Serielle Weltanschauung und Serielle Musik: Serialism, War, and the Project of Modernity
January 8, 2018
Section I: Background
Part I: Introduction and Overview
Modernism, in the arts and beyond, has been conceived of as a “culture of
rupture”—an epochal shift marked by attacks on “naturalistic” modes of expression.
Serialism can, thus, be understood as an epitome of modern expression.1 Though the
history of Western art music has been a near-consistent repeating system of tradition-
establishing and tradition-augmenting innovation, serialism stands alone as a total
reimagining of musical form, as opposed to another gradual extension of pre-existing
musical form. This is due, at least in part, to the total movement away from conventional
tonality. Furthermore, serialism is indicative of a true ideological break—it is not simply a
compositional system, but a way of thinking that manifests not only in music but in other
fields of design and world-making. It is a true world view in the sense that it is constructed
upon a notion of functional self-sufficiency—the “autonomy of a serial work is
strengthened by the autonomy of each work’s individual series.”2 Serial thinking and serial
musical aesthetics developed not independently, but in conversation with society as a
whole—it is a response to political and social progression and human atrocities in warfare,
and is nestled perfectly in the ongoing project of Modernity.
1 Moore, Allan F. "Serialism and Its Contradictions." International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music
26, no. 1 (1995): 77-95. doi:10.2307/836966.
Serialism, in the short term, can be understood as a method of composition in which
various elements are organized or characterized by a predetermined set of values. In more
depth, serial thinking is:
“The concept of creating artificial forms based on a special relationship between
individuality (uniqueness) and similarity, focusing on avoiding repetition, aiming for
completeness, tending toward permanent innovation in both theory and practice, and
revolving around the idea of structural mediation between different quantities, qualities,
types and classes of elements; more than enough for any artist to work with in a never-
ending spiraling movement up to infinite progress.”3
Bandur’s definition above hints at the nature of serialism, or serial thinking, as not simply a
compositional system but a Weltanschauung (world view). It is a system through which the
human mind can be related to the world; a system through which completeness can be
reached when dealing with any subject. Serial thought argues that “if we want to create
something worth being created, we have to face the challenge of our raw material and the
individual qualities of the techniques we want to use. And if we strive for artistic creativity
we must take on the responsibility of not being boring but creating something perfect.”4
3 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001. Pp. 7.
4 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001. Pp. 5.
Part II: The Standstill of Historicism
It has been said that the rediscovery of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and its
consequent performance in 1829 under the direction of Felix Mendelssohn, started the
cultural tradition of listening to music from the past. For the first time, the “old” had been
installed permanently in the Western musical landscape. Past works became historical
works, and some argue that the constancy of new aesthetic production by young
composers slowed to a near halt.5 I argue that this is not exactly true. Mendelssohn, an
integral member of the generation of Romanticism, did not hope to construct a stylistic
hegemony oriented toward the classics. Bach, in this instance, provided Mendelssohn “not a
model of musical and formal complexity but rather a font of spirituality and emotional
expression.”6 Mendelssohn did not return to a tradition of the past, but rather he made use
of the German Bach tradition of the past as a catalyst for the expansion of the romantic
cultural identity in music, and a differentiation from the “cultic” in a motion toward the
Thomas Mann’s Leverkühn, the subject of Doctor Faustus, understands cultural
expression in musical romanticism as a differentiation from the “cultic,” and a movement
toward the “cultural”8 in two ways. For one, “it no longer contents itself with the mere
craftsmanship and musicality that characterized the music of the classical period, aiming
instead for a general celebration of the human spirit.”9 Secondly, freedom—“and with it
5 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, Pp. 14.
6 Todd, R. Larry, ed. Schumann and His World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Accessed January 7,
2018. ProQuest Ebook Central, Pp. 59.
7 Boes, Tobias. Formative Fictions : Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman. NY: Cornell University
Press, 2012. Accessed January 8, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central. Pp. 171.
inventiveness and human subjectivity”10—is elevated, and thereby fashioned into the
vehicle through which the celebration of the human spirit is to be achieved. These
principles echo those of the musicologists of the 19th century, most importantly E.T.A.
Hoffmann—Hoffmann understood that, through an opposition to the restraint and
formality of the Classical style, the principles of Romantic music had elevated music to a
“position of pre-eminence in Romanticism as the art most suited to the expression of
The notion of widespread cultural expression through music and the widespread
appreciation of music align with Adorno’s concept of the “death of art,” which he sees as a
conclusive point in art history.12 The “death of art” occurs when artistic techniques are
capable of hiding themselves, thereby hiding the differences between the artificial and
naturalistic—which, from the Adornian and Hegelian perspective, are in a rivalry in which
the artificial yearns to be like the naturalistic—and more broadly bridging the gap between
the rational fabric of music and its 18th century conception as the “language of the heart.”13
This conception of music as something capable of expressing the true inner-depths of
human emotion in turn makes a proposition regarding the audience for a piece of music—if
music be the language of the universally human emotions, then music can be understood
and appreciated universally. Music, in this state, can be understood emotionally without
any transformation, deciphering, or analysis. Everybody “understands” music, even the
most musically illiterate; the complete value of a composition can be extracted by listening
11 “Beethoven’s Instrumental-Musik,” in E. T. A. Hoffmanns sämtliche Werke, vol. 1, ed. C. G. von Maassen (Munich
and Leipzig: G. Müller, 1908), translated by Bryan R. Simms.
12 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 16.
to and feeling what unfolds in performance. Schoenberg, in his work Harmonielehre, posits
that this supposed naturalness of musical material is, like Adorno has illustrated above, in
actuality a result of historical evolution and necessity.14 This perspective flourished in the
Romantic era, a flourishing that played an integral part in the axiomatization of said
perspective—the axiomatic nature of this conception of music as language of the emotions
is apparent in many instances even today. This, as illustrated by the antihistoricist
principles of the Romantic Movement, is because “the death of art” is respected as a
success; the wonderful culminating achievement of millennia of Western musical history.
The Romantic era in Western music began in the early years of the 19th century. It
has been defined in myriad ways, which renders Romanticism chaotically many-faceted
and unnavigable. A recent definition, though, neatly consolidates the essence of
Romanticism as “the shift of focus to an expressive aesthetic, centered on the artist as
creator.”15 Mendelssohn’s performance of St. Matthew Passion was, in a sense, an
invocation of the spirit of Bach; an invocation intended to showcase historical musical
material for critical reconsideration and consequent development in the positively
Romantic expressive, subjective framework of composition; one focused on absolute
freedom. The Romantics made use of these cultural interactions with the past as an
opportunity to collect and reconsider musical material, and moreover, to break away from
the radical Enlightenment Era advancements in the Western narrative of constant forward
motion. This notion of the break from the Enlightenment is clear through the Adornian
framework of musical material and its transformations in society: as society transforms
14 Paddison, Max. Adorno’s Aesthetics of Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Pp. 71.
15 Kravitt, Edward F. "Romanticism Today." The Musical Quarterly 76, no. 1 (1992): 93-109.
over the course of history, so too does musical material—the materials of the past are not
simply “obsolete and unfashionable”, in Adorno’s words, but banal, dysfunctional, wrong.16
Composers, through the establishment of the public performance tradition, were
made aware of and could now make use of a vast archive of musical material, whilst
simultaneously abandoning the stylistic rigidity of the earlier periods from whence the
material came.17 Contemporary composers sought not to dream up innovative new
aesthetic qualities by which their musical movement could be defined, unlike the
composers of the earlier periods from which they were collecting musical material, but
instead sought to innovate in a revisionary way. This notion of revision manifests as a
system of development through variation focused on the subjectivity and freedom of the
individual composer. Diverse “counter-worlds”, “world[s] of positive feelings and
consolation in contrast to the harsh reality of the contemporary secularized and
industrialized society,18 were to be developed of identical musical materials in absolute
freedom. A neat manifestation of this concept is apparent in Beethoven’s transition from
classical to romantic composition. The sonata form, a compositional system of the Classical
Era at the core Beethoven’s early works, features a phase of development following the
initial exposition of a phrase: “development had been a small part of the sonata, a modest
refuge for the subjective illumination and energy.”19 The middle period of Beethoven’s
career shows a development of the sonata form through a gradual process of variation,
16 Adorno, Theodor W. ”Why Twelve-Note Music?” In Night Music. Essays on Music 1928-1962, edited by Rolf
Tiedermann, translated by Wieland Hoban, 367-373. London: Seagull Books, 2009. Pp. 370-371.
