String Quartet No. 2 (Babbitt)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

String Quartet No. 2 (1954) is the second of six chamber-music works in the string quartet medium by the American composer Milton Babbitt.


Its form evolves from and expounds features of a basic twelve-tone series.

Babbitt makes his processes as intelligible as possible and leads his listener from one step to the next after all the possibilities have been investigated. The result is an exhilarating piece, self-contained and exact. And the beauty is not purely formal: there are many incidental pleasures in the springing deployment of string effects, as well as elegant changes of gear at the junctions between the four principal sections. (Griffiths 1974))

The pitch material is developed gradually in the opening bars. An interval of a rising minor third predominates in bars 1–3, followed by a concentration on falling major thirds in bars 4–6. The following bars continue in this way, presenting a single interval or pair of intervals, beneath which groupings defined by dynamics and register develop patterns suggested by these intervals, eventually involving all aspects of the musical structure. The quartet alternates such sections of intervallic exposition with sections that develop the intervals presented up to that point, until eleven different ordered pitch-class intervals have been presented and developed until, in a moment referred to by Babbitt as "telling you the butler did it", the set that controls the entire musical structure is revealed by a process of "disambiguation", as Babbitt himself described it (Straus 1986, 22).


  • Ruth Crawford Seeger: String Quartet (1931); George Perle: String Quartet No. 5 (1960/67); Milton Babbitt: String Quartet No. 2 (1952 [sic, recte: 1954]). Composers Quartet (Matthew Raimondi, Anahid Ajemian, violins; Jean Dupouy, viola; Michael Rudiakov, cello). LP recording, 12 inch, stereo. Nonesuch H-71280. New York, N.Y. : Nonesuch, 1973. Babbitt Quartet No. 2 reissued on CD as part of Milton Babbitt: Occasional Variations. Also with Babbitt: String Quartet No. 6; Composition for Guitar. Mark II Sound Synthesizer, realized by Milton Babbitt; Composers Quartet (Matthew Raimondi, Anahid Ajemian, violins; Jean Dupouy, viola; Michael Rudiakov, cello); Sherry Quartet (Harumi Rhodes, Aaron Boyd, violins; James Myer Hogg, viola; Katherine Cherbas, cello); William Anderson, guitar. CD recording. Tzadik TZ 7088. New York: Tzadik, 2008.
  • Richard Boulanger: Three Chapters from The Book of Dreams; Stephen Travis Pope: Bat out of Hell; Milton Babbitt: Second String Quartet (selections); Stuart Dempster and William O. Smith: Outrage and Eye Music; Larry Solomon: The End of September and Casio Improvisation No. 1. Janos Negyesy (Mathews violin) and Lee Ray, electronics; Queen String Quartet; Stuart Dempster (trombone) and William O. Smith (clarinet). Cassette tape recording, stereo, accompanying Perspectives of New Music 24, no. 2. [Seattle]: Perspectives of New Music, 1986.


  • Griffiths, Paul. 1974. "String Quartet by Crawford Seeger; Composers Quartet; String Quartet No. 5 by Perle; Composers Quartet; String Quartet No. 2 by Babbitt; Composers Quartet". Musical Times 115, no. 1573 (March): 222.
  • Straus, Joseph N. 1986. "Listening to Babbitt". Perspectives of New Music 24, no. 2 (Spring–Summer): 10–24.

Further reading[edit]

  • Babbitt, Milton. 1976. "Responses: A First Approximation". Perspectives of New Music 14, no. 2/15, no. 1 (Sounds and Words. A Critical Celebration of Milton Babbitt at 60, Spring–Summer/Fall–Winter): 3–23.
  • Barkin, Elaine, and Martin Brody. 2001. "Babbitt, Milton (Byron)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
  • Cohn, Richard. 1982. "The 12 × 12 Latin Square as Found in Babbitt's String Quartet No. 2". Sonus 3:57–65.
  • Dubiel, Joseph. 1990. "Three Essays on Milton Babbitt" [Part 1]. Perspectives of New Music 28, no. 2 (Summer) 216–61.
  • Dubiel, Joseph. 1992. "Three Essays on Milton Babbitt (Part Three)". Perspectives of New Music 30, no. 1 (Winter) 82–131.
  • Mead, Andrew Washburn. 1994. An Introduction to the Music of Milton Babbitt. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691033145.
  • Rao, Nancy Yunhwa. 1994. "Elucidating Stylistic Difference in Post-tonal Compositions from a Trichordal Perspective: Commonality and Individual Styles in Selected Compositions of Milton Babbitt, Arnold Schoenberg, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and Elliott Carter". PhD diss. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
  • McLane, Alexander B. 1992. "The Study of African Rhythm as a Model for Understanding Rhythm in Two Representative Twentieth-Century American Works". DMA. diss. Urbana: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  • Sward, Rosalie La Grow. 1981. "An Examination of the Mathematical Systems Used in Selected Compositions of Milton Babbitt and Iannis Xenakis". Evanston: Northwestern University.
  • Wolpe, Stefan. 1984. "On New (and Not-So-New) Music in America", translation and commentary by Austin Clarkson. Journal of Music Theory 28:1–45.
  • Zuckerman, Mark. 1976. "On Milton Babbitt's String Quartet No. 2". Perspectives of New Music 14, no. 2/15, no. 1 (Spring–Summer/Fall–Winter): 85–110.