serial music

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serial music,

the body of compositions whose fundamental syntactical reference is a particular ordering (called series or row) of the twelve pitch classes—C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B—that constitute the equal-tempered scale. In contrast to tonal music, whose unity is perceived in the primacy of a single construct, the triad (the major or minor chord), serial music is not pitch centric, i.e., there is no home key. Instead, the presence of harmonic successions resulting from controlled juxtaposition of various row forms gives serial pieces their coherence. These forms are the prime, retrograde (pitch order reversed), inversion (interval direction reversed), and retrograde inversion, and the twelve transpositional degrees of the foregoing. Thus, the row functions as an ordering of intervals and not of absolute pitches. In practice, the row can be presented linearly or chordally. The twelve-tone system evolved in the 1920s in the works of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton von Webern, and Alban Berg as the result of efforts to establish a unifying principle for nontonal music. Classic serial pieces include Schoenberg's Piano Suite, Op. 25 (1924) and von Webern's String Quartet, Op. 28 (1938). Pierre Boulez and Milton Babbitt have led efforts toward "total serialization," the application of serial technique to rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, in addition to pitch. Important composers of serial music include Igor Stravinsky, Ernst Křenek, Egon Wellesz, and Walter Piston. For further information see separate articles on all composers mentioned in this article.


See J. Rufer, Composition with Twelve Notes (tr. 1952); G. Perle, Serial Composition and Atonality (3d ed. 1972).

Serial Music


compositions written by the serial technique, which became widespread in the 20th century.

A serial composition is based on the repetition, in varied forms, of a particular tone row (series of intervals) chosen for a specific work. A tone row that serves as the source of the entire fabric of a piece is called a series, and the piece is called a serial composition. The series is used in four forms (the original row, the retrograde form, the inverted form, and the retrograde inversion). Each of the four forms may begin on any of the 12 tones of the scale. Thus, there are 48 possible series. The forms can also be used in various combinations.

Serialism (serialized technique) is a method of composition involving not only the serial ordering of tones but also the serialization of other elements of music, including rhythm, dynamics, and articulation.

References in periodicals archive ?
However, as far as the concrete filling in of the notion "musical material" is concerned, Goeyvaerts and Adorno had totally different opinions, as appears from the latter's harsh critique of serial music in "Vom Altern der neuen Musik" (1954).
His research interests include the analytical and aesthetical aspects of twentieth-century music, especially of the serial music of the so-called Darmstadt school.
The good news is that for the past decade musicologists have been examining the many meanings serial music has actually held in specific historical contexts.
Babbitt was an early and knowledgeable student of Stravinsky's serial music, and his early analytical study of it remains a standard source of information.
For his part, Boulez was generally contemptuous of Stravinsky's music after Les Noces and, apart from arranging a disastrous performance of Threni in Paris in 1958, never expressed the slightest interest in Stravinsky's serial music.
Heinrich Schenker accurately represented tonality in its sound structure, and whoever cannot hear and understand it, or whoever believes that serial music - and for that matter, computer music - is more exciting, has only himself to blame.
Serial Music and Serialism: A Research and information Guide.
Obviously I am not talking about chance music or serial music.
Anecdotes and memoirs included in the book reveal his devotion to Franz Schubert and his curiosity about serial music, and such information can guide our analysis of musical references in his work.
This characterization assumes a particular set of aural values for all serial music and fails to distinguish between the phrase-building model that was essential to Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern (as described by Schmidt in his essay on Schoenberg) and the algorithmic approach of such composers as Boulez and Stockhausen.
This later portrait of Stravinsky is also more complete for its discussion of the composer's serial music.
Also puzzling is Dickinson's treatment of Berkeley's serial music.