17 Boes, Tobias. Formative Fictions : Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman. NY: Cornell University
Press, 2012. Accessed January 8, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central. Pp. 172.
18 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 29.
19 Boes, Tobias. Formative Fictions : Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman. NY: Cornell University
Press, 2012. Accessed January 8, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central. Pp. 172.
until the point at which the development phase becomes “the center of the entire form,
which, even where it remains given of convention, is absorbed by the subjective and newly
created in freedom.”20
This can be understood as antihistoricism, an aesthetic principle that rejects
tradition through the non-traditional arrangement of materials or elements. The
antihistoricism of Romantic music initially halts the dynamics of continual progress
paramount throughout the entirety of Western music history. Music had finally reached its
truest form: a freedom-driven, subjective human celebration through the composition of
musical counter-worlds to be appreciated by the masses as an alternative to Post-
Enlightenment reality. The innovative and the new were no longer a natural part of music
history; the new and innovative were perceived to be odd, boring, and in some cases
threatening. So begins the “standstill of historicism,”21 a halt in the narrative of historical
progress that by nature marks its own demise.
In Romanticism “freedom becomes the principle of a comprehensive economy,
which allows music nothing accidental and develops the most extreme diversity out of
materials that are always kept identical.”22 What, then, is to occur when every diverse
application of the identical material has been exhausted? Adorno proposed that culture and
freedom, “when pushed to their extreme, around bound to dialectically revert into cultic
control.”23 It is at this point that the meaning of culture and the importance of freedom are
21 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 15.
22 Boes, Tobias. Formative Fictions : Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Bildungsroman. NY: Cornell University
Press, 2012. Accessed January 8, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central. Pp. 172.
reconsidered, as the musical expressions had reverted to exactly that which their creators
were fighting for.
Gustav Mahler was a Late Romantic who essentially ended Romanticism—he was
situated at the end of a long line of Romantics who recognized the paradoxical nature of the
dialectical reversion and worked to come to terms with it. Mahler was inspired by his
predecessors: Beethoven’s integration of orchestra, choir, and soloist, Berlioz’s
abandonment of the conventional four-movement symphony form and promotion of
program music, and Wagner and Bruckner’s expansion of the orchestra and the breadth of
the music written.24 Mahler once said to Sibelius that “a symphony should be like the
world: it must embrace everything.”25 The scale and the intensity of the Mahlerian
Gesamtkunstwerk26 were beyond all accepted standards, the darkness of his all-embracing
counter-worlds penetrating his audiences with unparalleled depth. The tension of his dark
counter-worlds—works focused on embracing and exploring, not denying, the negativity of
modern existence—did not resolve in triumphant Romantic-style human celebration; he
had begun to question the musical and moreover the ideological conventions of his
contemporaries, thereby poking a hole in the purportedly infallible Romantic philosophy,
and undoing the “standstill of historicism.”27
24 Franklin, Peter. Reclaiming Late-Romantic Music: Singing Devils and Distant Sounds. University of California
Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5hjh53.
25 SIBELIUS Jean 1980: "Några synpunkter beträffande folkmusiken och dess inflytande på tonkonsten", toim. ja
suom. Ilkka Oramo. Musiikki (1980/10:2), 86-105.
26 A Wagnerian term meaning a “total work of art” or “universal artwork”, a composition intended to capture all
elements of being so as to deeply penetrate an audience
27 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 15.
Section II: A History of Serial Composition
Part I: Serial Beginnings
Arnold Schoenberg, in a sense, picked up where Mahler left off. An admirer of
Mahler’s work, and later his pupil, Schoenberg took aspects of Mahler’s work—especially
his exploration of chromaticism in composition—and pushed them even further. He
attempted “to break through by recognizing that major-minor tonality (composition based
on the installation of a central tonic) was mainly responsible for the entry of ‘negative’ or
hedonistic tendencies into musical material.”28 These negative/hedonistic tendencies are
the tendencies produced by the “death of art”: the idea that music could be understood by
anyone, and that all the musical value in a work could be extracted through listening and
feeling. This penetration of the collective consciousness, in Schoenberg’s perspective,
“made it almost impossible to control the resulting effects of [an] intended work.”29 The
use of longstanding conventions in composition, in Schoenberg’s perspective, leads a
written work to be recognized, interpreted, and understood by the audience based not on
the individual value of the work but based on the connotations attached to the conventions
employed in its composition. Conventional Major-minor tonality is of the utmost
importance, as even in the culture of the modern day, vast numbers of musically illiterate
individuals understand Major music as “happy” and minor music as “sad”.
In 1908, Schoenberg had a breakthrough. The written works published that year,
such as Op. 10, String Quartet No. 2, serve as examples of his early exploration into
28 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 30.
atonality. Schoenberg, from 1908 to 1909, composed a song cycle in fifteen parts, Op. 15,
Das Buch der hängenden Gärten. This song cycle demonstrated that Schoenberg had finally
discovered an approach that was expressive, but also allowed for the “avoiding using
central notes, or tonics, in the organization of the harmonic and melodic fabric, introducing
a set of pitches with equal importance.”30 In 1910, the program for the first performance of
Op. 15 included a note written by Schoenberg regarding his musical breakthrough:
I have for the first time succeeded in approaching an ideal of expression and
form which has been in my mind for many years. Until now I lacked the
strength and confidence to make it a reality. I am being forced in this
direction ... not because my invention or technique is inadequate, but
[because] I am obeying an inner compulsion, which is stronger than any
It is Schoenberg’s Op. 17; however, that becomes his seminal work of “total chromaticism.”
One musicologist said that Op. 17, Erwartung, is among the “great monuments of
Modernism.”32 Erwartung is a Monodrama for solo soprano and orchestra, its 426
measures of music culminating to a performance around 30 minutes in length.33 Erwartung
is described erroneously as athematic, when it is really near-athematic as well as atonal.34
The discrepancies in the debate are unproductive. The importance of the piece lies
simultaneously in its length, near-lack of repetition, and technical complexity, most
especially its rhythm.35 Schoenberg described his Op. 17 in this manner: “In Erwartung the
31 Reich, Willi (1971). Schoenberg: A Critical Biography, trans. Leo Black. London: Longman; New York: Praeger.
ISBN 0-582-12753-X. Reprinted 1981, New York: Da Capo Press. Pp. 48.
32 Nicolas Wroe (9 April 2011). "Charles Rosen: A life in music". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
33 Friedheim, Philip (Spring 1966). "Rhythmic Structure in Schoenberg's Atonal Compositions". Journal of the
American Musicological Society. 16 (1): 59–72. doi:10.1525/jams.1966.19.1.03a00040. JSTOR 830871.
34 Buchanan, Herbert H. "A Key to Schoenberg's "Erwartung" (Op. 17)." Journal of the American Musicological
Society 20, no. 3 (1967): 434-49. doi:10.2307/830319.
35 The first 30 bars of music contain 9 meter changes and 16 tempo changes.
aim is to represent in slow motion everything that occurs during a single second of
maximum spiritual excitement, stretching it out to half an hour.”36
Adorno, in his Philosophies of New Music, argues that the construction of
Schoenberg’s Op. 17 “emerges from the intensity of its mimetic impulse, the intersection
creating a seemingly unbridled emotional surge and a striking spontaneity despite the
notorious complexity of the score.”37 Erwartung, to Adorno, is an example of musical
progress. Adorno, like Schoenberg, understood that tonality had become a problem in the
early 20th century. Tonal works, at the time, were argued to be nothing more than
collections of trite sentiments or stubborn adherences to tradition.38 It is the “expressive
atonality”39 of Erwartung that carries on the subjective freedom of the Romantic tradition,
but simultaneously addresses the nature of modernity, and the sense of alienation and
loneliness characteristic of the modern condition.
The early works of “total chromaticism” were, in Schoenberg’s own eyes also,
written through “pure ‘feeling’”40—i.e. mimetic impulse. Erwartung was “forced to
establish [its] own musical syntax instead of relying on the general system of tonality for a
context”41 in composition, a quality shared by all of Schoenberg’s early works of “total
chromaticism”. Paradoxically, it was this mimesis-driven type of composition, this tour de
force, which led Schoenberg to further developments in chromaticism, and—with support
36 Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea. University of California Press (Los Angeles, 1984), pp. 105.
