Who Care If You Listen

Submitted By TuCao
Words: 1051
Pages: 5

Tu Cam Cao
Tuesday April 30, 2013
“Who Cares if You Listen?”
Milton Babbitt, High Fidelity (Feb. 1958)
History of Music MUAC 102
No One Cares if No One Listens To the editors of High Fidelity Magazine, More than half a century has past since Milton Babbitt wrote his controversially famous article “Who Cares if You Listen?”, which was initially titled “The Composer as Specialist”, in February 1958. The article provoked many disputes around the issues addressed by Babbitt about the meaning of music, the role of composers at the time, etc. Babbitt described "serious", "advanced music" as "a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value", and the composer of such music as, "in essence, a 'vanity' composer". He made a point that the general public was largely unaware of and took no interest in such kind of music: “After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by...” “At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists”. Babbitt also took the position that "serious", "advanced" music, like advanced mathematics and physics, is too complex for a "normally well-educated man without special preparation" to "understand". Today, I am writing to discuss in particular his conclusion about the process of composing in paragraph 14: “…And so, I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition…” In my opinion, by calling for the withdrawal of the composer from the public, Babbitt showed a unilateral and incomplete point of view of the audience in general. Though I agree with Babbitt that music composers should be independent and autonomous in their creations, I believe that music itself, as well as any other kinds of art, should not be too detached from the public. In the article, Babbitt called music a commodity. By comparing music with a commodity, he implied that the audience’s view on music was something that could be exchanged and consumed, or something that could possess certain qualities that they wanted. “Advanced”, or “Serious” music is something beyond public understanding, which turned it into a cheap commodity and thus discouraged composers of such contemporary music. I agree with Babbitt that composers should continue to create new art even when the public shows disinterest in it. If every artist depended on the public to create art, “serious” art would never be created. Composers would be sellers who make music that pleases their customers and not music that can truly reflect the times or the music that can truly express the composers’ perception on life. True composers devote their lives to writing music, without thinking too much about being paid for their work. (Of course it is nice to be paid for what you do but that is not always the case; otherwise poor composers such as Mozart or Schubert would not have composed any music at all). After all, music does not always need to sound pleasing to the ears. Composers, like scientists, should not stop creating or inventing when people do not understand. For example, Einstein did not give up on his “Theory of Relativity” even though there were only around 12 people who could understand it at his time. However, by suggesting composers to totally withdraw from the public, Babbitt did not consider the potential contribution by the public to the process of composing. Throughout the history, music evolved in accordance with the social, political and economical events that have had huge impacts on human life. For example, composers in the Classical Period generally followed the same rules of composition, which was based on the idea of the Enlightenment that all humanity was under a universal, natural law. Music always