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WikiProject icon Serialism is within the scope of the Music genres task force of the Music project, a user driven attempt to clean up and standardize music genre articles on Wikipedia. Please visit the task force guidelines page for ideas on how to structure a genre article and help us assess and improve genre articles to good and 1.0 standards.
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The Listener[edit]

I think some attention should be given to how a listener perceives serial music. Information from the field of music cognition offers great insight into how serial music is interpreted by a listener. For example, labarotory tests conclude that professional musicians and non musicians alike do very poorly recognizing and remembering passages of serial music. The listener does not infer any large scale schemata of serial works according to such studies. This may be of benefit to the article.

I wholeheartedly agree.Colbyhawkins (talk) 13:25, 22 June 2011 (UTC)

Article quality[edit]

As someone who has devoted a good part of his life to understanding the compositional practice of a number of composers who can be described as practitioners of serialism, I just want to say (civilly) that two days ago we had an article that dealt with this difficult topic pretty well. I regret that the article which, for no discernible reason, has entirely replaced it - why did the writer think this was necessary? - does not (and I'm still being civil) do so nearly as well. The number of basic spelling and syntax errors in themselves require a rather large amount of labour to correct before we could even start on the content, and it looks like that would be labour spent in vain. A pity.


The previous page was well below the standards of wiki content - it was POV, personal essay, unorganized, contained unencyclopediac content, it did not cite sources, it adopted POV naming conventions. The behavior of the previous editor/editors has violated a raft of standards for wikiquette and wikistyle. The characterizations of the changes made are inaccurate, bordering on the mendacious. This article needs further work, including descriptions of techniques, works, performances and performance history and influence of serialism as a technique and as an idea. I object both to the abombinable quality of the article as it stood when I began working on it, and to the absolutely unacceptable personal actions of the previous editors. Stirling Newberry 00:17, 12 July 2005 (UTC)

Incompetent Alterations To This Page[edit]

I am one of the two lecturing musicologists who have jointly spent dozens of hours over the past week or so (July 2005) carefully constructing a well-researched entry that, for the first time on this site, clearly and sensibly explains 'serialism'. I therefore wish to point out to users of this site that the sudden, summary deletion and alteration of much of our work in the large-scale edit by one 'Stirling Newberry' replaces our developing entry by something that is *utterly incompetent*, *misleading*, *woefully selective and incomplete*, *incorrect as to several matters of fact*, and *intermittently meaningless*. Users are advised to go back several stages through the 'edit history' to see something written by people who actually have a published track record of knowing what they are writing about. The fact that an amateur tonal composer is able to impose his misunderstandings over the heads of qualified professionals in the field is *a disgrace*. It also brings wikipedia into disrepute, and will only have the effect of discouraging competent authorities from assisting with the project.

Mark D.

Hello Mark; welcome to Wikipedia. Thank you for your work on the article. I need to mention a couple things: first, I would like to point out our civility policy, which actually helps editors of differing viewpoints get along, if followed carefully; and I need to point out that Wikipedia is a collaborative enterprise, and there just might be more than one expert in the room; and I need to point out that no one "owns" articles here: they constantly evolve, with input from people knowledgeable in the subject at hand. I can wave my Ph.D. and pound on the table too, but it probably won't help my case; indeed a reputation for arrogance is not a useful monkey to have on your back here. Looking at the content, at first blush, your version looks good to me, and Stirling's has its good points too. You need to go through point by point, on this talk page, and discuss it with him if you both want to work on the article. Vandalising the article with an angry note about "incompetence" is really not the right approach, but I welcome you to try again, the right way. Thank you for listening, Antandrus (talk) 02:52, 11 July 2005 (UTC)
Try again?!? *No chance*. When I was revising the appalling mess that was there when I first arrived, I bent over backwards to try and incorporate *everything* that other people had written - adding careful and respectful qualifications and caveats where what they had written was incomplete, partisan or clueless. Yet I see this amateur whose efforts you seek to defend has simply *deleted* whole swathes of what I and my associate had revised and added - and replaced it with material which, in so far as it means anything at all, is at times so *wrong* as to make it and its writer a laughing stock.
I'm afraid you'll just have to manage without me and my friend: we have better things to do than provide fodder for egotistical amateurs who have no idea that they have no idea.
Mark D.
Good lord, I don't think you could personify the 'arrogant professor' any more if you actually tried to. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Duncan Frost (talkcontribs) 10:40, 4 February 2009 (UTC)
Character bashing does not treat the quality of the edits which should be discussed on their own merits, not whether you think someone is being arrogant.Jmckaskle (talk) 16:06, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