37 Williams, Alastair. New Music and the Claims of Modernity. Illustrated ed. Ashgate, 1997. Pp. 32.
38 Goodwin, Marc. Adorno’s Dilemma: On Difficult Writing and Sophistication in Anthropology Today. Kroeber
Anthropological Society, 100 (1): 38-63. University of California, Berkeley. Pp. 43.
40 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 30.
41 Williams, Alastair. New Music and the Claims of Modernity. Illustrated ed. Ashgate, 1997. Pp. 32.
from the extra-musical factors of wartime trauma and personal life trauma42—the eventual
systematization of his tonal system in the 1920s as dodecaphonic music or dodecaphony,
otherwise known as twelve-tone serialism.43
The systematization of the method:
Enabled him [Schoenberg] to control the distribution of pitches, so there was
no longer any preponderance of one specific note and no major-minor
tonality or tonal gravity. The development of this technique of composing
with twelve-note rows or series marked the end of the long period of major-
minor tonality and the beginning of a different musical language.”44
The dodecaphonic system is a technique through which a composer orders or fixes the 12
notes of the chromatic scale through the construction of tone rows.45 A tone row, tone
series, or tone set is a particular ordering of a set of pitch-classes that is non-repetitive in
nature.46 The tone row is based on four axioms:
1) The row is a specific ordering of all twelve notes in the chromatic scale
(without regard to octave placement).
2) No note is repeated within the row.
3) The row may be subjected to interval-preserving transformations—that is,
it may appear in inversion (denoted I), retrograde I, or retrograde-inversion
(RI), in addition to its ‘original’ or prime form (P).
4) The row in any of its four transformations may begin on any degree of the
chromatic scale; in other words it may be freely transposed. (Transposition
being an interval-preserving transformation, this is technically covered
already by 3.) Transpositions are indicated by an integer between 0 and 11
denoting the number of semitones: thus, if the original form of the row is
denoted P0, then P1 denotes its transposition upward by one semitone
(similarly I1 is an upward transposition of the inverted form, R1 of the
retrograde form, and RI1 of the retrograde-inverted form).47
42 To be expanded upon in a later section
44 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 30.
45 Perle, George. 1977. Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg, and
Webern, fourth edition, revised. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, pp. 2.
46 Ibid., pp. 3.
The original row is the prime (P), which is subject to transposition as the composer
sees fit. The inversion (I) is the prime (P) with inverted intervals. The retrograde I is the
prime (P) in reverse order. Lastly, the retrograde inversion (RI) is an inversion of the
retrograde of the prime (P). These rules govern the row’s construction, but they do not
govern the composer’s interpretation or application of the row—it, and its transformations,
may be used very literally or very abstractly. The other elements of dodecaphonic
composition are as follows:
1) “Derivation”, the transforming of the chromatic segments to yield a
complete set usually through tri, tetra, and hexachords.
2) “Combinatoriality”, the combining of different derived rows/sets to fulfill
certain criteria, usually appears as the combination of hexachords
(hexachord + hexachord = full chromatic).
3) “Invariance”, which is the “properties of a set that are preserved under
[any given] operation, as well as those relationships between a set and the
so-operationally transformed set that inhere in the operation.”48
4) And “Cross Partition”, which is a mono or homophonic arrangement that
“arranges the pitch classes of an aggregate/row into a rectangular design”—
harmonies, the vertical elements, are derived from their adjacent row
segments, melodies, the horizontal elements, are not.49
Schoenberg’s Op. 25, Suite für Klavier was composed between 1921 and 1923. This
is the first composition in which Schoenberg makes use of a 12-tone tone row of tones that
are related only to one another for the entirety of the piece.
All six movements of the suite are based on a twelve-tone row comprised of three
four-note shapes, or tetrachords. Schoenberg develops the piece through transformations
at the tetrachord level, which points to the fact that he had not yet considered the whole
twelve-tone row as a structural unit. The original/prime tone-row is comprised of the
48 Babbitt, Milton. 1960. "Twelve-Tone Invariants as Compositional Determinants". Musical Quarterly 46, no. 2,
Special Issue: Problems of Modern Music: The Princeton Seminar in Advanced Musical Studies (April), pp. 249-50.
49 Alegant, Brian. 2010. The Twelve-Tone Music of Luigi Dallapiccola. Eastman Studies in Music 76. Rochester, NY:
University of Rochester Press, pp. 20.
tetrachords E-F-G-Db, Gb-Eb-Ab-D, B-C-A-Bb. The row is used in its prime form, but it is
also used in its inversion, Bb-A-G-Db, Ab-Cb-Gb-C, Eb-D-F-E, in its retrograde, Bb-A-C-B, D-
Ab-Eb-Gb, Db-G-F-E, and in its retrograde inversion, E-F-D-Eb, C-Gb-Cb-Ab, Db-G-A-Bb.
Figure 150, to the right, is a
sketch by Schoenberg from the
manuscript of Op. 25 which gives the
three-tetrachord twelve-tone tone
rows. In the sketch, the row is divided
into tetrachords at the bar lines, and it is given in these forms: Retrograde (R0) in First Staff
of First System, Original/Prime (P0) in Second Staff of First System, Inversion (I6) in First
Staff of Second System, and Retrograde Inversion (RI6) in Second Staff of Second System.
Figure 251, to the left, shows the
relationship of the two staffs in the first
system of the Manuscript sketch. The
first system gives the row in its retrograde
(R0) form in the first staff, and the row in
its original/prime (P0) form in the
second staff below.
Figure 352, to the left, shows the
relationship of the two staffs in the second system of the Manuscript sketch. The second
50 Schoenberg, Arnold. ASC Schönberg Archive: Selected Music Manuscripts and Text Documents,
51 How, Deborah. Arnold Schoenberg’s Prelude From the Suite for Piano, Op. 25: From Composition With Twelve
Tones to the Twelve-Tone Method. University of Southern California, 2009.
Figure 1: Schoenberg Op. 25, Twelve-Tone Rows Divided into
Figure 2: Pitch-Class Numbering of the Tetrachords in the First
System of Figure 1.
Figure 3: Pitch-Class Numbering of the Tetrachords in the Second
System of Figure 1.
system gives the row in its inversion I6—6 denotes a triton inversion—in the first staff, and
the row in its retrograde inversion at RI6—reversal of the inversion—in the second staff.
In the interest of time I will not go any further with the tone row analysis— instead,
see figure 453 for some insight into the application of the Tetrachords in Op. 25.
For a full analysis of
Schoenberg’s Op. 25,
see Deborah H. How.54
The twelve tone system was certainly innovative, but it is important to
recognize the fact that it was not a clean break from the traditions of the past. Schoenberg,
as mentioned earlier, was a devoted fan of Mahler’s, and later his pupil. Schoenberg
54 How, Deborah. Arnold Schoenberg’s Prelude From the Suite for Piano, Op. 25: From Composition With Twelve
Tones to the Twelve-Tone Method. University of Southern California, 2009.
Figure 4: This is a
Tetrachord Tone Row
analysis of Schoenberg
Op.25, Suite for Piano:
Prelude. Above the top
staff and below the
bottom staff of each
system, brackets are
situated. These brackets
group the notes on each
staff into tetrachords,
based on the tone
system established pre
Iterations of the familiar
forms (P, R, I, RI) are
visible, which hopefully
lps you get an idea of
the application of the
-tone technique in
followed in Mahler’s footsteps in a very direct way; Schoenberg’s oeuvre can be read
chronologically as a progressive investigation into the possibilities of chromaticism. He
began writing music in the style of the late-romantics, then explored total chromaticism
through feeling (a positively romantic approach), until finally systematizing his style of
total chromaticism as the twelve tone method. In short, the overarching quality that
renders the twelve tone system a continuation of past ideals and not an ideological break is
its design: it is rooted in pitch. This is speculative, but I believe that Schoenberg may have
formalized his method of composition simply because of the Modernism that was state-of-
the-art in the 1920s; Schoenberg was already 50 years old and was certainly set in his ways
as a composer and thinker. He was “Modern by association” so to say, the principles of
Modernism becoming apparent to him through his pupils and peers of the Second Viennese
Adorno, in reflection on the twelve tone method, admires the “uncompromising”
protest “embodied in the organization of his musical material.”55 Adorno perceives the
dodecaphonic system as a systematic expression of the subjective through the objective
that “conveys the condition” of the modern subject—an autonomous subject in a
restricting, administrative society.56 On the other hand, Adorno detects a dialectic of
Enlightenment rationality—something we will get into later—wherein the rational system
that is dodecaphony can only advance by expanding domination over nature.57 In other
words, Adorno argued that “twelve-tone music had reproduced the fate it attempted to
elude and thus degenerated into its opposite. It was as if Schonberg’s battle against ‘style’
