Comparative Listening: Semi-Simple Variations



We at Those Who Dig firmly believe that with comparative listening comes deeper appreciation and understanding. It is remarkable the differences, both subtle and overt, that can occur when one product is seen through the lens of two different artists.We believe it is our duty as Listeners to actively engage ourselves in the process of comparison and analysis to achieve utmost enjoyment.
Today's comparative listening is brought to you by the letter M;
for Milton Babbitt.
Milton Babbitt is an American composer who was born in 1916. Although his long and prolific career has had many facets, he is most known for being a champion of what is called
Total Serialism.
  • All western music is governed by a set of rules.
  • This is called Tonality.
  • Tonality was growing stale at the turn of the 20th century.
  • Arnold Schoenberg invented a new system for composition and named itSerialism.
  • Serialist composers placed pitch content into a Matrix which gave melodic order.
  • No pitch could be repeated until every other available pitch has sounded.
  • Total Serialist composers took this a step farther and used the matrix approach to determine not only Pitch content, but also Rhythm and Dynamics.
Milton Babbitt composed Semi-Simple Variations in 1956 for solo piano. In addition, a characteristic indicative of serialism is that the compositions are short; this one tops off around the one minute mark. Here I have presented you with a video of the original composition, and then its interpretation by The Bad Plus. Enjoy.
The Original:


The Bad Plus:



What I enjoy about The Bad Plus setting of this work is the way the group brings their own language to the piece, while still maintaining the integrity of the composer's intent. Also, dancing to total serialism is always a good idea.
If you are unfamiliar with The Bad Plus and their recordings I would strongly urge you to check them out. In conjunction, The Bad Plus Blog, DO THE MATH can be found at:
and further discussion from The Bad Plus regarding jazz interpretations of modern classical music can be found at:
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