The Powerful Importance of Elite Music Essay

The Powerful Importance of Elite Music

Music, like all the other genres of art, is meant to be shared to the public - The Powerful Importance of Elite Music Essay introduction. It is also meant to generate interest, and to generate income for the musician who plays it. Milton Babbitt, in his essay entitled, “Who Cares if You Listen?”  introduces a different form of music, one that is intended only for a select few and intended to have no commercial value. However, this kind of elite music is afforded a powerful importance by Babbitt, who is a musician himself.

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The Elite Musician

Babbitt provides us a picture of the musician who creates, subscribes to, and affirms this kind of music. He is a musician who is musically and socially isolated, and he considers this isolation an advantage. He revels in the fact that his art, his music, is a fresh, new genre that does not belong to any category.  His music is meant to be performed only for a small audience, and only for a few times in his musical career. This may be a grim picture of the artistic expression, but Babbitt emphasizes the point that this kind of elitism is necessary and appropriate for this kind of musician and for this kind of music.

The Definition of Elite Music

Elite music, in Babbitt’s definition, is highly technical. It needs to have the following attributes: first, it has to be efficient. Hardly a recognizable term in art and music,


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Efficiency is a characteristic never attributed to artistic forms. Thus, we see the radical difference right away: the musician who plays it must be extremely accurate to be extremely efficient, and its listener must be highly perceptive.  Second, this music must be constantly precise. Babbitt calls this attribute “degree of determinacy,” which validates music through the determination of its dimensions, namely pitch-class, register, dynamic, duration and timbre. Each time this music is performed, these dimensions must be constantly precise. Third, this kind of music is highly independent and highly contextualized, so that a keen perceptual ability is required of the listener. Finally, this kind of music represents the wide and varied set of different genres and methods of other music, making it one single unified application and expression of a set varied musical principles.

The Layman’s Relationship with Elite Music

The attributes mentioned above are so strikingly different from the music we all know, and Babbitt emphasizes the point that its listener must be at par with its attributes; thus this kind of music, as earlier stated, requires a listener whose musical knowledge and experience is keen and vast. However, as most of the listeners are laymen who quickly give out subjective musical judgment, he would most likely, drive this kind of elite music into isolation because it is the kind of music that is not desirable, and not likeable. Despite the negativity afforded it, Babbitt contends that the value of such music is not diminished. He even slams the average concertgoer for shunning such kind of music, and he questions the subjective judgment the layman provides. As a result, the layman cannot have a relationship with this kind of music. Babbitt instead proposes the ides that the elite musician must perform his elite music in private; he must give up


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his place in the public world and instead focus on the sustainability of his music in a private world, utilizing electronic media.

The Potent Force of Elite Music

The survival of such kind of music is the responsibility of the elite, educated class. Since it is the kind of music that fails to generate public interest, and so fails to generate income, it cannot survive without the patronage of scholars, such as universities. Babbitt deems it reasonable for educational institutions to be the appropriate sanctuary where this kind of music must be honed and perfected, and caused to flourish.  After all, universities have long been patrons of peculiar disciplines, so why should this cause be any different?

Finally, Babbitt stresses the most powerful rationale for affirming this kind of music: its existence is necessary for musical evolution. If it will cease to exist its absence would not be felt by the musical world, but its demise would leave in its place a missing piece, a blank musical location where popular, generally accepted music would meet a dead end. Essentially, its demise would yield a great impact on the musical world that chose to ignore it. If this kind of music fails to survive, its demise may mean the demise of musical evolution, and essentially, the demise of music itself.









Babbitt, Milton. “Who Cares if You listen?” Source Readings in Music History. Ed. Treitler, Leo. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. 1305-1311.

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