55 Williams, Alastair. New Music and the Claims of Modernity. Illustrated ed. Ashgate, 1997. Pp. 32.
in the name of ‘idea’ was suddenly transformed into style par excellence.”58 In light of both
sides of Adorno’s argument, there is success in Schonberg’s system: “’the question that
twelve-tone music directs the composer towards is not, how can musical meaning be
organized, but rather: how can musical organization become meaningful?”59
Two of Schoenberg’s pupils, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, took after Schoenberg
in his forays, each of the two eventually taking on the dodecaphonic system of composition
for the construction of their own works. Berg focused on lyricism and the ways in which
dodecaphony could produce lyrical music, whereas Webern delved deeper into the rigid
design of the system. Both Berg and Webern attempted to answer the question posed by
Adorno, in response to Schoenberg’s work: how can musical organization become
meaningful? Webern carried on the legacy of twelve-tone serialism through his devout
radicalism, his approach inspiring the serialists to come.
58 Ashby, Arved. "Schoenberg, Boulez, and Twelve-Tone Composition as “Ideal Type”." Journal of the American
Musicological Society 54, no. 3 (2001): 585-625. doi:10.1525/jams.2001, pp. 81-82.
59 Williams, Alastair. New Music and the Claims of Modernity. Illustrated ed. Ashgate, 1997. Pp. 32.
Part II: Serialism in the Aftermath of World War II
World War II came to an end, and one German town stood in absolute ruin—
Darmstadt. Darmstadt, in 1944, was made the test subject for an experiment in air-raiding
technique conducted by the Royal Air Force. Bombers bombed along a far-reaching fan of
paths over the industrial German city; fierce fires weakened its factories and decimated its
residential dwellings.60 By the end of the war, nearly half of the city’s population had
become homeless (estimated to be about 66,000 of 110,000 total), and around 10% of the
city’s population had died (12,000 of 110,000 total, give or take).61
In 1946, in the rubble of Darmstadt, the Internationale Ferienkurse fur Neue Musik
(in English, the International Summer Course for New Music) was founded. It is known
commonly as the Darmstadt School, and it was formed, in the words of Bandur, as “a way to
reanimate the contemporary music scene and bring together the intellectual forces in
Germany after the Second World War.”62 Each year, the summer camp draws together
composers, performers, critics, and theorists for a three week discussion on the “latest
currents in modern music.”63
The Darmstadt School was part of a larger development in European culture. The
end of the Second World War had arguably marked the “breakdown of German
“totalitarianism”, which drove young artists and intellectuals to direct themselves—their
mental forces, rather—toward a blocking of “the re-establishment of a comparable political
60 Royal Air Force Bomber Command: Campaign Diary September 1944, raf.mod.uk; accessed 19 January 2015.
61 Hastings, Max (2013). Bomber Command. Zenith Press. p. 282. ISBN 9780760345207. Retrieved 6 Jan 2016.
62 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 31.
system in the future.”64 Like Schoenberg, the Darmstadt composers’ efforts were rooted in
their political principles against war, nationalism, and the bourgeoisie. Schoenberg saw
romanticism as a parallel to these concepts, and the Fascism of the Nazi regime in the
Second World War served to amplify the reactions of the Darmstadt composers from that
of Schoenberg—the Nazi regime demonstrated the “true” consequences of nationalistic and
warlike tendencies in politics, which lead the Darmstadt composers to respond with a more
“true” form of musical serialism.65
Olivier Messiaen played host to some earlier experiments in the development of
serialism in his composition class at the Paris Conservatoire around the year 1945, his
students Pierre Boulez and Karel Goeyvaerts experimenting with Anton Weber’s form. It
was not until the summer of 1951 that the seminal period of serial development
commenced—Karlheinz Stockhausen attended the Darmstadt camp session that year,
where he would explore the works of Webern and Messiaen in great depth and befriend
Karel Goeyvaerts, Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, and Bruno Maderna.66 These five composers
are oft referred to as the “Darmstadt Class of 1951”, the group responsible for the
development of serialism as a self-sufficient, thoroughly designed theoretical
compositional method. Stockhausen’s experience at Darmstadt in the summer of 1951
rearranged his concept of music and his approach in composition entirely, and in 1952 he
joined his peers at the Paris Conservatoire under the instruction of Olivier Messiaen.
August 8th, 1951, Stockhausen wrote a letter to Goeyvaerts stating:
65 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 30.
66 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 35.
What we call Zeitgeist s our truth, is truth completely; Zeitgeist is existence
itself, that changes by itself with the currents of time without ever leaving
itself. And I believe I can say that alarmingly few composers are seeking the
truth. Language: that is being itself; that is genuine and unconcealed truth. To
speak in a language today which misses the truth, which is dead, a pretense
of sound, I think that means to write ‘dynamic music’, romantic music in the
historical and individual sense.67
Part III: Developments in Serial Terminology
One essential aspect of the project of modernity is precision in semantics—Zygmunt
Bauman defines modernity as a permanent struggle against contingency and ambivalence,
one of its main concerns being the issue of order. To create order one relies on
categorization, to create categories one relies on delineation. Delineation, more simply, is a
process of name-giving and compartmentalizing (we will delve further into this issue later
The development of serial terminology, then, is of utmost importance when one
considers serialism as an essentially modern expression. The word “serial” in English,
alongside its counterparts in French and Italian, is vague and broad—in regards to the
musical and non-musical, “serial” functions as an umbrella term denoting anything from
Schoenberg to Stockhausen, or anything in a sequence, row, or order. The terminology
developed in response to the innovations in composition by Schoenberg and his legacy,
however, holds deeper, more specific, more powerful meaning.
The story begins in 1947. Rene Leibowitz, the French musician and theorist, in an
attempt to designate the works of Schoenberg post-1923 coined the French terms
“technique serielle”, “oeuvre seriel”, “principe seriel”, “travail seriel”, “composition seriel”,
and “musique serielle”. “Thus the French ‘seriel’ emphasizes the basic use of a premotivic
series or row of pitches—in most cases necessarily twelve within the limits of an octave—
as a compositional technique in contemporary music.”68 A few years later, 1952,
Stockhausen confirmed that the expression “musique serielle” had become the standard in
Messiaen’s composition seminars in the discussion of the music of Webern.
68 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 10.
Boulez attempted to move forward with the term “seriel” around the same time—he
worked to move away from pitch as the singular element for pre-ordering, vying instead
for the inclusion of “lengths, dynamics, and attacks or ‘sounds’ in a similar form of a
series.”69 In 1953, Stockhausen snatched up the term “seriel” and developed the German
“serielle musik”. Stockhausen had been previously set on “durchgeordnete Musik” (thought-
ordered music) and/or “totale Musik” (total music), but he elected to pick up on the
notoriety of the term “seriel”, defining “serielle musik” as any composition with rows.
Stockhausen, from 1955 to 1962, edited the German journal die Riehe—this publication
was essential to the delineation of “serielle musik” as something entirely new; a true break
from tradition, a true break from dodecaphonic music too. The specificity and precision of
the German terminology is the reason for its place in the title of this research paper; it
refers to something very directly, without fault—it has a special meaning in technicality
Part IV: “Serielle Musik” and the Developments in Serial Composition
Subsection I: An Overview of Serielle Musik
Generally, it is understood that twelve-tone theory is non-applicable to post-war
serialism, most essentially on the notions of a “series” as “an intervallic sequence,” and
“that the rules in composition are consistent.”70 Serialism, in its post-war form,
encountered unforeseeable new dimensions of application and functionality. One could
argue that the overarching principle of post-war serialism is that every situation must
occur once, and only once.
