serialism, serial technique, serial music.
Terms applied to the 20th-cent. revolution in comp. whereby traditional melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and tonal rules and conventions were replaced. Serial mus. is that in which a structural ‘series’ of notes governs the total development of the comp. It originated in Schoenberg's
atonality, leading to his system of composing with 12 notes (1923). This system is based on use of a series of intervals (note-row) involving in turn all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in any order selected by the composer. In its strictest application, no note should be repeated until the other 11 have appeared and the order of the series
remains unaltered throughout the work, with certain permitted modifications. Schoenberg later broke his own rules and other modifications were introduced by Berg
. While the series
in Schoenberg's hands remained comparable with a theme, in Webern's it was more subtly pervasive and often not perceptible as a given sequence of 12 notes. The next stage in serialism
was foreshadowed in 1944 by Messiaen
in his Technique de mon langage musical
, in which he wrote about serialization of durations. By the 1950s several components (parameters) of a work were being serialized by, for example, Babbitt, Boulez, and Stockhausen. With the introduction of elec. media, the scope for serial permutations became much enlarged, in relation to time. By the end of the 1960s, many composers renounced serialism as too restrictive; others, incl. Boulez, questioned its continued necessity because aleatory
developments and new sounds available through elec. means achieve by synthesis the ends of serialism. Whatever the future of serialism, it remains a development which radically altered the tenets of mus. comp.
se·ri·al·ism / ˈsi(ə)rēəˌlizəm/ •
n. Mus. a compositional technique in which a fixed series of notes, esp. the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, are used to generate the harmonic and melodic basis of a piece and are subject to change only in specific ways. The first fully serial movements appeared in 1923 in works by Arnold Schoenberg. See also twelve-tone.DERIVATIVES: se·ri·al·ist adj. & n.
Technique of musical composition in which a work is structured on a fixed series of notes; the series repeats in various permutations for the duration of the work. The twelve-tone music
of Arnold Schoenberg
is a form of serial music.