Serialism vs twelve tone[edit]

I've scribbled a bit about the problems of this subject before on Talk:Tone row, but I thought it best that I try to quickly explain the changes I just made here:

Serialism and twelve-note music are not strictly speaking the same thing. Twelve-note music is a subset of serialism, really. It doesn't make sense to speak of the two as the same, because you might have a serial piece which uses a scale with 41 notes to the octave and serialises them - such a piece is serial, but not twelve-note music in any sense. Likewise, you might have a piece that serialises dynamics, durations, accents and instrumentation, but not pitches - such a piece would also be serial, but not twelve-note music. This is a bit of a chewy problem, because the best known serial composers (Schoenberg, Berg and Webern) serialised only pitches, and so the two terms become confused. However, there's no question of somebody calling a totally serialised work like Pierre Boulez' Polyphonie X "twelve-note music" - it's serial, and that's all there is to it.

Here's a quote from the Harvard Dictionary of Music which I just copied from [1], which probably puts the problem better than I could:

"[serial music is] music constructed according to permutations of a group of elements placed in a certain order or series. These elements may include pitches, durations, or virtually any other musical values. Strictly speaking, serial music encompasses twelve-tone music as well as music employing other types of pitch series, ie., those containing fewer than twelve pitches (e.g., certain "pre-twelve-tone" movements from Schoenberg's Five Piano Pieces op. 23 and Serenade op. 24; Stravinsky's In Memoriam Dylan Thomas) and those containing more than twelve pitches (e.g., Messiaen's Quator pour la fin du temps). Normally, however, the term is reserved for music that extends classical Schoenbergian twelve-tone pitch techniques and, especially, applies serial control to other musical elements, such as duration. Such music, mainly developed after World War II (although there were also earlier tendencies in this direction, notably in the music of Berg and Cowell), is often distinguished from twelve-tone serialism as "integral" or "total" serialism. It is usually characterized by a high degree of precompositional planning and thus also of compositional determinacy.

OK, after all that, the other edits I made are quite simple: first, serial music is not always atonal - quite a lot of Berg's serial passages, for instance, are definitely in a certain key. Secondly, I don't think Stravinsky's Fanfare for a New Theatre is a good example of a serial composition: it's a pretty small piece for just two trumpets, which hardly ever gets heard. Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra is a far better known piece (as well as being an excellent example of what you can do with the twelve-note technique). --Camembert

OK, I've finally taken the plunge and moved the specifically 12-tone stuff (which was most of the article) to twelve-tone technique. Hopefully I'll be able to expand this article soon. --Camembert 19:33 Apr 21, 2003 (UTC)

Yes, the serialism is a "development" of the 12-tone technique, but to say that Schoenberg, Webern, and Alban Berg, in particular, were serial composers is just not accurate and they should not be cited as such. I mean, in my opinion, Alban Berg's music is the complete antethises of serialism - compare a work as moving as Wozzeck or his Violin Concerto with, let's say, Structure 1a and you will hear that they just can't be grouped in the same school of composition. Well, it's only my opinion, I guess. Grcruz (talk) 00:24, 1 November 2008 (UTC)

Nono and Cage[edit]

Two quick notes/questions: 1. Did Luigi Nono develop serial principles really that independently? As far as I know he regularly attended to the "Darmstädter Ferienkurse für Neue Musik" in Darmstadt, meeting there with Stockhausen and even Boulez. 2. It seems that John Cage (sic!) had some influence on the delopment of serialism. Unfortunately the only source I have for that right now is an interview with the musical historian Reinhold Brinkmann (Harvard) in German <URL:>. Here is the relevant part of the interview with an English translation by me below:

"Unter musikgeschichtlichen Gesichtspunkten muss heute auch einer Figur wie John Cage zentrale Bedeutung für die Entwicklung im frühen Nachkriegseuropa beigemessen werden; nach dem kürzlich veröffentlichten Briefwechsel zwischen Cage und Boulez muss er als einer Väter der seriellen Musik betrachtet werden, denn er hat bestimmte kompositionstechnische Verfahren mit Boulez besprochen, die dann direkt in die serielle Technik eingegangen sind. Man müsste eigentlich die Musikgeschichte von dieser internationalen Perspektive aus neu schreiben."

