I'm tremendously sad to hear that Milton Babbitt, the mathematical maverick of American music, passed away in Princeton this morning, at the age of ninety-four. There is much to be said about his place in twentieth-century musical history; I've written about such issues at length, and I'll have a comment in a coming issue of The New Yorker. But on the day of his death I'd like to remember him, above all, as a perfectly singular human being — a brilliant raconteur, a rapid-fire wit, a man who seemed to carry an entire century in his steel-trap mind. (Frank Oteri's 2001 interview at NewMusicBox gives a good indication of his talk.) Over the years I spent about three hours in his company, beginning when he visited my college radio station in 1988, and I savored every moment, whether the topic was Brahms, Broadway, baseball, or beer. I hope it doesn't seem too irreverent to commemorate his passing with The Bad Plus's version of Semi-Simple Variations (read about the background here), but I'm told that Babbitt did get to see the video, and professed to enjoy it. Goodbye, Milton! You will not be forgotten, and your music will thrive in unexpected ways.
Crucial update: Robert Hilferty's Babbitt film has been released.