Speaker That's a marvelous statement. There is one indeed. I don't have to say anything that if you got down eight. Yeah, well, then you don't need me. No, I'm serious. I'm not being sarcastic at all. I'm being very serious about that. I mean, that's exactly what I would say. But I wouldn't presume to say so if the stars can't. Look, I have star friends. Jimmy Lavone is one of my closest friends in the world. And we on Jimmy Lavonne is one of my dearest friends in the world. I've known Jimmy most of his life. We're very, very close. He had participated in the commissioning out in the performance of by the Metropolitan Orchestra. My second piano concerto, it was played at Carnegie Hall. But the union would not permit him to make a tape for me. I have no record of that performance. Now he's going to try to get it recorded. But do you know what that costs to have the Metropolitan Orchestra with Robert Talibe playing the piano to record my second concerto? I have no record. I can't even listen to it, let alone play it for anyone else. So that's that's a kind of problem. And if Jimmy Labi had he tried desperately to get some sort of release from the union, he couldn't get at the Metropolitan tried Carnegie Hall. Try. These are old, dear friends of mine. And I have other dear friends, people who are who are very important performers who can't do this. I mean, the record company, first of all, you have to confront the fact that for most conductors, they are not going to perform anything difficult because they don't want to do anything difficult. Then they won't have to listen to teach it to their men, most of whom be they Juilliard graduates. You're not in the orchestra rhythm and do not really want to play anything they haven't played before. And then you get to the boards of directors and then you get to the audiences. There are too many hurdles and those pieces can't get. Often don't get hurt at all or certainly don't get recorded. And they certainly don't get published. And how does music get disseminated? How do people study the scores? The answer is students come to Juilliard who have maybe heard of certain works, can't study them, don't know them, have no way acquainting themselves with it. It is a bleak picture. And the way anyone should pretend, it isn't a bleak picture. Now, the people who would say that it isn't a bleak picture are the people who are writing. I don't know what. I don't know what I was going to say. Look, Stephen Sondheim, I'll get back to him because Steve, again, is one of my dearest and oldest friends in the world and was a student of mine privately for many years. I said very much the same thing about the Broadway theater. I'm told a few weeks ago. So if you say, well, I mean and populism has taken over and perhaps it should be that way. And the people first then you've got it. I mean, the people have their music, after all. They haven't were drowned in it, were suffocated by it. I mean, there's never been a popular music is widespread. It's a popular music now. I mean, you compare the very simple one can only hold a rudimentary popular music of today with the music of the sort of Finnigan's and even Benny Goodman's and Boyd Rayburn's, the instrumental virtuosity of that music compared with the instrumental simplicity of this music. I mean, there's the state of music for me also because I had a great deal to do with popular music. I'm certainly had no sense of the word an elitist in that regard. I'd like to be an elitist, but here I am.

Speaker Is it interesting that the jazz at Juilliard is going to have a more formal if it's a good jazz program?

Speaker Of course. I mean, I know the program was two years away. As you probably know, I was very much involved in the jazz program at the New Haven Conservatory because that was gone. Sure. I'd got the Schuller is another. I'll say it again, one of my dearest friends in the world and one of the greatest conductors in the world and ask where he has an orchestra these days.

Speaker He doesn't. Gunther is one of the few people who can perform demanding music, and he has no orchestra. Mainly we have populars, conductors as well as populous audiences. Oh, you sing. You're gonna get in trouble if you're on any of this.

Speaker Well, you were saying that you knew James the one when he was very young. Yes, I did. Just because he was just afraid of off camera. He said that when he came to Juilliard.

Speaker He was I mean, he spoke us of, yes, dropping in on ourselves. So first class knew it all. It was just like he was speaking of it is I. I had some incredible, unique talent. He was just saying, oh, I passed out that class and passed out properly.

Speaker But I mean I mean, in terms of somebody he's a genius.

Speaker He is. He's incredible. The things that Jimmy can do and the number of things that he does. It's simply unbelievable. And I just love reproachfully the fact.

Speaker I mean, do you feel that Juilliard still is this sort of unbelievable high watermark? I mean, the kids now, kids that you talk to when you're there, do you feel that that that that level of thinking and musicality is still looking?

Speaker They're extraordinary performers, really incredible performers.

Speaker And I can say that since I've all I don't teach them, I don't have to deal with them. Asking me, is there a Jimmy Labi among them? Probably not. There's one Jimmy Lavonne and every little girl ever knows when this is an extraordinary, extraordinary person is very controversial among them. No.