"From the point of view of musical history one must realize that even a figure like John Cage had a central role in the development in the early post-war-Europe; following the recently published exchange of letters between Cage and Boule, he has to be acknowledged as being one of the fathers of serial music, because he discussed with Boulez certain aspects of composition technique which directly became part of serial technique. Actually the history of music would have to be rewritten from this international perspective [a perspective which takes the influence of American composers on musical development in post-war Europe into account; Utis]"

That said, I am not sure whether Brinkmann puts such an emphasis on it, just because he wants to make a point. Thus, I am not arguing for including it into the main article yet, not without further recherche/evidence. But I thought it might be worth mentioning here on the talk page.

-- Utis 01:19, 16 Oct 2004 (UTC)

Goeyvaerts and Messiaen[edit]

This page needs to include Goeyvaerts.

That's Karel Goeyvaerts. Hyacinth 01:25, 10 Nov 2004 (UTC)
We lost the info, which justifies the external link, that he wrote the first serial piece. Hyacinth 21:50, 16 July 2005 (UTC)
I always thought the first serial piece was Messiaen's Mode de valeurs et d'intensités (1949)... David Sneek 09:03, 26 August 2005 (UTC)
"He composed the first serial composition, Nummer 2 (1951) for 13 instruments ([2])." Hyacinth 11:13, 8 February 2006 (UTC)
Are you suggesting that 1951 came before 1949? David Sneek 10:38, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
No, I'm suggesting that Mode de valeurs et d'intensités isn't always considered serial. Do you have a source which considers it so? Hyacinth 11:06, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
Sure. From Olivier Messiaen: "The results of these experiments were pieces such as Modes de valeurs et d'intensités for piano which have been described as the first works of total serialism." 1949: "Olivier Messiaen composed his Mode de valeurs et d'intensities (Mode of Durations and Intensities), a piano composition that 'established 'scales' not only of pitch but also of duration, loudness, and attack.'" [3] "In Structures, Boulez uses a series of 12 pitches borrowed from Messiaen's Mode de valeurs et d'intensite, a series of 12 durations (borrowed from the same source), a series of 12 attacks, and a series of 12 dynamics." [4] "...quand il fut question d'une extrapolation des principes de la série webernienne des hauteurs aux durées, attaques et intensités, Messiaen produisit en 1949 la pièce pour piano intitulée Mode de valeurs et d'intensités, oeuvre qui a immédiatement entraîné l'adhésion de Boulez et Stockhausen, et provoqué - qu'on le regrette ou non - la naissance du phénomène structural connu sous l'appellation de série généralisée." [5]. David Sneek 12:27, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
Note that the article specifies "total". Hyacinth 12:42, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
So does our Messiaen article. David Sneek 12:45, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
Its not surprising that Messiaen would willingly accept credit for such an important development, and thus I'm not sure if he is a reliable source here. Note that the article specifies "total", and that your second source indicates that Mode de valeurs et d'intensités only serialized pitches and durations and is thus not "total" serialism. Can there be "total" serialism? I don't know, and there is a slippery slope at the bottom of which we find a definition of the first twelve tone piece as the first serialist piece. Hyacinth 12:46, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
That said, I welcome you to contribute a description of this conflict to the article. Hyacinth 12:48, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
Also, I now realize you weren't quoting Messiaen, but the article about him. Hyacinth 12:50, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
The second source only says that Boulez borrowed two of the series - the pitches and the durations - from the piece, but that does not contradict that attack and intensity were also serialized, as the other sources say. How many parameters before we can speak of "total" serialism? By the way, "Messiaen expressed annoyance that his work Mode de valeurs et d'intensités, seen by some as the first work of total serialism, was given such importance in his output." David Sneek 13:00, 2 April 2006 (UTC)
This is a great example of the clarification that is needed here. Mode de valeurs was based upon series of notes to which durations and intensities were attached, but those series were not all complete 12-tone sets. And the series were simply played out simultaneously, without modifying the order with any of the methods familar from Viennese 12-tone technique. So, it was serial but not 12-tone, and Messiaen always identified it as "modal". I think that it would be a great service to more clearly separate the "serial" concept from the "twelve-tone" methods of Hauer, Schoenberg, Webern, and then, later in this article, address the problem of the serialization of several parameters, whether through fixing durations and other parameters directly to pitches (as in Messiaen, Goeyvaerts, Boulez) or through a parallel system of operations, designed to project structural aspects of a single set (as in Babbitt), and then, finally, to discuss perceptual issues.

A great way to improve this article[edit]

Out of curiosity as to what kind of language "Eesti" was, I clicked it while I was reading this article. I was amazed to find numerous manuscript diagrams relating to serialism, which appear to have been drawn by composers themselves. Not being able to speak "Eesti" (which turns out to be Estonian), I would appreciate it if a speaker of Estonian translated some of the Estonian article, at least the parts with the diagrams. Or, if you don't speak it, have a look at the diagrams in the article in Estonian, it's pretty fascinating.

Much of that material looks copyright. If Estonia falls into the same copyright loophole as the bulk of the former Soviet Union, material from before 1970 or so is fair game, but the copyright laws of English-speaking countries would not permit the publication of these. CRCulver 00:47, 18 July 2006 (UTC)

relation to pointillism?[edit]

I can't find anything in Wikipedia about the musical style pointillism. Is that the same as what Wikipedia is calling Serialism? If so it should be mentioned in this article and there should be a pointer page. If it is different then pointillism should have a page too.


Usually when instrumental writing is called "pointillistic" it generally means that the writing consists of individual notes, not chords. CRCulver 21:33, 5 October 2006 (UTC)
"Pointillism" (more accurately, "punctualism") is, as you say, a musical texture or style, and is not the same thing as serialism, which is a technique of composition. However, most (not all) of the music described by the term was also created (between about 1950 and 1955) using serial techniques of one sort or another. This is doubtless why it is found in the Serialism article. An example of a non-serial punctual work is Messiaen's "Mode de valeurs et d'intensités" (1949). The term was originated probably by Herbert Eimert or Karlheinz Stockhausen, after discussion with other people working in Cologne around 1953, and so was originally a German term: "punktuelle Musik". German has a separate word for pointillism, "Pointillismus". In a certain sense, these are polar opposites, since in painting (e.g., Seurat) pointillism concerns densely packed dots (the closest musical equivalent is theTonschar or "swarm of notes" found in the so-called statistical textures of Stockhausen's music after 1954, or the "clouds" in Xenakis's music from around the same time). Punctual music, on the contrary, tends to sparse textures, though the definition usually involves the separate determination for each note of all of its various "parameters" (pitch, duration, dynamic, timbre, register, etc.). Jerome Kohl 00:04, 6 October 2006 (UTC)

FWIW, I have now added an article on Punctualism, and linked both to and from the Serialism article. I wonder if a redirect for "Pointillism (music)" and a disambiguation page should be created? --Jerome Kohl 02:11, 9 November 2006 (UTC)


In the fifth paragraph of Basic Definition, the author states: "The most common requirement is that first half and second half of the row not be inversions of each other." However, this was most often not the case. Schoenberg and Webern, to name two composers, often deliberately constructed 12 tone rows such that the first and second hexachords were related by inversion, retrograde or both. In fact, in the seventh paragraph of 'Theory of Serial Music' the author states that: "An aggregate may be divided into subsets, and all the members of the aggregate not part of any one subset are said to be its complement. A subset is self-complementing if it contains half of the set and its complement is also a permutation of the original subset. This is most commonly seen with hexachords or 6 notes of a basic tone row. A hexachord which is self-complementing for a particular permutatition is referred to as prime combinatorial. A hexachord which is self complementing for all basic permutations – Inversion, Retrograde and Retrograde Inversion – is referred to as all-combinatorial. The concepts of combinatoriality were explored by Schoenberg and Webern, but were rigorously defined and explored in the work of Milton Babbitt."

"The most common requirement is that first half and second half of the row not be inversions of each other." Not true. One has to wonder where that came from. Gingermint (talk) 20:33, 17 October 2009 (UTC)


Given the number of sources could we switch the citation style over to footnotes? Hyacinth 08:59, 18 October 2006 (UTC)

I see that today, 11 September 2007, an anonymous editor posting from ISP added a "citation style" template, without further comment. Since there is only one style of citation currently used in the article (Harvard style), perhaps switching to footnotes is what he/she meant, but I do not see the advantage, myself. Why is the large number of sources a factor (or was this number very small in 2006)?--Jerome Kohl 22:28, 11 September 2007 (UTC)
I believe that when I wrote that the mention of the number of sources was a reference to the advice of "Wikipedia:Citing sources" or some other policy/guideline at the time. The, apparently, arbitrary advice to use footnotes when an article has many inline citations and sources has since been removed, I also believe. What a difference context makes. Hyacinth (talk) 01:09, 23 July 2008 (UTC)
I propose switching from Harvard references to standard cite book templates. I almost added the "citation style" tag myself until I checked the talk page to see if this had been discussed. Although I am sure there are many academics who get value out of the Harvard style, I personally am not an academic and the references got in the way of my reading the article. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and not a journal, so it should inherently be tailored to the lay reader. I'd appreciate comments on this proposal. If I don't get any replies or if this page is inactive for a couple of weeks, I'll make all the changes myself in one edit which can be reverted if needs be. Icebob99 (talk) 14:19, 8 December 2016 (UTC)
"Standard cite book templates" can be used with either Harvard-style, SFN, or full-footnote style. Since they would involve wholesale reformatting of the reference list, I see no reason to use them instead of the wikicite templates currently in use, which permit the Chicago-style formatting (without brackets around the years of publication, amongst other things). If, on the other hand, you are proposing switching from parenthetical referencing to one or another style of footnote citation, I oppose this change on precisely the grounds that I find footnote numerals obstruct my reading the article.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:28, 8 December 2016 (UTC)
Fair enough. Icebob99 (talk) 03:13, 12 December 2016 (UTC)

Lack of examples and specifics[edit]

This article is in dire need of more specifics, and fewer vague generalities. I just read the whole thing, and I don't believe I saw a single specific piece of music mentioned. There is also not a single example written out in musical notation. The whole thing reads like one long "he said, she said."-- 01:52, 4 February 2007 (UTC)

As someone who has only a basic understanding of music theory I have to agree. I've read the article several times and find it difficult to envisage even a simple theoretical example of serialism that I can be confident meets the "correct" definition (whatever that is). Imagine you had to show a young student a simple example of serialism such that they could go away and mimic the premise and come up with their own example that fits within the definition of serialism (even if it sounded awful). What example would you provide to this end? I'd love to contribute such a sentence but am unqualified to do so. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:18, 2 February 2008 (UTC)

See Wikipedia:Verifiability and Wikipedia:NOTTEXTBOOK. Specifically, when does the article become vague. Which parts would you like cleared up? Would notated sound examples help? Hyacinth (talk) 20:35, 27 June 2008 (UTC)

Glenn Gould?[edit]

Glenn Gould is listed under important serialist composers. While he was a great advocate of serialism, and occasionally made his own compositional attempts in this style, none of these were published/recorded; his main published work, the String Quartet, was influenced by the "achievement of Schoenberg in unifying unifying motivic concepts," but didn't use the serialist method.

Thus, unless I am forgetting something, GG should probably be removed from the list of important serialist composers. —Preceding unsigned comment added by JeanneShade (talkcontribs) 00:12, 27 June 2008 (UTC)

I've removed a ton of composers from the list. One simply can't list in this article EVERY composer who had a serial idea. That's for another page! I've left the biggest names (including Glenn Gould). I left Gould because it is an interesting name and one reading this article might think, "What? Gould didn't just play the piano? I've got to look this up." Gingermint (talk) 20:36, 17 October 2009 (UTC)

And I've put them all back. Hardly any of the composers you removed are "merely composers who once had a serial idea." Most are major composers whose work includes numerous important serial compositions. If you wish to debate the relative merits of each composer you think is not sufficiently notable—or sufficiently notable as a composer of serial music, by all means let us do so. I suggest we start with Robert Gerhard, one of the names you deleted, whose work from 1950 onward was almost entirely serial, including his four completed symphonies.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 20:44, 17 October 2009 (UTC)

Quasi Mathematical Language[edit]

I take issue with the use of the description "quasi-mathematical language" in the section "Theory of Serial Music." Is the language mathematical or not? Are permutations then only quasi-permutational? Is there any literature that describes the use of mathematical language as justifying the "quasi-" tag? Jmckaskle (talk) 16:41, 20 February 2009 (UTC)

