Serialism (Cambridge Introductions to Music) Paperback – 16 Oct 2008
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'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
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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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
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".
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.