serial music

(redirected from serialism)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to serialism: Total serialism

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 ?
One sometimes gets the impression of serialism being a kind of musical Nehru jacket, donned with great ceremony by the Darmstadt grandees believing themselves to be hip and cutting edge, when in fact they are fighting a war long since ended by attrition, with younger composers largely forsaking the preceding generation's musical tastes for a more tonal idiom.
Far from being a theoretical act cut off from any reference, this definition on the contrary extends the advances which Messiaen had realized in this domain (without ever having fixed them in the form of an exhaustive theory), by registering them within the rationalization of the principal choices dictated in those days by serialism. Musical time is therefore experienced as a subjectivication of physical time--that is, the occupation of cosmic time by a set of carefully quantified processes.
Its serialism seems more familiar, at least for the reason that twelve-tone rows are well established for it.
It is a concern for rhythm, too, that animates Martha Hyde's essay on Schoenbergian serialism. Because of the combinatorial properties of sets, it is possible for rhythmic patterns to bring about new set relations, either by presenting new harmonic aggregates or by suggesting melodic groups of pitch classes; for example, a particular set may be isolated by taking the melodic notes that occur on salient beats and ignoring the short notes in between.
Indeed, it is largely thanks to the 1994 issue of the Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Muziekwetenschap, which he edited under the title "The Artistic Legacy of Karel Goeyvaerts," and the earlier work of Herman Sabbe on the early history of postwar European serialism, that Goeyvaerts has retained a status beyond anecdote value.
Technically, this led in the direction of diatonic (that is, adhering to neither the systematically chromatic procedures of serialism nor the traditional harmonic language derived from Romantic music) writing (or improvising) and a steadily pulsed rhythm.
One of the important seed questions for serialism is, how are we to understand "pitch" (or "interval") in a serial context?
The five chapters under the heading "The Composer" investigate Weinzweig's use of serialism ("The First Canadian Serialist," by theorist Catherine Nolan); his instrumentation (" 'Naked and Unashamed': The Instrumental Practice/' by composer Clark Ross); his use of texts ("Works with Texts," by Beckwith); the influence of jazz on his style (" 'Jazz Swing' and Jazz Blues/" by Beckwith); and his twelve Divertimenti (u 'The Story of my Life': The Divertimento Series," by composer/theorist James K.
For, as is entirely appropriate for a Prom, we're not talking the outer reaches of minimalist serialism here, but good old fashioned, no-nonsense tunes.
Despite its demonstrable marginality in American musical life during the 1950s and 1960s, however, serialism did command a certain intellectual prestige and attracted some of both the admiration and the resistance that normally accrue to new fashions.
As to student use of the method, he saw serialism as a way for American composers to achieve "coherence" in their music (p.
After studying briefly with Egon Wellesz in Vienna in 1936, she concluded that serialism was incompatible with her musical sensibilities.