Speaker But we're talking about singular, singular, singular talents. And I mean, I don't think why we should expect that there are there extraordinary young performers. And the thing that usually concerns me is extraordinary. Young performers have no way really of representing the composers. They may try to sometimes, by the way, their teachers are not too cooperative in this regard. And, you know, you want to cut that. But the fact of the matter is, they know perfectly well when they go out in the world, they had better build up their repertory that the people want to want to have played. Look, I know, for example. Of a member of the Juilliard faculty, one of the main instruments was one of the most famous instrumentalists in the world who wants desperately to play certain works that have been written for him or that he has and the orchestras, Lukashenko just won't let him play these concerto. He has to play the Mozart clarinet. And, you know, I'm talking about Clarinet Concerto over and over again. They won't even let him play the Sony Clarinet Concerto. I mean, he has to play the same piece over and over again. I can tell you any number of comparable cases with regard to performers who want to play music. That is not the most familiar music. And they're either stopped by conductors or audience or boards of directors and they just don't have a chance. I'm speaking of Charlie Knight. And I know that perfectly well. He wouldn't mind my saying this. He would love to play other pieces and he never has an opportunity to. And he's not the only one. I happened to mention him because he said that to me a few days ago and a few months ago and a few years ago.

Speaker And have you seen of Juilliard really change over that period of time that you've been affected by, affected by politics, affected by affected by lack of support years from the outside?

Speaker Yes, I've seen that very desperately, of course. Particularly the National Endowment, which now no longer, of course, is permitted. I think it's it's not permitted. I don't know exactly the link, the galleries of that to, for example, commission individual composers. They have to give money, not mainly to groups. And that means it goes to, if you forgive the word, bureaucrats who do more or less justify the existence of their particular organization by building audiences. And it's just, you know, the same criteria are played to whether sitcoms make it into next season or not. So I have seen that composers are a little desperate about what they're going to do. Yes, they are. And many of them leave musics. I've just today I was talking to celebrated writer on music and we were talking about three or four people who were extraordinary musicians who just decided the hell with it. They were leaving music and they did. They had gone into computers. They'd gone into other things entirely. This does happen.

Speaker They're driven out of music and they say we just get we know we we can't live this way and not nobody. But it's tell us, you know, if you want to compose, you will compose. This is, of course, a tautology. And one doesn't have to live with these people have no alternative. They can't do what they want to do solely and do something else. Don't know. This happens. And this has probably always been true in music, but it's perhaps a little more true today than it was when I can remember 30 years ago. No one can talk about how much better things were under the Depression, while, ironically enough, they were. Because we had WPA orchestras everywhere playing contemporary music, everybody was was had a job. Would you say they got very little money? But, you know, you could go out and buy a big O'Henry bar for three for a dime, you know, and you could also eat at the automat and much better food than you get in fast food places for very little money. So it was possible for people to survive very decently. And those depression days and I lived through all of that. There were WPA orchestras everywhere. You'd get up on a Sunday morning to say, where should I go to the Museum of Natural History or where should I go to hear this particular concert? It was all free, of course, also. So this is not to legislate for a depression, but a syndicate. You know, that obviously the atmosphere changes considerably depending upon the external forces. So, of course, and most of these kids and Julie are too uptight about composition. I'm sure it's performance, too. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? You know, in my day it was find a university job and there were lots of university jobs. Then they disappeared. Now they're shrinking. When people rhetorically university job, now they're not replaced because they're no students, because they're no students, because there are enough students from the first grade.

Speaker Now, let's strike a happy note. Yeah, I don't know. I don't know how high.

Speaker I wouldn't I wouldn't dare to delve into what you're having. That would be. You'll have to know. I have no idea. What's your. Well, I don't.

Speaker I don't have a happy over for most people. I mean, I can't talk about myself because, look, after all, I'm well past retirement at Princeton. I could retire from Juilliard eight days. So we don't have official retirement at my age. I don't think about that. You're likely to think about the way things have been and likely to be not sentimental about them, but realistic about it. But I think everything I've told you so far is merely factual, and I wish things were different. Of course, there are a few composers who are getting very good positions. Of course, there are a few composers who are being published, but I'm talking about all that are very, very few.

Speaker So tell me how happy he was about the non retirement parties here till the career has an on retirement policy.

Speaker You can you know, you teach till you drop if you want to. If you drop. If you ever drop. Well, I mean, for example, I Eustache Joe Policing when we were going to get signing bonuses. Does that mean anything to you? And and sports fan Joe, you know, is a great Yankee fan. And he's he's done a great deal for Julie.

