Techniques | Serialism | Modern Era | Opera

In order to expand on atonality while creating a formal structure and rules for its usage, Arnold Schoenberg invented a system of composition. Schoenberg’s 12-tone technique, sometimes called dodecaphony, was founded as a replacement for the limiting traditions of formal Western harmony.

These 12 tones refer to the 12 chromatic pitches contained within an octave that are used to create a row or line of music, and it is essential that each of the tones is not repeated. This predetermined order or ‘row’ of tones may also incorporate any of a variety of other musical alterations, including transposition, inversion or retrograde (backwards).

Serialism would later be equated with composition that uses any ordered sets in combination with an application to any music element. Accordingly, ‘total serialism’ and ‘integral serialism’ are terms used to clarify and distinguish between the more rigorous form devised by Schoenberg. Two of the most distinguished composers who have followed this style and further developed it are Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez, while the first such operatic masterwork was Alban Berg’s Lulu. Within the mathematical and formal structures he employed, Berg was able to create a world of intense expressivity. Today, serialism has enabled composers to experiment with sound much in the same way that explorations in the visual arts were regarded as ‘abstract expressionism’.

Techniques | Expressionism | Modern Era | Opera


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