Serialism: Composer as Theorist

Arthur Berger

in Reflections of an American Composer

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780520232518
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928213 | DOI:
Serialism: Composer as Theorist

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The chapter discusses the neoclassical style of composition which was a discipline of rigorous intellectual caliber such as serialism, that has made theorists out of some composers. Serial composers were designated cerebral and academic even if they were outside the learned Princeton circle. This was because they had to be constantly vigilant to be sure that they were operating within the discipline of serialism. The question of the public image, the critics of the age-old complaint that new music is too “academic” now being able to point to the tangible evidence that can be adduced from a composer's lifestyle—claiming, namely, that composers are writing academic music because they are in fact academicians. Besides being brought up on tonal music, most composers had to spend two or more years studying its theory and practice, so the process of choosing notes, harmonies, rhythms, etc. seemed to be guided to a considerable extent by intuition, but was actually the product of long and rigorous drilling. At the same time the necessity of responding to the requirements of a discipline of such rigorous intellectual caliber as serialism has made theorists out of some composers in a way that has had no precedent in recent centuries, as it was an advantage to composers who sought, for their very survival, some escape in the universities from the alternative of having to cope with the commercialism of the marketplace.

Keywords: serialism; serial composers; theorist; commercialism; academic

Chapter.  4058 words. 

Subjects: American Music

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