Professor:         Dr. Stephen Peles             Office:              251 Moody Music Bldg.

Office phone:    348-1472                          Office Hours:  MW 2:00-3:00 and by appointment





A method of composition in which a fixed permutation, or series, of elements is referential (i.e. the handling of those elements in the composition is governed, to some extent and in some manner, by the series). Most commonly the elements arranged in the series are the 12 notes of the equal-tempered scale. This was so in the technique introduced by Schoenberg in the early 1920s and employed by him in most of his subsequent compositions. Serialism was quickly taken up by his pupils, including Berg and Webern, and then by their pupils, but not at first by many outside this circle, the most important exceptions being Dallapiccola and Krenek. The method spread more widely and rapidly in the decade after World War II, when Babbitt, Boulez, Nono and Stockhausen produced their first acknowledged works. These composers and their colleagues sometimes extended serialism to elements other than pitch, notably duration, dynamics and timbre. At the same time serial techniques began to be used by already established composers; here the outstanding example was Stravinsky. The diverse range of composers so far mentioned should indicate that serialism cannot be described as constituting by itself a system of composition, still less a style. Nor is serialism of some sort incompatible with tonality, as is demonstrated in works by Berg and Stravinsky, for example, though it has most usually been employed as a means of erecting pitch structures in atonal music.

— Paul Griffiths, “Serialism.”  In The New Grove Dictionary of Music

and Musicians.  Vol. 17 (London:  Macmillan, 1980), p. 162.



Course Description



This course is designed for advanced graduate students and is intended as an introduction to serial music and to the theoretical literature which attempts to address that music.  Broadly speaking it has three goals.


(1)  To introduce you to the music and the special problems it poses, focussing chiefly on works that have in some measure entered the repertory.


(2)  To introduce you to the current state of the art in theoretical thinking about this literature and to provide you with some basic analytical and descriptive strategies for dealing with unfamiliar works whose structural principles are novel and perhaps unknown.  The theoretical enterprise in question in scarcely forty years old, and is thus still in its infancy as such things go.  It is hoped that the readings from the literature will provide you with some historical sense of how the field has evolved over that time.


(3)  To enhance your aural perceptions of this music, to make your way of thinking about it more relevant to the music itself, and to enable you to talk and write coherently about it.







This course is intended to follow the fall semester Introduction to Atonal Theory course.  John Rahn’s Basic Atonal Theory (New York:  Schirmer Books, 1980) is the initial text in that course.  Students who did not take that course are strongly advised to acquire the Rahn text, knowledge of which is required and assumed for purposes of the current course.



Always bring note paper and music paper to class.





Homework and quizes count for 80% of the final grade; the final exam counts for 20%.


Reading assignments are assignments, too; like most graduate courses, readings from the professional literature constitute one of the most important components of this course.  Class preparation and participation will thus be taken into account in the determination of the final grade.


Course material is presented in three forms:  readings from the literature, handouts, and lectures.  You are responsible for all material, regardless of the medium of presentation.  It is of utmost importance that you bring note paper and music paper to class and take notes.  In the event that you are absent for a lecture, be sure to get the notes for that class from a classmate.



To request disability accommodations, please contact Disabilities Services (348-4285).  After initial arrangements are made with that office, contact your instructors.







I.  Introduction to order relations


II.  The Second Viennese School:  “Motivic” Aspects

Webern and “derivation”


III.  The Second Viennese School:  Hexachordal Combinatoriality



IV.  Postwar Developments:  Generalized arrays

12-tone and non-12-tone combinatorialities


V.  Postwar Developments:  Rhythmic organization


VI.  Some Special Cases:  Stravinsky and Euroserialism




Bibliography Introduction