Punktuelle Musik stands as a precursor to Serielle Musik, as it focuses on tones as
individual elements—as opposed to functional pieces of a larger musical structure—that
should be determined with the utmost precision. Each tone should be configured
individually through the setting of all possible parameters—not just pitch, but duration,
loudness, and mode of attack/characteristic of sound. “Through this method each note was
individualized so that no two notes within the range of an octave had the same settings.”71
Though punktuelle Musik was established as a rejection of dodecaphony, the rejection was
more so an expansion upon or extension of dodecaphonic methodology—the original
ordering of pitch was simply applied to a trio of other characteristics.
These characteristics manifest beautifully in Stockhausen’s 1951 composition
Kreuzspiel. Kreuzspiel translates roughly to “Cross-play”. The work features a cross-play
between units of preordained pitch sets, which are repeatedly reconfigured as the work
advances. The piece is comprised of four actions:
70 Kurtz, Michael. 1992. Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop. London and Boston: Faber and
Faber. ISBN 0-571-14323-7 (cloth) ISBN 0-571-17146-X (pbk).
71 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 42.
1. 1 to 6 high notes are traded (cross over) back and forth with 6 low notes,
and at the end of 12 permutations, the 6 high notes have traded places
with the 6 low notes
2. In each of the 2 6-note sets, the "untraded" notes are rotated in sequence
(from permutation to permutation)
3. The number of traded notes in each permutation first increases, and then
4. The notes are at first played only on the high and low registers of the
piano, but they soon gravitate towards the middle registers, at which
point the oboe and bass clarinet begin taking over the notes. Eventually 4
of the "voices" have an equal number of notes (3), and after that the oboe
and bass clarinet "own" most of the notes. The process then reverses,
leaving high and low piano alone at the end.72
The compositional system employed in this composition has also been referred to as
permutational serialism—the work does not employ a recurring twelve-tone set, but
instead it operates through the constant reordering “of twelve-element (linked pitch,
duration, dynamic, and—in the original version—attack) sets.”73
This sort of music is obviously technically challenging and mentally exhausting for
the acoustic performer. In the 1950s, however, innovation in electronics led to the
development of electronic music—this method of music making ended up being exactly
what the serialists needed to continue in the development of their style.74 Electronic music
allowed the composer to do away with the limitations of the human as performer, and
moreover one “could now work with musical material physically…in creating differences in
pitch, sound, attack, duration values and sound location.”75 Through electronics, sound
72 “Kreuzspiel, Schlagtrio.” Stockhausen – Sounds in Space.
73 Howell, Tim. 1995. "Eisler’s Serialism: Concepts and Methods". In Hanns Eisler: A Miscellany, edited by David
Blake, 103–32. Contemporary Music Studies 9. Luxembourg; Australia; New York: Harwood Academic Publishers.
ISBN 3-7186-5573-X (cloth); ISBN 3-7186-5575-6 (pbk).
74 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 42.
75 Ibid., pp. 46.
itself took on a new form—the new methods of sound production allowed for the
bypassing of pre-determined functions characteristic of traditional instruments.
Alongside the breakthroughs that came of serial electronic music, Stockhausen’s
mentor Werner Meyer-Eppler also had a great impact on the development of late serialism.
The overarching goal in serialism during the late-1950s was to overcome “the limitations of
fixed structures.”76 In Meyer-Eppler’s concept of aleatoric or “open form” music, these
limitations could be surpassed through the integration of the performer and their
individuality into the fabric of the composition they were to perform. This form is more
commonly known as “chance music”, later popularized by John Cage—in an aleatoric work,
some elements were left up to chance. The formal plans of an aleatoric piece “were
designed to bring out the utmost intensity and variety in every performance.”77
Notation was subject to change in light of the developments in serial composition.
Precise determination on one hand, and aleatoricism on the other, both required the
introduction of new symbols for the communication of once-impossible-to-establish
instructions and guidelines. Graphic elements and textual elements were utilized in
notation at times, sometimes alongside conventional notation, but sometimes on their own,
76 Ibid., pp. 47.
As I mentioned earlier, the Darmstadt composers rejected Schoenberg’s pitch-based
serial composition, but also made use of his technique as a basis for their serializing
processes. Regardless of the parameter—whether length, dynamics, attacks/sound
characteristics—the Darmstadt composers focused on the number twelve as a structural
basis. Essentially, they sought to rebuild the “method of organizing a twelve-tone row.”78
Subsection III: An Analysis of Pierre Boulez’s Structures I (1952) & II (1961)
Structures I was written for two pianos in 1952. It is Boulez’s most radical serial
work, as it exists in a state of near-total integrality.79 The piece is an exceptional
demonstration of the aforementioned notion of rebuilding the organizational method
78 Ibid., pp. 60.
79 Hopkins, G. W., and Paul Griffiths. 2001. "Boulez, Pierre." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians,
second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
Figure 5: This is the format sketch for 7 measures of Stockhausen’s
Figure 6: This is the score for Richtige Dauern, the first
piece in Stockhausen’s set
of text compositions
Aus den sieben Tagen (1968).
behind the twelve-tone row—Ligeti’s analysis of Structures I explains that Boulez
constructs twelve dynamic levels, twelve durations, and ten modes of attack in the piece,
each of which operates with great likeness to the basic twelve-tone row.80
One of the ordered series in Structures I was adapted from Olivier Messiaen’s Mode
de valeurs et d’intensites—this adaptation frames Boulez as "the pupil intending to teach
the master a
A total of 48 tone rows appear in Structures I: all twelve transpositions of the original row,
its inversion, its retrograde, and its retrograde inversion. That means there are 24 tone
rows in each of the two piano parts.
The first three original rows (the
original row and two
permutations) in the piece appear
D#, D, A, G#, G, F#, E, C#, C, A#, F, B.
D, C#, G#, G, F#, F, D#, C, B, A, E, A#.
A, G#, D#, D, C#, C, A#, G, F#, E, B, F.
80 Ligeti, György. 1960. "Pierre Boulez: Decision and Automatism in Structure Ia." Die Reihe 4 ("Young Composers"):
36–62. (Translated from the original German edition of 1958.)
81 Whittall, Arnold. 2008. The Cambridge Introduction to Serialism. Cambridge Introductions to Music. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
Figure 7: This is the unordered series from Olivier Messiaen’s Mode de valeurs et
later adapted by Boulez for Structures I (1952). The series shows the
highest of three unorde
red divisions of the mode (pitch, dynamics, duration, and
Figure 8: The first three original rows and their assigned
By assigning numbers to each of these notes, Boulez forms his pre-compositional
matrices. The “O” matrix shows the original rows when read left to right and the retrograde
rows when read right to left. The “I” matrix shows the inversion rows when read left to
right and the retrograde inversion rows when read right to left.
The numbering used in these matrices is also used to determine durations,
dynamics, and modes of attack, as well as the order in which the rows are to be used.
Concerning duration, Boulez uses the thirty-second note as the standard unit of time. To
determine a note’s duration, the thirty-second note is multiplied by the numbers found in
each row of the matrices. Here is the duration series of the original row:
Figure 9: The “O” matrix shows the original rows
when read left to right and the retrograde rows
when read right to left.
Figure 10: The “I” matrix shows the inversion rows
when read left to right and the retrograde inversion
rows when read right to left.
Figure 11: The note duration series of the original tone row.
Dynamics are determined in a
similar fashion; each numbering assigned a
different dynamic value.
The dynamics are ordered in a set
of opposing diagonals, Piano I following
the original matrix and Piano II following
Modes of attack are
designed in the exact same manner.
Figure 12: The dynamic assignments to each number in the
Figure 13: the dynamic ordering for
Figure 14: The dynamic ordering for
Figure 15: The assigned mode of attack for each number.
Figure 16: The modes of attack as they are ordered for Piano I and Piano II.
Structures I can be broken down into two sections, A and B—each section can be
broken down into smaller sections, adding up to a total of eleven sections in all. These
sections are determined by tempo. Section A is as follows: Part 1 (medium tempo), Part 2
(fast tempo), Part 3 (slow tempo), Part 4 (fast tempo), Part 5 (medium tempo), Section B is
as follows: Part 6 (slow), Part 7 (fast), Part 8 (medium), Part 9 (fast), Part 10 (slow), and
Part 11 (medium). Density is a changing variable, as the piano is capable of voicing more
than one part at once. Lastly, there are three non-predetermined elements: octave register,
rests, and meter. It is clear, however, that successions of notes are spread across registers,
rests are rarely used, and the meter changes frequently only to aid the performer.