Speaker And I'm very grateful for Joseph for any number of things that he's done. Above all, he's made the place a much more practical institution than it was when, I suppose I should say when I joined it. But here when I asked him about signing bonuses, Joe has a very realistic view of all of this. And I don't think I've said a certain single thing today with which he would disagree. He, after all, was an ex bassoonist. Why did he stop playing the bassoon? He was an excellent bassoonist. And his father, of course, was the first bassoonist. The harmonica came a great bassoon tradition. The Muslim tradition has stopped with Joseph. There you are.

Speaker That's not a happy note, but it aside. But you're saying that when you asked him about this, about the timing that it is he just left.

Speaker Of course. But you know what the signing bonus was? Some people don't. So I thought it might require explanation, but he'd he'd laughed only because, I mean, Juilliard can't afford to pay the salaries of university and he beat the first 10 minutes. So when people come to teach at Juilliard, it is with some degree of sacrifice. Sometimes people do it just because it's in many ways either more comfortable and more stimulating. For example, I'm going to be practical about I mean, if you're teaching companies from department at Juilliard, you don't have to worry about HD thesis. You don't have to worry about showing your independent work. You don't have to worry about school senior theses. You will have to worry about all the things that take a tremendous amount of time and energy when you're teaching at a great university.

Speaker I mean, I see Composers' and that's it. I sit with them each for an hour and these are very intense hours and it suffered for occasional forum every other week with a visiting composer and a singer, the composer, sometimes on an informal basis, advising somebody on a thesis. That's it. So in that sense, it's not as demanding as a university. It's more comfortable for many points of view. There's much more music going on around you, and that is stimulating and it is fun to have young. I mean, I do want to sound something inspirational is now, but it is wonderful. I'm young. Young performers around who come around and play for you and want you to hear what they've been doing. And they're marvelous performers, as I've said before. And the orchestra.

Speaker It's under the right conductor, can be one of the best orchestras in the world. All of that is great. But then you wonder what what's going to happen to all these wonderful kids?

Speaker Because there's nowhere for them to go.

Speaker Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. No, I and have a double double scotch and I didn't get anything.

Speaker You might have to say actually the line that I said when you said what's going to happen to all these wonderful kids, you might have to say the one sentence that I said, because who knows where they can go. I think that underneath.

Speaker But no, no joke. This is really. As I say, I was with her. All writer on music today for a lunch who's asked me, you know, what happened to so-and-so on songs, on someone's own songs, or they're actually extraordinary people. Well, one of them was made an offer by IBM that he couldn't resist. Another went off to Australia to teach someone some. And getting a university job these days is almost entirely an accident. Almost tiredly. A matter of right time, accident fortuity. That happens when you meet somebody at a certain point and that's. He thinks they're not sure there are just no openings at the moment.

Speaker So everyone's all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Speaker I mean, you can understand why this is diminishing at the university situation, has it's gotten worse and worse? And this is, by the way, not true only in music. This is not the part we were not discussing. It's happened in many of the so-called humanities.

Speaker What was your field in college? My field history and film.

Speaker Well, you're doing all right. You're doing OK.

Speaker Yeah, but it's true. I mean. But I was you know, I didn't flounder for very long. People that flounder. People that took time out to flounder, which is digitally floundering. It should be exploring. Had less. I mean, I always knew that I wanted to work. But, you know, but it's it's sad, this notion.

Speaker Well, look, I mean, I think I was just just talking to Amy before my oldest grandchild, my granddaughter went to college, honors society, summa cum out. All of that in developmental psychology because she was going to help children. She was going to take shelter only child development. And she spent one summer in a clinic for returning children with their parents and couldn't take it and went on and spent, took and then had a dreadful job with the Education Department of State of Massachusetts. Whereas you she was supposed to help children who just had minor problems with studies or minor problems with family. She found herself being called morning, noon and night, just function as substitute mother and all of this and think somebody came along, said, wouldn't you like to get into television production? She's now producing, what is it, this week? What is she producing? Amy, I think I told you the practice this week. It's the practice. Next week, she has to get up three or four o'clock in the morning very often, but she's got to practice stars starts.

Speaker Oh, really? Who's that again?

Speaker She would know that, but I don't. Well, anyhow. No, I know. So, you know, she's in showbiz, you know, she she's had a marvelous experience. She's even already acted in it commercial. So, you know. Yeah, exactly. And she's had offers from New York and from California. But she likes living on the Pacific, on the horizon Pacific. That's got the Atlantic Ocean.