Although I agree that your point may be well-taken, there are at least two articles by one author, John Backus, that you may be interested to read: "Re: Pseudo-Science", Journal of Music Theory 4, no. 2 (November 1960): 221–32, and "Die Reihe—A Scientific Evaluation", Perspectives of New Music 1, no. 1 (Autumn 1962): 160–71. The former is a devastating (and hilarious) criticism of Joseph Schillinger's Schillinger System of Musical Composition, the latter an equally negative if somewhat more serious-toned critique of the pseudo-scientific language found in several of the earliest issues of Die Reihe. Schillinger's work is not exactly serial (at least, not by the usual definitions), but serialism was the main focus of Die Reihe, as stated on the title page of the original German edition.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:24, 20 February 2009 (UTC)
I'll take a look. Thank you.Jmckaskle (talk) 18:33, 24 February 2009 (UTC)


So as to prevent an edit war, I'm posting here concerning Schnittke and his position in the article. In my edit I had modified the article to include Schnittke in both lists of composers, but this was later reverted on the account of double-dipping. My primary concern is that Schnittke does indeed belong to both lists: he was an active serialist during the 60s (one of the very few in the Soviet Union), but left this practice by the end of the decade to pursue polystylism. My questions:

  • Should he be included in either list?
  • If included in the first list, would the short time of his serialism justify his placement? If included in the second list, would it be as a result of the relatively short time period in which he was a serial composer?

--DannyDaWriter (talk) 19:30, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

Danny, I think the problem has a lot to do with a rather poorly cast paragraph which badly needs rewriting. The key phrase is "other composers", separating the first list from the second. One composer cannot be both himself and someone else or—perhaps a little more accurately—cannot be a member of one group as well as of another defined as lying outside of it. I think what you are trying to say is that the first group is said to consist of composers who "went through extended periods of time in which they disciplined themselves always to use some variety of serialism", while the second "used serialism only for some of their compositions or only for some sections of pieces". I have always thought that the first characterization has the aroma of self-flagellation, not to mention the weakness of being hopeless vague (as you rightly point out) about what might constitute an "extended period of time". The central subject of my PhD dissertation concerned the way in which the music of one of those composers (Stockhausen) always had non-serial as well as serial aspects; in fact, I made the point that true "totality" of serialism is impossible, since it is always possible to think of a new parameter for any composition that was not included by the composer. The upshot is that any composer who has used "some kind of serialism"—whether consistently throughout his/her career or not—has also necessarily "used serialism" only for some aspects of all of those compositions (unless, of course, serialism can be redefined to cover any and all techniques of musical composition, in which case all music is serial).
I haven't taken the trouble to wade through the early edit history of this article (this phraseology had been in place long before I had anything to do with this), but I would not be surprised to learn that it started out by saying something like "some composers always used serialism in all of their works, while some others used it only occasionally". In any case, I think the time has come to seriously re-think this paragraph, which is at best hopelessly vague, and at worst completely void of meaning.
To answer your questions directly, (1) Yes, Schnittke should be included in one list or the other, and (2) Considering the composers named in the first list, the brevity of Schnittke's engagement with serialism would not justify his inclusion there, and indeed would be a reason for including him instead in the second list. However, as the article stands, the criteria are not so clear, and the reader must be more than passingly familiar with the works of all twenty composers named in the two sets to understand what is meant. In short, it will communicate nothing at all to the reader who does not already know the answer.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:59, 6 December 2009 (UTC)

Opening definition[edit]

Serialism is a pretty dense and complex topic and for many people, i.e. students just learning about it; a more succinct and explanative opening sentence would help. "In music, serialism is not only a technique, method (Griffiths 2001, 116), "highly specialized technique" (Wörner 1973, 196), or "way" (Whittall 2008, 1) of composition, but also "a philosophy of life (Weltanschauung), a way of relating the human mind to the world and creating a completeness when dealing with a subject" (Bandur 2001, 5)." Is just ridiculously convoluted and (if you don't mind my saying) sounds a lot like it was written by a serialist! To many composers, Serialism is not a 'philosophy of life' but is in fact one useful tool of many in the compositional process. Can this be cleaned up?--JDOCallaghan (talk) 13:49, 22 February 2010 (UTC)

