Crash Course: American Serialism

As World War II decisively elevated America to superpower status, the cutting edge of European music—atonality—crossed the Atlantic, where it was transformed into a quintessentially American combination of ingenuity, technology, and brash confidence. We’ll delve into American serialism, exploring the work of a host of composers—Babbitt, Wuorinen, Powell, and more—who set out, by the numbers, to make music modern.

Crash Course: American Serialism

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About Your Host:

Matthew Guerrieri Matthew Guerrieri is a composer, pianist, and writer whose music has been called “gorgeous” by the New York Times, and who is often heard in recital in the Boston area. He writes regularly for the Boston Globe, and his articles have also appeared in NewMusicBox and Slate magazines. He is responsible for the popular classical music weblog Soho the Dog.

A former fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center, he also holds degrees from DePaul and Boston Universities.

Recommended Listening:
Milton Babbitt: All Set (Nonesuch H-71303)
The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble - Spectrum: New American Music

Milton Babbitt: My Ends Are My Beginnings (Bridge 9135)
Gregory D'Agostino - Babbitt: My Ends Are My Beginnings, Soli e Duettini, Swan Song

Milton Babbitt: Vision And Prayer (CRI 521)

Ben Weber: The Ways: IV (New World 80327)
Henry Herford - Cloisters: Vocal Music By John Corigliano, Arthur Shepherd, Conrad Susa, and Ben Weber

La Monte Young: Small Pieces (5) For String Quartet (Naive 82139)

Donald Martino: Notturno (Albany Troy168)
The New Millenium Ensemble - Donald Martino: Noturrno

Mel Powell: Haiku Settings No. 4 (Cambria 8808)
Southwest Chamber Music - Composer Portrait Series Mel Powell

George Rochberg: String Quartet No. 2 (New World Records Nwcr769)

George Rochberg: String Quartet No. 3 (New World 80551)
Concord String Quartet - Rochberg: String Quartets Nos. 3-6

Arnold Schoenberg Piano Piece Op. 33
Maurizio Pollini - Schoenberg: Piano Works - Webern: Variations Op. 27

Arnold Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 4
Evelyn Lear, Fritz Handschke, New Vienna String Quartet, Tomislav Sestak, Wolfgang Herzer & Zlatko Topolski - Schoenberg: The Complete String Quartets

Ralph Shapey: Kroslish Sonata (New World 80355)
Joel Krosnick - Ralph Shapey & Faye-Ellen Silverman: Works for Orchestra

Stefan Wolpe: Symphony (CRI 676)

Charles Wuorinen: “All The People Will Vote For Me” From The Haroun Songbook (Albany Troy664)
Elizabeth Farnum - The Haroun Songbook

Charles Wuorinen: Fast Fantasy (Albany Troy658)
Fred Sherry - Charles Wuorinen: Fast Fantasy

Charles Wuorinen: Time’s Encomium (Tzadik)
Charles Wuorinen - Lepton

Charles Wuorinen: Chamber Concerto For Flute And Ten Players (CRI Cd744)

Recommended Reading:
Babbitt, Milton. Words About Music (ed. Stephen Dembski and Joseph N. Straus). University of Wisconsin Press, 1987.

—. The Collected Essays of Milton Babbitt (ed. Stephen Dembski, Andrew Mead, Stephen Peles, and Joseph N. Straus). Princeton University Press, 2003.

Halberstam, David. The Fifties. Ballantine Books, 1994.

Perle, George. Serial Composition and Atonality. Sixth edition, revised. University of California Press, 1991.

Reel, James. “Dirty Dozens: A HyperHistory of Serialism.” NewMusicBox, December 1, 2001.

Rhodes, Richard. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Rochberg, George. The Aesthetics of Survival: A Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music. Revised and expanded edition. University of Michigan Press, 2003.

Wuorinen, Charles. Simple Composition. C.F. Peters, 1994.