasbourg