serial music

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.

serial music

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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
also Sabbe, "Kafiheinz Stockhausen," 58, where the author uses the following epitheta to describe Goeyvaerts's serial music: Reinheits-Absolutismus, the hypostasis of a tranzendente Wahrheit, music as pures Raum-Zeitgefiecht.
The metaphysical foundations of Goeyvaerts's serial music are transformed in his later music, but certainly not excised.
(2.) With respect to twelve-tone and serial music Globokar states: "Es gibt also keinen Zufall, kein Appellieren an die Intuition, kein Unvorhergesehenes--denn das Unvorhergesehene wird ja gleichgesetzt mit den Mangeln der technischen Realisierung" (Globokar 1979, 28).
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.(10)
between composers' methods of construction and how listeners understand the music that results in part from those methods." (Similarly, he seems to have chosen to ignore my remarks to the effect that most composers of serial music "seem to think of sets more in terms of the ways in which - and the degrees to which - they exert various kinds of musical influence, rather than with regard to the necessity of their being audible in obvious ways.")(8) This entire (non-)issue strikes me as bizarre.
Consider the "Arts and Leisure" pages of the New York Times today, in which some critics still express their misgivings about serial music and readers sometimes rant against it, or the idea put forward in recent years (and refuted) that a sort of Mafia of twelve-tone composers controlled academic music departments in the 1960s and l970s, stifling the creativity of students who did not conform to their method.
Boros to the contrary (551-52), I do not reduce serial music to counting rows.
Serial Music and Serialism: A Research and information Guide.
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.(35)
The mistake of many critics and superficial listeners consists in affirming that all serial music has necessarily to sound like Schonberg, its genius-inventor.
Obviously I am not talking about chance music or serial music. Chance music and serialism mechanically push sounds around, ignoring sound's intelligence manifested in the imprinted corporeal human inner ear to attain a so-called unconditioned music.