I remember wrestling with one or more other editors over this opening sentence and, IIRC, the main issue had to do with a particularly obtuse quotation from a "reliable source" (still included) that one editor insisted must stay. So, this opening sentence was not written by "a serialist", but rather is a prime example of the work of a committee. If you can come up with a smoother sentence (and I agree that almost any change at all would make it easier to read) without running afoul of the sources already cited, then by all means go ahead (lede sentences are supposed to summarize the article content, and so should not require reference citations at all, but the edit history speaks against this common-sense counsel in this case). I tried, and failed. The best of luck to you.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:05, 22 February 2010 (UTC)
I see that Hyacinth has boldly gone where none have gone before (well, nearly), and I applaud the edit, though I fear someone is going to look closer at Griffiths's New Grove article and extend the quotation of his definition into territory where none should go again. On the other hand, I shouldn't be surprised if the editors who objected previously to this sentence make a return visit and start the shambles all over again. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 06:39, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
I have a feeling I wrote that sentence, not a committee, but without checking the edit history I'd guess I'm wrong. This split seems to fit the article structure (lead vs body) better now. Hyacinth (talk) 06:46, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
The structure is much improved, thanks. However, I'm fairly certain you were not responsible for the citation of Bandur (which was mine) and I cannot now recall who insisted on retaining the citation of the single word "way" from Whittall, which seems pointless to me (simply a synonym of "method", yes?). In any case, the details of definition do not belong in the lede sentence, and are much better placed now.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:55, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
I think it's much better now. I added a bit to the opening sentence to contextualize it in more specific terms for readers new to the subject. It now reads, "serialism is a method of composition or technique (Griffiths 2001, 116) which uses number series to determine different musical elements." I think that's broad enough that it doesn't exclude any use of serial technique, but specific enough that it lets people know what it's fundamentally about. Do people feel like this helps? --JDOCallaghan (talk) 01:08, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
Are not "method" and "technique" synonyms? Hyacinth (talk) 04:04, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
I would have thought so—at least, in this context. Of course, synonyms are not identities, and Griffiths uses "method" first, and "technique only subsequently. Could this be significant?
As to the "number series" business, I know of only a single source that would (partially) confirm this, and it is unfortunately not published. It was a lecture by Richard Toop at the Southbank Centre in November 2008 and he did not use the word "series"—only "numbers". I immediately think of Stockhausen's Stimmung, which is a serial composition unquestionably governed by number sets—but are these numbers in "series"? Aus den sieben Tagen is an even more worrisome case, since it has been shown to be serial, but numbers are scarcely involved at all. I shall have to ask Richard how this fits into his definition.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 06:08, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
And is it music? And does it consist of elements? And are they determined? Hyacinth (talk) 08:45, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
(1) This depends on your definition of music, (2) yes, (3) no, but the processes by which they are manipulated are.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 19:42, 24 February 2010 (UTC)
What, no sources? And are they really manipulated and really through processes? Hyacinth (talk) 07:30, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
Though I see you are jesting, I still don't quite follow you. Of course there are sources (I presume you are speaking of the article on Aus den sieben Tagen), the elements are not determinate and yet are subjected to processes, yes. I've been reviewing that article, and I see it could be improved by expansion on this business of "process".—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:33, 25 February 2010 (UTC)

More seriously though, how does it look now? Hyacinth (talk) 09:13, 25 February 2010 (UTC)

I think it's pretty good, if erring on the side of being a bit too vague, though it's hard not to be without stepping on toes. Without taking the terms as literally as one perhaps should, 'which uses a series of values to manipulate different musical elements' could refer to almost any system of composition. Maybe highlighting the strictness and rigor behind classical serialism could be accomplished simply by adding: 'which uses a defined series of values to manipulate different musical elements', or something to that effect?--JDOCallaghan (talk) 18:26, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
I agree that it looks much better (I think I already said that). I wonder, JD, what exactly "classical serialism" is, though? Does this mean the textbook definitions, or actual music? There is a considerable discrepancy, in my experience, and this is the single largest cause of confusion and exasperation on the part of newcomers to this subject.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 22:33, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
That's true enough. I can think of even a few Berg and Schoenberg pieces which use reduced sets or else in some ways take liberties with the idiom, if memory serves correctly. Perhaps it's as focussed as it can get without being inaccurate. --JDOCallaghan (talk) 09:31, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
Berg and Schoenberg are salutary examples, to be sure (Schoenberg: "My works are 12-tone compositions, not 12-tone compositions"), but things get far worse when it comes to defining "strict" compound (or total) serialism! I have seen textbook definitions so obviously based on Boulez's Structures Ia that we are forced to conclude it is the only work of "strict" serialism ever composed. Despite the fact that the definition cannot even be made to describe Structures Ib or Ic, the texts go on to name works as varied as Boulez's Le Marteau sans maître, Nono's Il canto sospeso, and Stockhausen's Kontra-Punkte as other examples (before doubling back and telling us that Milton Babbitt got there ahead of Boulez, and used the same "strict technique" in the Three Compositions for Piano and Composition for Four Instruments). It's no wonder that students exposed to this rubbish quickly become angry and frustrated with the concept of serialism.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 21:53, 26 February 2010 (UTC)