Some argue that Structures I and its reorganization Structures II are over-
determined, but that is the very nature of integral serialism—total control. Boulez realized
Structures was pushing serialism to its very limits, but that was the point. Milton Babbit
once stated, in reference to experiments in integral serialism, that contemporary music is
identical to scientific investigation in linguistics—music was just another “specialized
systemic language without recourse to the concrete experiences of the lifeworld.”82
82 Williams, Alastair. New Music and the Claims of Modernity. Illustrated ed. Ashgate, 1997, pp. 46.
Subsection IV: Innovation Through Serial Composition
Serial composition pushed the boundaries of conventional musical work by
expanding the concept of form—the notion of a “closed” form, something with fixed
content and a beginning and end, was reimagined through the invention of a “new model of
musical form” in serial practices.83 I pose this development as a movement from
substantivity to relationality in composition. Substantive compositions are fixed creations
comprised of universal sound objects and mechanisms with inherent values and functions.
These values and functions are unchanging, regardless of any factor outside of the music.
Relational compositions are, conversely, unfixed creations comprised of sound objects
evaluated and given function in relation to other sound objects, performance space,
performer, audience, etc. This movement from substantivity to relationality in composition
extended beyond the context of music composition, eventually impacting the creative
world at large.
The pre-compositional matrix, a “meta-compositional matrix which contains all the
information necessary to produce a correct composition”, generates an intended range of
formal results in its calculated nature.84 Though restricting at face value, the composer is
also given freedom to choose the elemental shape of the composition and the ways in
which these elements develop over the course of the composition. The composer,
furthermore, has the power to give anything meaning at any point in a composition—to
“understand” a composition, the before and after are no longer necessary. Every moment
83 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 48.
84 Ibid., pp. 49.
has, or can have, musical meaning. Outside the bounds of composition, such a mindset
could allow for the reevaluation of any and all things for the discovery of new meaning.
Section III: Serielle Weltanschauung
Part I: Integration
The abstract principle of late serialism is the formation of a system of integration.
Integration, by definition, is the combining of a set of things to one whole. Integration
allows one to work with any variety of heterogeneous, differentiated materials. The
principle is not simply musical, but can apply to any type of formal organization.
The late serialists, in protest against the war-mongering nationalist romantics, were
motivated to find a new language. They did not intend to reorganize the world at large, but
simply to create a new system for expression in music, and to make possible the
reevaluation of musical styles and methodology. For this reason, musical serialism does
not attempt to account for all musical materials, but only those materials and features at
hand. This designates the character and dimensions of those features constructed as well.
The natural order of the biological world can be seen as an exemplary type of serial
Each living thing is an element in an infinite series of beings with a typical
relationship between individual and generic characteristics like color, size,
shape, capabilities or aptitudes and so on. While created unique on the level
of degrees and mixture of generic features, this individual equipment
nevertheless has typical forms and limits of range.85
Serial integration is a special type of integration, in that it attempts to develop the essential
principles of identity and difference—repetition, variation/derivation, contrast, and
85 Ibid., pp.53.
Part II: Identity and Difference
Identity and difference are concepts of great importance in Western aesthetics and
metaphysics. Identity is generally defined as sameness—“the usual formulation of the
principle of identity reads: A = A.”86 On the other hand, difference is defined as otherness.
There are four concepts that generate the distinction or lack thereof between identity and
difference, which I mentioned above: repetition, variation/derivation, contrast, and
Repetition is comprised of pattern and rhythm—this is the consistency of elements
in a construction. Rhythm, in the general conception of the term, gives life to a work of art.
It is, simply put, the recurrence of elements. There is regular rhythm, which is the
recurrence of the same elements, and irregular rhythm, which is the recurrence of similar
elements. Harmony is the logical repetition of said elements, whether regular or irregular,
while dissonance is illogical repetition.87 Variation (also known as derivation) is the
“quality of having different forms or types.”88 Variation is said to give a design conceptual
interest. This is enacted through the use of contrast, emphasis, and difference. Contrast
“shows differences and diversity” in a work by combining “elements to create interest.”89
The modern concept of symmetry is rather vague, but it is based upon balance and
correspondence between perceived elements in a work.
86 Heidegger, Martin. Identity and Difference. Harper & Row, Publishers, Incorporated, New York. 1969. Pp. 23.
87 Chiappone, John. “The Principles of Art.” Intro to Humanities.
Repetition and contrast are “the basic ideas of connecting two or more elements
together.”90 Repetition connects elements through identity, while contrast connects
elements through absolute difference. Variation and symmetry work with identity and
difference in a similar way simultaneously: symmetry “accentuates more the moment of a
non-representational identity” (for example the relationship of the left and right hand) but
is combined and improved upon through difference (the left and right hand are in fact not
the same, and it is that fact in combination with their symmetrical appearance that makes
them interesting).91 Variation accentuates “more strongly the moment of difference while
working with an underlying connective link of identity which ensures the effect of the
Serialism develops a stronger connection between identity and difference. Through
the use of a pre-compositional matrix—a formal plan for composition—more substantial
relationships between identity and difference can be generated. Conventionally, identity
and difference require the “real unfolding” of elements in time-space to be perceived by the
senses, but in serial composition the qualities of “identity and difference” are integrated “in
each of the formal elements” as they relate to one another.93 In other words, identity and
difference work simultaneously with one another in each element of a serial plan, and are
therefore not limited by the necessities or demands of the unfolding of elements in time-
space. The use of a matrix for the pre-ordering of materials/elements essentially shatters
90 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated ed.
Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 55.
the phenomenological connectivity between elements—anything can be anything, and
therefore anything can mean anything.
Part III: Elemental Independence and Variety
Alongside the absolute coherence to elemental organization in the pre-
compositional matrix, all elements must also be considered independently. Though the
elements are constructed in relation to one another within the matrix, it is this relational
construction that also gives each element absolute independence—elemental qualities are
granted not in accordance with that of another element, but with that of the overarching
Furthermore, in the actual planning of a composition, utmost variety must be the
goal, “both on the first level of formal design based on simple elements as well as on the
high levels of superstructures built up of several lower structures.”94 Through the goal of
utmost variety, all possible combinations of elements in a matrix are used, which allows for
the possibility of finding the “richest source of aesthetic information.”95 This is an essential
principle in serial composition. It is this never-ending search for the best relationships in
composition and construction that stimulates artistic creativity, grants permanent
justification, and demands self-reflection in the composer. With reference to these
concepts, Stockhausen, in 1974, wrote:
Understanding the spirit of serial composing means knowing that this spirit
has brought to consciousness something that cannot be undone: to achieve
the equal rights of all elements in a composition which respecting the law of
natural differences…since the nature of noises as well as the methods for
reasonably integrating noises seem to have become clear, it is now possible
to once again consider the characteristics of natural intervals in composition.
‘Tonality’, in the sense of functional harmony and melody, will be valid as a
94 Ibid., pp. 56.
special case like classical mechanics. In all compositions in the future,
moments will be reached from time to time of using the quite simple and
pure relationships of oscillations…Order and chaos are no longer
incompatible oppositions but rather there is a continuous scale in the
transition between them, and in a universal conception of form one is the
cause of the other.96
96 Ibid., pp. 63.
Section IV: Serialism and Modern Society
Part I: Introduction
The redefining of the notion of a work of art in serialism logically leads one to
question the relationship between music and culture at large. This was not an affair in
music history, but it was an affair connected with the relationship between music listening,
appreciation, and society. It is in this way that serial music was not the next step in the
series of inventions that is the history of Western music, but a total break from traditions in
music composition and listening. “The creation of serialism must be interpreted as a radical
break with tradition and a shift in historical development with no parallel in music
Part II: Quasi-Serialism in the Non-Musical Arts
At the beginning of the 20th century, around the same time as Schoenberg and
Webern’s experiments, a debate came to fruition in the realm of Western architecture. This
debate focused on the trends and principles in architecture, and called for a shift away from
19th century styles which were characterized as anti-human, egomaniacal and egocentric,
monumental, and showy. These characteristics were deemed hostile to growth and
development. The modern architects called for a movement toward new values, forms, and
styles focused on the “central questions” of human value, sincerity, and real “truth” in
97 Ibid., pp. 13.
Furthermore, Stockhausen cited Le Corbusier’s technique of Le Modulor as the
forerunner to post-war serialism. Le Modulor is a system of measurement based on human
proportions which Le Corbusier devised for the determination of the amount of living
space needed for the individuals
living in his buildings. It is not
attached to traditional systems of
measurement like the American,
British, or metric systems.
