"Serialism" in music is a contemporary compositional technique that focuses on the systematic arrangement and manipulation of musical elements like pitch, duration, timbre, and rhythm within a sequence. The aim of serialism is to establish coherence and unity in music by crafting a structured sequence of musical parameters to guide the process of composition.
This approach was introduced by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg and underwent further refinement during the mid-20th century. At its core, serialism involves organizing various musical components, including pitch, duration, rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, into a systematic sequence or series to create a cohesive framework.
Among the well-known variations of serialism is the "twelve-tone technique", also referred to as "twelve-tone serialism" or "twelve-tone row." This technique employs all twelve chromatic pitches in a musical piece, ensuring that each pitch appears only once within the sequence to establish equilibrium and cohesion. Composers can manipulate, transpose, and invert the twelve-tone row to generate diverse musical themes and variations.
Serialism's application empowers composers to delve into intricate musical structures, breaking free from conventional tonal restrictions and giving rise to distinctive, contemporary, and intellectually engaging musical styles. However, due to its intricate and technical nature, serialism is not always readily comprehensible or appreciated, often sparking extensive discourse and critique within the music community.