Babbitt

2014 listen

This piece uses the depiction of social conformity satirized in Sinclair Lewis’s 1922 novel, Babbitt, as an underlying structural inspiration. Instruments form and reform in an exhaustive relay of combinations, bracketed as characters easily exchanged for one another. It is a narrative in search of a protagonist, as if the ensemble is constantly auditioning its own members, setting the stage for characters to emerge, yet in each instance the landscape reforms too quickly, allowing only glimpses of a single character to emerge from the textural fabric.

When I consider the word Babbitt I don’t think first of Lewis’s novel but rather of a man who was, in many ways, the protagonist of my four years as a student at Princeton University. Milton Babbitt was the antithesis of Lewis’s character, yet he had an oddly parallel egalitarian view of music - “one note, one vote,” is what he liked to say. Milton Babbitt was a reassuring constant, always ready to share a joke, give advice, lend his presence at concerts. I was fortunate to spend time with him on many occasions, riding on the train, turning pages at concerts of his music or simply enjoying a quick exchange as we travelled to our homes. When I heard of Milton’s death in 2011 I was deeply affected. His example as a man and as a composer continues to grow as I gradually achieve the ability to grasp the wealth of his presence in my life. This piece is a comment on the fact that, as we move quickly through life, we may not recognize our protagonists until we have lost them.

Babbitt was commissioned by Continuum Contemporary Music with financial assistance from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec.


Michael Oesterle CA

Michael Oesterle, born in 1968, is a Canadian composer who lives in Deux-Montagnes Québec.

Michael Oesterle