In literature, Raymond Federman wrote Double
or Nothing; A Real Fictitious Discourse (1971)
wherein each page is designed differently in
style or concept, in an attempt to exhaust all
possibilities in typography.
Figure 17: Le Modulor, above, makes use of the golden ratio,
the Fibonacci sequence, and the Vitruvian man in its
Figure 18: A page from Double or Nothing; A Real
There are numerous examples in painting and other visual arts from the 1940s
onward, for example the works of Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Theo Van Doesburg, and Georg
van Tongerloo. The works of these artists and others come close to serialism in that they
work to avoid repetition and symmetry on all formal levels while also working with a
limited set of elements.98
Part III: Modern Warfare and Social Trauma
Ernest Newman, in 1914, wrote an article called “The War and the Future of Music”
where he stated: “whatever be the military result of the present war is a very different
Europe that we shall know when it is over…it goes without saying that art of every kind will
be profoundly affected by the intellectual outcome of all these changes, and music, perhaps,
more than the other arts.”99
Adorno and others have argued that alienation is a fundamental element of the
modern condition. The world-shaking events of the first and second world wars, alongside
all events of modern warfare, serve to exacerbate the effects of the modern condition—this
can be understood as a sort of social trauma, wherein the modern individual is traumatized
by experiences characterized by personal sensations of meaninglessness, powerlessness,
unknowing, and alienation.100
The notion of trauma refers to a “shattering of the self” in the face of an
experience.101 Trauma is not simply a dissociative disorder, nor is a traumatic experience
simply a neurotic distortion. A more than definitive feature of trauma is its belatedness,
99 Ernest Newman. “The War and the Future of Music.” Musical Times,1. September 1914, 571–72.
100 Nicole Cauvin (1987). Alienation: The Modern Condition, Sacred Heart University Review: Vol. 7 : Iss. 1 , Article 3.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/shureview/vol7/iss1/3
101 Wendy S. Hesford and Wendy Kozol. Just Advocacy?: Women's Human Rights, Transnational Feminisms, and the
Politics of Representation. Illustrated ed. Rutgers University Press, 2005, Pp. 111.
and its effects on time—it is characterized by both temporal distortion (i.e. that things will
never be the same) and hypostatization of time (i.e. time is frozen in a permanent space
where nothing will ever be the same).102 Due to its characteristic latency, trauma is the
“repeated suffering” of the event in which it is rooted. The traumatic experience is not “fully
perceived” or “experienced” as “it occurs”, and through its being forgotten the trauma is
made to leave its experiential site of origin—it is stirred up by other experiences or places
The traumatic experience is inaccessible, so to say, and therefore the trauma itself is
resistant to full understanding. The traumatic experience can essentially be understood as
a “collapse of witnessing”104—an event that cannot be understood or mastered, and
ultimately cannot be incorporated into one’s life—which, in its repeatedly experienced
inaccessibility, produces an impossibility of knowing. An impossibility of knowing results
in a crisis of truth—the certainty supplied by truth is unfound, as truth itself is made
impossible to know. These qualities are that which makes trauma a radical disruption of
one’s world experience, which in turn pushes the traumatized into a state of post-trauma; a
I have outlined the impact of trauma on the individual above to establish a lens
through which one might understand the impact of warfare on the modern composer—
warfare, in the context of Schoenberg’s world experience and that of the Darmstadt
102 Ibid., pp. 111.
103 Cathy Caruth. Trauma: Explorations in Memory. JHU Press, 1995, Pp. 8.
104 Dori Laub. Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History. Illustrated ed. Taylor &
composers, is that which causes the crisis of knowing. The experience of war is not simply a
cause for innovation, but it is a demarcation line for the individual experience as a whole.
Schoenberg was not alone in his mimesis—other fin-de-siècle composers, such as
Debussy, worked to come to terms with the modern condition through their work.105
Schoenberg, however, “took the most drastic steps, and perhaps more important, he set
forth an elaborate teleology of musical history, a theory of irreversible progress, to justify
his actions.”106 The years preceding the completion of Erwartung, proved to be a journey of
harrowing personal crisis. In 1907, Schoenberg’s longtime mentor and advocate Gustav
Mahler left Vienna bound for New York City. Around the same point in time, Schoenberg
became friends with an expressionist painter named Richard Gerstl—May 1908,
Schoenberg found out that Gerstl was having an affair with his wife Mathilde.107 She ran
away with Gerstl, eventually returning to her husband. When Gerstl learned of the
Schoenbergs’ reunion, he destroyed his paintings and hanged himself, totally nude, in front
of a full length mirror—this occurred on November 4th, 1908, an autumn night on which
works of Schoenberg were performed. Schoenberg, in a note to his wife during her summer
affair with Gerstl, stated that he is “totally broken,”108 his life up to that point shrouded in
darkness, despair, and madness—from an upbringing in Vienna’s Jewish ghettos, to anti-
semitic oppression in late 18th/early 19th century Germany, to ridicule in the musical world,
and the aforementioned pains in his personal life. In this note, he warns that he would
“soon follow the path, find the resolution, that at long last might be the highest culmination
105 Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. Fourth Estate, pp. 38.
107 Ibid., pp. 54.
of all human actions, whether it be my body that will give way or my soul.”109 Guided by
German symbolist poetry and Expressionism in painting, Schoenberg perhaps began to
search for this “path” in the poetic works of Stefan George, in his own writing, and in his
The true path, however, was composition—death-drive propulsed mimetic impulses
in musical expression. The poetics of Stefan George in his Second Quartet and Das Buch der
hängenden Gärten and their resonance with his own world experience pointed to the
future: Erwartung. The monodrama’s plot, the woman searching for her missing lover
under moonlight in the forest, is coupled with the near-athematic orchestral scoring—a
work of fury, a distillation of his sentiments of betrayal and agony. These early atonal
works ooze with emotion, the expressions evocative and unbridled, but the compositional
systems generate independently—a return to the aforementioned Adornian conception of
Schoenberg’s early total chromaticism as a mimetic impulse—now clearly supplemented
by personal anguish—addressing the alienation of the modern condition.
Alongside the mimesis that Adorno deemed responsible for the creation of
twelve-tone serialism, war trauma and personal trauma served an integral role in the
musical development. Schoenberg was drafted at the age of 42 during World War I—an
unprecedented disruption in his otherwise uninterrupted musical career.111 This
disruption manifest in the total chromatic works composed following the completion of his
service, the works seen as having “a strong foundation in his political attitude against
nationalistic and warlike tendencies, which he saw as a parallel to the subject-centered
110 The Red Gaze (1908) is an exceptional example
111 Lebrecht, Norman. 2001. "Why We're Still Afraid of Schoenberg". The Lebrecht Weekly (8 July).
trends in art.”112 Musicologist Alex Ross proposes this sentiment as one of “war
psychosis”—in his mind, his assault on bourgeois decadence was just like the German
assaults on France. He denounced his contemporaries113 for their status as members of the
bourgeoisie, and a few years later in 1918 he proposed the idea for, and eventually in 1921
founded an insular forum for contemporary composers and compositions; the Society for
Private Musical Performances. The traumatic effects of war, as demonstrated, were
instrumental in the formation of the Society for Private Musical Performances, the darkness
of the warfare-generated existential disruption demonstrating to Schoenberg that
alienation was both the problem and solution, to the modern condition—an insular
organization like his forum sequesters modern composers from society, benefits follow. At
the end of this forum’s lifespan, in 1923, Schoenberg’s wife passed away.114
The trauma and “psychosis” produced by World War I (1914) and the trauma
produced by hardship in his personal life, most recently the death of his wife (1923),115
played an essential role in the progression from early atonal mimetics to the twelve-tone
system, these elements of trauma amassing over time, pushing Schoenberg further and
further from the life he once knew, until the objectivization of expression was the only
As I have illustrated, World War II was a driving force behind the developments of
Serialism enacted by the Darmstadt composers. Bandur reflects on these composers in
relation to the Second World War, stating:
112 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated
ed. Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 30.