Please clarify the mathematical jargon[edit]

"Furthermore, the organizing principles of serialism inspired mathematical analogues, such as uses of set theory, group theory, operators, and parametrization, for example in the post-war works of Elliott Carter, Iannis Xenakis, and Witold Lutosławski." Due to my edits of operator-related articles, operators link is now pointing on disambiguation page, and because of the widespread confusion of operator and operation I cannot infer what exactly was meant here. Please, clarify. --- Kallikanzaridtalk 00:08, 18 December 2010 (UTC)

Basic Definitions[edit]

The first sentence under this heading states, "Serialism is a method...of musical composition." The third sentence states, "However, serialism is not by itself a system of composition..." According to, "system" is a synonym for "method". I hope that by making this observation I am not guilty of improper synthesis. Colbyhawkins (talk) 03:33, 22 June 2011 (UTC)

History of serial music[edit]

This section seems to me remarkably insufficient. There is virtually nothing of the history of serialism. It seems to me this section ought to begin with Liszt and Wagner to give the motivations for serialism. The first phrase of the third sentence, "The serialization of rhythm, dynamics, and other elements of music developed after the Second World War by arguing[weasel words] that the twelve-tone music of Arnold Schoenberg and his followers of the Second Viennese School had serialized pitch," makes no sense - perhaps the author forgot "only" before the last word. Even with this addition, the word "arguing" is ambiguous at best. Under the sub-heading "Twelve Tone Music", we get exactly one sentence: "In the early 20th century composers began to struggle against the ordered system of chords and intervals known as "functional tonality", in an effort to find new forms of expression and underlying structural organizing principles". The term "twelve tone music" is never mentioned under this heading. I agree with Mark D. - this article is pitiful.Colbyhawkins (talk) 14:05, 22 June 2011 (UTC)

What should be done about it? Hyacinth (talk) 12:39, 25 June 2011 (UTC)


  • Richard Yardumian used a unique variation of the 12-tone scale "different from Schoenberg's" in which "series were derived by alternating major and minor thirds"{{Vague|date=May 2011}}<!--It is not at all clear how a chromatic scale can be different from the one Schoenberg used, let alone "unique".--> (Schwartz 2001).

No mention in the Yardumian article. Hyacinth (talk) 07:12, 9 March 2012 (UTC)


What's Serialism? I've read the article, but I still have no idea. This has got to be one of the worst articles on wikipedia from a beginner's perspective. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:17, 22 August 2012 (UTC)

How should the article be improved? Specifically what is hard to understand? Hyacinth (talk) 22:29, 22 August 2012 (UTC)
The first sentence is a disaster. A method or technique (why both?) of composition (why not composing?) that uses different elements... I forget how it ends. Rothorpe (talk) 00:52, 23 August 2012 (UTC)
Agreed (and it is probably best not to remember how it ends). There was a huge argument about this about three years ago, and we wrestled it to a standstill. Maybe it is time to fix this now, if everyone has calmed down.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 18:16, 31 August 2012 (UTC)
I assume you're referring to #Opening definition. Hyacinth (talk) 22:56, 31 August 2012 (UTC)
Yes. Sorry for any ambiguity. I assumed "the first sentence is a disaster" was sufficient identification.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 06:43, 1 September 2012 (UTC)

Too Many Notables[edit]

The list of notable composers goes on forever. As many of these alleged notable composers are downright obscure, it would be reasonable to cull many of these names. (talk) 20:54, 21 September 2012 (UTC)

Lists like this are a liability to any Wikipedia article. However, you are wrong about one thing: none of the composers in the list are "obscure"—they are all quite famous, in fact. So, the question is not one of removing names no one has ever heard of, but rather, it is one of establishing an objective rating scale by which the list can be ranked from highest to lowest, and then setting a reasonable number of names to be included. Once this is done, pruning the list becomes an automatic process, formulated by mathematical means. Simple, really.—Jerome Kohl (talk) 03:41, 22 September 2012 (UTC)