Cambridge Encyclopedia » Cambridge Encyclopedia Vol. 67

serialism - Basic definition, History of serial music, Theory of serial music, Important composers

series inversion composition note

A method of composing music in which a series (or ‘row’ or ‘set’) of different notes is used, in accordance with certain strict practices, as the basis of a whole work. The most common type is 12-note serialism, in which the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale are re-ordered to form one of a possible 479 001 600 different series. This can then be presented vertically as chords, or horizontally as melodic lines, or as a mixture of both; it can be used backwards (retrograde), or with the intervals inverted (inversion), or in both retrograde and inversion; it can also be transposed to any other pitch. Thus, 48 versions of a single series are possible, and these provide all the pitch material for the composition. Schoenberg arrived at 12-note serialism in 1923, as a means of structuring atonal music; his method was adopted, in very different ways, by his pupils Berg and Webern. Some later composers, notably Boulez, Nono, and Stockhausen, have applied serial methods to such other elements of composition as rhythm, dynamics, and articulation.

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