Speaker I was thinking of my last anecdote that I'll bore you with. She had to go pick up a star from Hollywood and she offered to do it. She didn't have to go. She went to pick her up at the airport in Boston and bring her out. They were shooting sequence of something because I don't think you do a lot of shooting in Boston, a great deal of stuff in each other because it's cheaper. And she had to go pick up this moderate starlet. I don't know what was. And my my granddaughter Rober up and took her to her hotel. And there is the Atlantic Ocean and the storm and said, what lake is that? And my granddaughter said, well, it's not like that's the ocean.

Speaker She said, which one that is? I assure you.

Speaker Well, the more you get up there, the one very sort of positive. All right. Are we going to make that young man go back to work if never? I mean, what positive thing you can talk about is.

Speaker Your own love of music and see this in the minds of students will devote themselves to it. I mean, really, even if there's even if the payoff at the end of the day is potentially the self payoff?

Speaker Well, sure. I mean, obviously, one one one doesn't decide to write music. To talk about writing is a grand and plain. We all started by playing music. We wouldn't I don't know any composer who didn't begin by being a performer. So you begin I happen to be one of those who began at the age of four. I could write music about the. I mean, read music about the same time that I could read English maybe before maybe a little laughter. I'm not sure anymore. We all usually did. We usually felt, well, you know, when you've done that, you've already invested a great deal in music. And of course, there was never any question.

Speaker If you want me to be personal about this, about me and a love of music all through high school, I remember I came come from the very deep south where the whole cultural the whole cultural tradition where I come from is literary rather than music. And music was second. But literary first. I mean, we were made to feel that we were the last custodians of a great literary tradition. So, you know, this is why so many of our writers come from that part of the world, Mississippi I'm talking about and. Music, however, we all played. I mean, every one of my friends played, we had groups of all kinds. I mean, I made arrangements for everything from call, which you will New Orleans Jazz, with whom I played to dance bands and to be at our orchestras. And we had musicals and we had everything imaginable. And of course, I spent all my time. I spent all my time with music and very little else. But it was not a music school. It was a regular high school. And when I graduated from high school, unfortunately, at the age of fifteen, which was too early, but I did my father, who was a who was an academic and originally said to me, you know, why don't you go to his school of music? And I, by that time, had already seen so much of what went on at Curtis, where I had an uncle in and out. Another said, because enough for me, I'm going to go to university. And I went to a university for two very unhappy years where I didn't know music. And of course, I had to go back into music. I tell you this personally because of course, there is that. And my father said, look, you spent all your time in music anyhow. Why don't you do this? And when I went for two years of not doing music, I had uncles and aunts who said the same thing. Well, of course, you totally involved in music. And that's about the only way you can you can deal with it at a certain age. I was going to say I go back to our friend Jimmy Labi, and I mean, I'm sure he was more totally involved even than I because he was also a performer. I was a performer, but not a pianist. But, of course, he we you become aware at a certain moment in the moment. For me, it was when I came to New York and I discovered, as I said, that these students would come to Juilliard, either have discovered or will discover what music had become. How did it change? So in such fundamental ways, all of these things that one wanted to know about, the one I wanted to hear, that one wanted to experience, and for me, I mean, there was one score that changed my life, and that was a variations for Orchestra of Arnold Schoenberg. And after that, there was no question about where I was going to go and the way I've gone since. Naturally, that's what's going to happen. But I think that we should not be so vain as to think that happens only in music. It happens in other fields, too. I mean, this is the kind of thing that hits the eye. And I, I happen to know young mathematicians, for example, exactly the same thing. I lived with mathematicians during the war because I taught mathematics at Princeton during the war because because there was a war and I didn't know music and I wasn't able to go anywhere. The same kind of thing. They're totally consumed with this. And there is and there is this sense of being totally involved in music when you come to Juilliard. The one thing perhaps that one can say that you've asked me a question that I didn't answer adequately. Now, one way and one way in which Juilliard has changed is with its relations with Columbia University. Now, it has just been mentioned. I mean, the fact that a student at Juilliard can take genuine university courses at Columbia has tremendous effect because they discover that things that would help them enormously with thinking about music. And they go there usually with the same kind of selfishness, the right kind of selfishness. They want this to help them think about music. And they take certain courses in musical theory at Columbia or in philosophy or other fields which make them think more clearly about music. But it all is really focused on music. And if it isn't all focused in on music, the fact matter is in this day and time, above all, you're either going to have to decide to go to the popular path or you're going to be faced with a tremendous, genuine competitiveness of what music has become. Very, very, very intricate issue indeed.

Milton Babbitt
Found in: Juilliard
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
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"Milton Babbitt, Juilliard." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 15 May. 2000,
(2000, May 15). Milton Babbitt, Juilliard. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Milton Babbitt, Juilliard." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 15, 2000. Accessed July 02, 2022


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