George Perle (1915-2009)

George Perle
Photo by Johanna I. Sturm.
Courtesy of George Perle

Composer and music theorist George Perle died in New York on Friday, January 23, 2009. He was 93.

In the 1930s, Perle was one of the earliest American composers to explore the harmonic ideas of Arnold Schoenberg. Perle eventually developed his own approach to dodecaphonic composition, which he called “Twelve-Tone Tonality” since it incorporates the hierarchical distinctions of tonal practice into a total chromatic vocabulary. Among Perle’s chamber compositions are nine string quartets and a string quintet. Perle’s four wind quintets (1959, 1960, 1967, and 1984) are among the most important American contributions to the genre. The Fourth Wind Quintet was awarded the 1986 Pulitzer Prize in Music. His orchestral compositions include Transcendental Modulations (1993) and two piano concertos (1990 and 1992). Among his final compositions are Triptypch for violin and piano (2002), Bassoonmusic (2004) for solo bassoon, and Critical Moments 2 (2001), composed for eighth blackbird. Other performers who championed his music include the Dorian Wind Quintet, pianists Richard Goode and Michael Boriskin, and conductor Gerard Schwarz. His books include: Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern (1962), Twelve-Tone Tonality (1978), The Operas of Alban Berg. Vol. 1: Wozzeck (1980) and The Operas of Alban Berg. Vol. 2: Lulu. All of these are published by the University of California Press. He is survived by his wife, pianist Shirley Rhoads Perle. —FJO