Sunday, 14 April 2024






Twelve-Tone Rhythmic Structure and its Application to Form - site:
Dissertation exploring how Babbitt's time-point system advanced serialism and the classic twelve-tone system.

Integral Serialism - site:
Links to composer sites and other resources with short descriptions of their content.

Tone-row Music and Serialism - site:
Summaries of Boulez, serialism, structuralism and Stockhausen's article "how time passes".

Fred Lerdahl's Attack on Serialism - site:
Discussion of Lerdahl's published article "Cognitive Constraints on Compositional Systems", which explores the relationship between composing and listening.

Le Marteau sans maître: Serialism Becomes Respectable - site:
Article about the work and its composer.

Fred Lerdahl's Attack on Serialism - site:
Discussion of his published article "Cognitive Constraints on Compositional Systems", which explores the relationship between composing and listening.

A Comparison of the Approaches of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern to Serialism in Their Music - site:
Essay by Rebecca Taylor for Music Teachers UK examines similarities and differences in their works.

Berio, Luciano - site:
Musical biography with education and influences, work in serialism, electronic music, and opera, and summary list of works from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

Berg, Gunnar Johnsen - site:
Biography noting his progression from atonalism to serialism and summary of works from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

Berg, Alban Maria Johannes - site:
Biography noting his relationship with Schoenberg and Webern, movement through atonality and serialism, compositional highlights, and summary list of works from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

Lumsdaine, David - site:
Brief biography showing his progression from serialism and use of electronics in his works from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

Lendvay, Kamilló - site:
Brief biography noting his movement toward serialism and later Polish music. From the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

Lewkovitch, Bernhard - site:
Biography showing his work composing for the Catholic church and his secular evolution from modality to serialism from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

Lutyens, Agnes Elisabeth - site:
Biography noting serialism and operatic, vocal, orchestral, film, and chamber works from the Grove Concise Dictionary of Music entry at WQXR radio.

A History of Western Music - site:
Definitive college text from W.W. Norton, written by Donald Jay Grout, first published in 1960. Links style and form to chronology, from ancient Greek modes to 20th century serialism and jazz.

MHUL 578: Postwar Serialism - site:
Summary of a lecture on music in the twentieth century.

Second Viennese School - site:
Wikipedia article noting principles of atonalism and serialism which characterized the movement and listing its main members and suggesting other possible people who might be included.

Karlheinz Stockhausen's New Morphology of Musical Time: Serialism - site:
An overview of serialism, focusing on its history and theoretical evolution.

Contour/Interval Serialism MSN Group - site:
Discussion of a conceptual formulation that is a rebuttal/alternative to what is normally referred to as "serialism", but which should actually be termed "pitch-class serialism".

Surviving the Siege, but Barely - site:
Article on the supposed demise of Serialism and parellels with Socialism. By Paul Griffiths of the New York Times.

Is a Serial Revival Possible? - site:
Discusses the paradoxes in the criticism of serialism and the contention that it is dead.



The term "serialism" is sometimes used synonymously with "twelve tone music". The truth is, however, that the 12-tone method is just one of several kinds of serialism. The reasoning behind total serialism is simple enough: if Schoenberg could compose notes according to numerical patterns (or serialize them), then why couldn't you do the same thing with other aspects of music? Going down this train of thought, composers quickly came up with ways to serialize all kinds of musical elements: note length, silence, texture, volume, and so on.

This could be done in several different ways. A serial composer could have several different series to govern several different elements of the music (for example, one series for the notes, one for the note lengths, another for volume, etc...). Another way of doing things would be to have everything be derived in one way or another from a single numerical series. Either way, the composer would be close to having "total control" over every little detail of his piece by way of the series he came up with.



The vocabulary of serialism is rooted in set theory, and uses a quasi-mathematical language to describe how the basic sets are manipulated to produce the final result. Musical set theory is often used to analyze and compose serial music, but may also be used to study tonal music. According to Boulez, "Classical tonal thought is based on a world defined by gravitation and attraction, serial thought on a world which is perpetually expanding." The latter types of metaphors-- which seek to closely associate contemporary art with contemporary science-- are typical of mid-twentieth century Modern composers.

The basis for serial composition is Schoenberg's Twelve-tone technique, where the 12 notes of the basic chromatic scale are organized into a row. This "basic" row is then used to create permutations, that is rows derived from the basic set. The row may be used to produce a set of intervals, or a composer may have wanted to use a particular succession of intervals, from which the original row was created. A row which uses all of the intervals in their ascending form once is an All-interval row. In addition to permutations, the basic row may have some set of notes derived from it which is used to create a new row, these are derived sets.

Because there are tonal chord progressions which use all 12 notes, it is possible to create rows with very strong tonal implications, and even to write tonal music using 12 tone technique, but this is not the norm. Most tone rows contain tonal cells which imply a root pitch, a composer can therefore emphasize or avoid emphasizing the tonal cell.

To serialize other elements of music, a system of quantifying an identifiable element must be created or defined. For example, if duration is to be serialized, then durations are to be specified. If tone colour, then the separate tone colours must be identified, and so on.

The selected set or sets, their permutations and derived sets form the basic material from which the composer works. Some serial works specify as little as possible, to give the composer the maximum amount of freedom when working, other works attempt to pre-compose as much as possible, which, taken to its limit is referred to as automatism.

Composition using pitch-serial methods focuses on each appearance of the collection of twelve chromatic notes, called an aggregate. The principle is that in a row, no element of the aggregate should be reused until all of the other members have been used, and each member must appear only in its place in the series. This rule is violated in numerous works still termed "serial". A work is said to be "aggregate complete" if only one aggregate is sounding at the same time.

An aggregate may be divided into subsets, and all the members of the aggregate not part of any one subset are said to be its complement. A subset is self-complementing if it contains half of the set and its complement is also a permutation of the original subset. This is most commonly seen with hexachords or 6 notes of a basic tone row. A hexachord which is self-complementing for a particular permutatition is referred to as prime combinatorial. A hexachord which is self complementing for all basic permutations - Inversion, Retrograde and Retrograde Inversion - is referred to as all-combinatorial. The concepts of combinatoriality were explored by Schoenberg and Webern, but were rigorously defined and explored in the work of Milton Babbitt.

The composer then presents the aggregate. If only the basic row is serialized, while duration, tone colour and other parameters form free variables in the presentation. If there are multiple serial sets, or if several parameters are associated with the same set, then a presentation will have these values calculated. Large scale design is achieved through the use of combinatorial devices, for example, treating of a subset of the basic set to a series of combinatorial devices. The presentation of an aggregate corresponds to units of music in common practice harmony, in that when the listener has heard all of the materials of the aggregate, they know that new presentation of the aggregate should be expected to begin, with its own combinatorial presentation. The sequence of presentations of aggregates corresponds to the cadential structure of tonal harmony, in that it forms units which are complete unto themselves.



contact: post @ | ©2006