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Serialism (Cambridge Introductions to Music) Paperback – 16 Oct 2008

2.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (16 Oct. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521682002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521682008
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 1.6 x 24.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 499,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


'Cambridge University Press - and more specifically Victoria Cooper, the senior commissioning editor for music and theatre - is to be congratulated for formulating the idea of an 'Introduction to Music' series. Indeed, if Arnold Whittall's excellent Serialism is anything to go by - the first book in the series and in every respect its guiding light - then clearly we have much to look forward to in future publications … it is Whittall's consummate skill as a writer and his considerable knowledge of the subject matter that ensures that this approach works as well as it does … Serialism fulfils its role as an introductory text with great aplomb and rigorous academic integrity.' Musical Times

Book Description

Serialism, one of the most prominent innovations in music since 1900, is a key topic in music studies for both undergraduate and graduate students. From Schoenberg to Stockhausen, Berg to Boulez, this introduction tells the story of how serialism emerged, and explains serial compositional techniques in a clear, non-technical way.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not sure whom this is aimed at: for most serious students it is really quite superficial, but also quite dry in tone, with few original insights and little in the way of real enthusiasm, and for me the latter is probably the book's basic weakness: it's going to make few converts. Part of the problem is the attempt to cover simply too many composers, although it's fair to say the chapters on the Second Viennese School are the strongest. Professor Whittall the analyst and commentator tends to takes the path of least resistance, and has increasingly made a career of actually saying very little, in a fairly academic if readable (though long-winded) prose, never making one claim without balancing it with its opposite - this has in recent years become an irritating mannerism. One would rarely go the Whittall for the incisive and memorable phrase. He also relies too much on other commentators. However, it's attractively produced, with plentiful musical examples, which I feel are the book's most useful feature.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
More a history than an explanation
I had hoped to gain an insight at least into the theory and practical execution of this subject. Now, I am not an academic and perhaps academics would understand the density of the prose in certain chapters better than I. Perhaps the title should reflect and emphasise the historic nature of the text. As an explanation of the subject to one who wishes to compose - however illiterately - this is not the book for you
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Format: Paperback
This book will probably be invaluable for undergraduate Music students revising for their Exams in 20th Century Music - and probably for many of the Tutors marking those Exams, too. It provides, as it claims on the blurb, a "basic outline" of the history and development of the subject, naming some principal works and composers, and demonstrating some of the influence of Serialism on other composers not normally associated with the method. There are some very useful analyses and descriptions - and for anyone wanting a basic guide to the subject, it isn't at all bad.

But, for anyone wishing to learn about Serialism in any real depth, there are problems here. A basic feature of post-1950s Serialism, Multipliclative Transformation (about as essential as the "classic" Inversion and Retrograde) isn't mentioned (look up "Multiplication" in the Index and you're directed to Boulez' very different take on the word). Essential composers are sidelined or ignored (Lutyens is mentioned in passing - none of her works is discussed), modern Serialists like Gordon Downie aren't mentioned at all, whilst those composers who used Serialist-like elements in their work get pages (Lutoslawski's "Musique Funebre" gets more attention than Charles Wuorinen; Carter gets six pages - Barraque none).

There is much here to admire in its own terms - and many of the discussions of the Music are full of insights and suggestions for further investigation. But anyone who really wants to know what Serialism is all about - why it so attracted composers in the forties, fifties and sixties; what it has to offer to Musicians working today - will have to go elsewhere. Charles Wuorinen's "Basic Composition", for a start, then Babbitt's "Words about Music" and his "Collected Essays" (in that order). Serialism is a much more exciting Musical phenomenon than is presented in this "Introduction".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x99019450) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
HASH(0x9ad52f54) out of 5 stars Engaging introduction to twelve-tone music and later serialist techniques from the Second Viennese School to the late 20th c. 27 Nov. 2015
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book by Arnold Whittall aims to familiarize readers that already have a firm knowledge of music theory with serialism, from its beginnings with the Second Viennese School to later 20th-century composers in Europe and the United States. This is essentially a textbook, abounding with samples from the scores and charts and diagrams illustrating serialist composers' permutational games, but it never gets too dry and I found it enjoyable.

Nearly half of the book is dedicated to Arnold Schoenberg (as the technique's inventor), Alban Berg, and Anton Webern. Not only are there separate chapters for each of the Second Viennese School composers, but Whittall goes back and offers a second chapter for Schoenberg, noting how his later serialist works differ from his earlier ones. I found that this considerably expanded my appreciation of Schoenberg's music. Another strong point of the book's coverage is its look at Josef Matthias Hauer; many readers may already be aware that there was someone exploring twelve-tone rows independently of Schoenberg at the same time, but Whittall explains what Hauer's music was like and why his peers and later musicians found him such a mediocre composer compared to Schoenberg.

The remainder of the book consists of several chapters alternately entitled "American Counterpoints" or "European Repercussions". These trace how Schoenberg's peers and heirs used the methods he invented, taking it in new directions and sometimes eschewing uses that Schoenberg favored. A major point of Whittall's book is that even composers who expressly denied they were writing twelve-tone serialism (e.g. Elliott Carter, Iannis Xenakis, Alexander Goehr) nonetheless used techniques in a very similar spirit.

The downside of the book is that the composers after the Second Viennese School get less and less treatment, so that by the time we are past Milton Babbitt and a few Darmstadt figures (Luigi Nono, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio), the commentary is reduced to some comparative generalities without really reflecting the richness of their art. For example, I was happy to see Per Nørgård included in Whittall's survey, but Whittall leaves out his most famous serialist technique (the so-called infinity series) for a description of a somewhat minor piano piece in his output.

Still, this is a useful book and shouldn't be left only to students in a course: ordinary fans of 20th-century modernism will also get more out of their favorite music after reading this book.
1 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x98ed51f8) out of 5 stars More about a subject which matters less and less 8 Dec. 2013
By John H. Ryskamp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is a good discussion of faux intellectualism. Not much cultural context for serialism, however. That is, not much discussion of it in relation to the twentieth century's obsession with non-existant paradoxes. This obsession managed to work its way down to musicians, who are not known for intellectual prowess. Serialism has less and less interest every day, for people living in the 21st century. It will soon seem as impenetrable as Christian theology, and its influence on the actual music will seem just as attentuated. Fortunately, Schoenberg, Webern and Berg realized that the compositional process was, as Schoenberg described it, a "dream." One day, critics will subordinate the "serial" part of their analysis to the "dream" part of their analysis (by the way, this book contains none of the "dream" analysis). Until then, real connoisseurs of the music will just continue to enjoy it against the backdrop of their own knowledge of the legacy. They will continue to take the "Plath cure." Remember what she said? "I pour a glass of wine, put on the Schubert, and sail away."
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