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Avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt dies at 94

Associated Press Modified: January 29, 2011 at 9:54 pm •  Published: January 29, 2011
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PRINCETON, N.J. (AP) — Composer Milton Babbitt, who was known for his complex orchestral compositions and credited with developing the first electronic synthesizer in the 1950s, died Saturday. He was 94.

Paul Lansky, a composer and Princeton University colleague who was once a student of Babbitt's, told The Associated Press he died Saturday at a Princeton hospital. Lansky said he did not know the cause of death.

Born in Philadelphia, Babbitt earned degrees from both Princeton and New York University. He joined Princeton's faculty in 1938 and became a professor emeritus of music there in 1984.

In the 1950s, RCA hired Babbitt as a consultant as it was developing the Mark II synthesizer. He became a founder and director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, where the synthesizer was installed.

He blended electronic music with vocal performances in compositions such as "Vision and Prayer" and "Philomel" in the 1960s and "Reflections" in 1975.

Princeton awarded Babbitt, then 75, a doctorate in 1992, 46 years after his dissertation on the 12-tone system of modern composers was rejected.

"His dissertation was so far ahead of its time it couldn't be properly evaluated at the time," Theodore Ziolkowski, dean of Princeton's graduate school and a close friend of Babbitt, said at the time.

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