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serialism

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 and Webern. 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.

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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).

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serialism

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.

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serial music

serial music 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.

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