Serial music

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Serial music (also serialism or seriality , from French musique sérielle , introduced in 1947 by René Leibowitz ; English serial music ) is a movement of new music that developed from around 1948.


Serial music is a further development of Arnold Schönberg's twelve-tone technique and is composed according to strict rules. The composition technique is based on the attempt to build up as many properties of the music as possible, such as tone duration, pitch and volume, on series of numbers or proportions. This idea of ​​a musique pure arises from the desire to produce music with the greatest possible clarity, free from redundancy, indeterminacy and the arbitrariness of personal taste.

Serialism became historically possible through the preparatory work of Arnold Schönberg and Anton Webern , representatives of the so-called Second Viennese School , who already rearranged pitches and interval structures according to their own rules. However, while in their twelve-tone music only the pitch course is defined as a series, with serial music the parameters of tone duration , volume and timbre (which - especially in piano music - also include articulation or variety ) are quantified and recorded in series in a predetermined proportion.

The first composition that comes close to these rules is Olivier Messiaen's piano piece Mode de valeurs et d'intensités - to which subsequent generations usually refer - in which he not only describes the pitches, but also the duration and strength of the tone and the articulation organized by series- like modes (hence the title), which, however, allowed a higher degree of compositional freedom. Messiaen himself said, however, that he had already used the same techniques for the piano work Cantéyodjaya a few weeks before the composition of this work .


Special forms of serial music are selective music , group composition and - with restrictions - statistical music .

Contrary to a widespread assumption, serial music (or more precisely: music composed using serial techniques) does not make sense for the construction principles to be audible. Rather, the pre-organization serves similar purposes as the musical theory of earlier times, namely to avoid certain constellations that are perceived as wrong. In classical music, for example , these were parallel fifths , in Schönberg the ban on octaves, in serial music the avoidance of tonal structures or regular rhythms. The “meaning” of this music is as far removed from the production process as the “meaning” of a Bach chorale is from the rules of the regular four-part voice. Therefore, criticisms that see a problem in the fact that:

  • the reception is based on the limited memory capacity of human short-term memory (20 sec. capacity to retain new information), which makes it impossible to hear through the complex musical structures. Now, on the one hand, it has been empirically proven that an average listener can neither recognize nor remember the themes of the three theme groups in the main movement (that is nine themes in the exposition alone), and that the material-immanent listening as a cognitive achievement is not given overall . On the other hand, the material level is not to be equated with the design level.
  • the interpretation due to the apparently limited accuracy of the instrumental and vocal parts prevents the over-exact information given by the composer from being reproduced with sufficient precision. Here, recent history has shown that the difficulties that are considered insurmountable can be solved by the next generation at the latest - similar to the difficulties that Liszt's piano etudes were once considered to be "superhuman" have long since become an examination task for ordinary conservatory degrees.
  • the use of rules and the operation with tables of numbers lead to "paper music" free of any musicality. At least in the case of the important representatives of serial music, the rules on which the music is based (with very few exceptions) did not completely determine the work, but left the composer's musical invention and design free.

Further development

The forcing of material shaping led to electronic music , which is no longer subject to the limitations of traditional instruments in any way.

The key works of serial composition technique are: Pierre Boulez ' Structures for 2 pianos, Karlheinz Stockhausen's Kontra-Punkt for ensemble and groups for three orchestras. The most important representatives of serial music include:


There is a possibility of confusion due to the use of English . There serial music often describes the twelve-tone technique in the sense of Schönberg, while serial music is called total serialism . In German usage, there is also a confusion of terms with not serial, but repetitive composition techniques (see Minimal Music ) (example), probably in the wrong analogy to serial art and its techniques.

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. .... serial music. The crickets chirp. ... - DIE ZEIT No. 45, 2013, features section, accessed on September 24, 2014.