113 Stravinsky, Ravel, Bizet
114 Neighbour, O[liver] W. 2001. "Schoenberg [Schönberg], Arnold (Franz Walter)". The New Grove Dictionary of
Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
The dimensions of bodily experiences and emotional feelings were not
interesting enough for further work. The depiction of the psychic world,
sorrow and joy, through music had come to an end. The cosmos of the human
subject had been discovered, no more blank areas could be found. And after
the catastrophes of the Second World War, the human being, responsible for
this disaster, could no longer be a worthy subject in composing music. The
younger generation had another message to express.116
But, just as in the case of Schoenberg, war was not the sole force behind the developments
in Serial composition, but instead it was the personal experiences of the Darmstadt
composers—as they were shaped by the experiences of war-torn European life—that
served to develop Serialism. War changed the outlook, but it did not change the
compositional style itself. Stockhausen’s life is a great example of this idea.
Stockhausen’s young life was purportedly untroubled, aside from his father’s
remarriage in his adolescence. In 1941, he learned of his mother’s death—she had been
institutionalized in 1932 when Stockhausen was just seven years old due to a series of
mental breakdowns, so she was not at all present in Stockhausen’s life. The cause of death
was leukemia, which apparently had killed every other patient at the hospital too—in
reality, it was generally assumed that she had been a victim of Nazi policies that mandated
the killing of the “useless.”117 Later, in 1945, Stockhausen’s father said one final goodbye to
his son while Karlheinz was on leave from his service in the German military as a “stretcher
bearer in Bedburg.”118 Some say Stockhausen’s father was killed in battle in 1945. These
world experiences are characteristic of the modern condition. In a 1988 radio interview,
Stockhausen expanded on the principle behind the developments in late serialism:
116 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated
ed. Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 28.
117 Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 1989a. Stockhausen on Music: Lectures and Interviews, edited by Robin Maconie.
London and New York: Marion Boyars. ISBN 0-7145-2887-0 (cloth) ISBN 0-7145-2918-4 (pbk).
118 Kurtz, Michael. 1992. Stockhausen: A Biography, translated by Richard Toop. London and Boston: Faber and
Faber. ISBN 0-571-14323-7 (cloth) ISBN 0-571-17146-X (pbk).
The period of depicting human feelings and emotions in art has now
gone on long enough. We have a sufficiently large spectrum of works which
represent the human being suffering between the animal and angel. That has
finally come to an end and, in my opinion, we have had enough of it too. It
makes the spectrum no larger if more excesses of the extreme utterances of
man, of extreme situations of joy or suffering, of rejoicing or being tortured
ae expressed in art.119
Part IV: Serialism and the Project of Modernity
The impact of modern warfare on serialism points to the relationship between
serialism and the project of modernity. As I’ve mentioned, the historical situation
surrounding serial music indicates the nature of serialism as a radical break from tradition.
This is, of course, an essential principle in post-enlightenment thought. Breaking from
tradition is the key to development, growth, and advancement for human kind. Pierre
Boulez, reflecting on his methodology and intent for the composition of Structures I (1952)
My plan was based on the following idea: I wanted to blot out every
trace of the traditional in my vocabulary, whether it concerned figures, or
phrases, or developments, or form; I wanted to re-conquer, piece by piece,
element by element, the different phases in such a form so that a perfect new
synthesis would emerge, a synthesis that, since its beginning, had not been
tainted by foreign matter—stylistic remnants in particular. Secondly, I
pursued the thought of standardizing those aspects of language that up to
that time had remained in a state of conflict, something I found most
unpleasant; it bothered me to pick up a pitch system from one composer, a
rhythmic principle from another, a formal idea from yet another. Under these
conditions, it occurred to me that the most urgent requirement was the unity
of all elements of language—run together in a melting pot of identical
organization that would be responsible for the existence, development, and
changing relations of the elements of language.120
119 Stockhausen, Karlheinz. Texte X. pp. 27.
120 Boulez, Pierre. 1986b. Orientations. London: Faber and Faber, pp. 61.
Schoenberg, like Boulez, spoke of his compositional process as a reckoning “with an
inherently unstable scenario.”121 Schoenberg saw his composition as a way to restore
balance in expression. More broadly, he saw his music as a cultural critique and as a
method of truth telling. “He also subscribed to the Hegelian idea of the historical progress
of art and situated his music at the cutting edge of modernity.”122 Schoenberg, and clearly
Pierre Boulez as well, perceived their work as composers as something more than simply
expression; their emphasis on organic unity and originality pointed to these notions as
“signs of artistic autonomy”, which could be understood as method of emancipation from
bourgeois subjecthood and tradition as a whole.123
More so than just the break from tradition, serial composition is a process of
rationalization. Rationalization is another essential principle of post-enlightenment
thought, as a system of rational thinking allows for the expansion of the domains of human
control through a fuller sense of knowing.
Similarly, as I mentioned in the section on serial terminology, one essential aspect of
the project of modernity is the goal of establishing complete order. Zygmunt Bauman, in his
own words, said: “We can think of modernity as of a time when order – of the world, of the
human habitat, of the human self, and of the connection between all three – is reflected
upon; a matter of thought, of concern, of a practice that is aware of itself…”124 Modernity is
a permanent struggle against the other of order, which is ambivalence, incoherence,
121 Ashby, Arved. "Schoenberg, Boulez, and Twelve-Tone Composition as “Ideal Type”." Journal of the American
Musicological Society 54, no. 3 (2001): 585-625. doi:10.1525/jams.2001, pp. 83.
122 Ibid., pp. 82.
124 BAUMAN, Zygmunt. Modernity and Ambivalence. Cambridge, Polity Press.
Precision in semantics is one aspect of this goal of complete order. To create order
one relies on categorization, to create categories one relies on delineation. Delineation,
more simply, is a process of name-giving and compartmentalizing. As soon as the term
serielle Musik began to spread through die Riehe out into the Western world, artists and
intellectuals began to understand serialism as more than a mere “technical difference to
More essentially however, serialism is principally geared toward the abolishment,
or reorganization, of chaos. Stockhausen himself said that serial thinking made order and
chaos no longer at odds with one another, rendering them compatible and in conversation
with one another. This, in my opinion, makes chaos not-so-chaotic. For chaos to be in
conversation with order, it must be stripped of its characteristic incomprehensibility. An
orderly world, a modern world, is stable—so too is a matrix-defined serial composition.
125 Bandur, Markus. Aesthetics of Total Serialism: Contemporary Research from Music to Architecture. Illustrated
ed. Springer Science & Business Media, 2001, pp. 11.
Section V: Conclusion
Part I: The Impact and Importance of Serialism
The serial technique rendered the serial composers the first in a line of modern
dialectical composers. In other words, the music of Schoenberg and those in his lineage
attempted to assess the conflicting tendencies in the Modern world: conflicts between
tradition and innovation, the heart and the brain, style and idea. “Like Adorno’s dialectic
between musical ‘material’ and subjective ‘composition’, Schonberg’s elusive concept of
‘idea’, for example, involved a dialectic between preservation and negation, old and
new.”126 The dialectical composer elevates their own ideas through the radical negation of
the musical past and the selective, conservative preservation of the past. The dialectical
composer does not simply express new ideas, but works to find new ways to articulate,
contextualize, and organize these new ideas. The composer is responding to the state of
affairs in the human world in the way that suits them; the musical way, through a wrestling
with pre-established musical materials in an attempt to make use of said materials in a way
that makes sense to the modern, post-enlightenment, war-torn mind.
Schoenberg’s original revolutionary twelve-tone ideas and Stockhausen’s new
morphology of time reveal that the history of music and the nature of expression are not
pre-determined; they are subject to human will and consciousness.127
The many facets of serialism from composition to abstract theory have opened a
new chapter in the history of the arts and in Western theoretical thinking. The concepts of
Serialism are universal and meta-theoretical, and the discoveries and inventions of
126 Ashby, Arved. "Schoenberg, Boulez, and Twelve-Tone Composition as “Ideal Type”." Journal of the American
Musicological Society 54, no. 3 (2001): 585-625. doi:10.1525/jams.2001, pp. 82-83.
127 Adorno, Theodor W. Essays on Music. Richard Leppert ed. University of California Press. pp.207.
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Western world, a bridging of polarized dichotomies that might allow for new meaning, new
understanding, and a broadened outlook for the human mind. Serialism may not be an end-
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