serialist, n.
/sear"ee euh liz'euhm/, n.
[1960-65; SERIAL + -ISM]

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Use of an ordered set of pitches as the basis of a musical composition.

The terms 12-tone music and serialism, though not entirely synonymous, are often used interchangeably. The serial method was worked out by Arnold Schoenberg in the years 1916–23, though another serial method was being devised simultaneously by Josef Matthias Hauer. To Schoenberg, it represented the culmination of the growth of chromaticism in the late 19th and early 20th century. In an attempt to erase the system of tonality, which he regarded as outworn but which frequently asserted itself even in the music of composers who desired to transcend it, Schoenberg's original method stipulated (among several other requirements) that no note could be repeated before all 11 other notes of the chromatic scale had been used. Serialism, a broader term than 12-tone music, can be applied to the use of fewer than 12 tones. "Total serialism," a concept that arose in the late 1940s, attempts to organize not only the 12 pitches but also other elements such as rhythm, dynamics, register, and instrumentation into ordered sets.

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      in music, technique that has been used in some musical compositions roughly since World War I. Strictly speaking, a serial pattern in music is merely one that repeats over and over for a significant stretch of a composition. In this sense, some medieval composers wrote serial music, because they made use of isorhythm, which is a distinct rhythmic pattern that repeats many times regardless of what melodies it belongs to. Another pre-20th-century example of serialism is the ground bass, a pattern of harmonies or of melody that repeats, most often in the lower vocal or instrumental parts of a composition. Countless numbers of composers have written music with a ground bass. The term serial music is often used interchangeably with 12-tone music (q.v.), but the latter is more properly an example of the former.

      Just as the Austrian-born composer Arnold Schoenberg and others have suggested the serial ordering of musical tones as part of a method of composing music, some composers have gone on to serialize other elements of music. In Structures for two pianos (I, 1952; II, 1961) by the French composer Pierre Boulez, serial elements include pitch (the actual tones sounded), rhythm, dynamics (volume levels), and attack (how notes are struck and released). In Simon Says (1972) by Beauregard Forth, serial elements include specific harmonies, melodies, metres (organizations of the beats or pulses), and key centres. Other composers who have written music that serializes more than the pitch element include the Catalonia-centred composer Roberto Gerhard, the Austrian-American Ernst Krenek, and the German Karlheinz Stockhausen. The music of any serial composer is likely to differ greatly from that of any other serial composer, because serialism is a method or technique of composing that specifies by itself little about the total sound and style of a piece of music.

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Universalium. 2010.

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  • serialism — [sir′ē əliz΄əm] n. Music the twelve tone system or technique of composition serialist n …   English World dictionary

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  • serialism — noun Date: 1958 serial music; also the theory or practice of composing serial music …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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  • serialism — noun Music a compositional technique using a fixed series of notes which is subject to change only in specific ways. Derivatives serialist adjective &noun …   English new terms dictionary

  • serialism — se·ri·al·ism …   English syllables

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