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date: 08 April 2020

Twelve-note compositionlocked

  • Dave Headlam,
  • Robert Hasegawa,
  • Paul Lansky
  •  and George Perle


A method of composition in which the 12 notes of the equal-tempered chromatic scale, presented in a fixed ordering (or series) determined by the composer, form a structural basis for the music. It arose in the early years of the 20th century, when the dissolution of traditional tonal functions gave rise to several systematic attempts to derive a total musical structure from a complex of pitch classes that are not functionally differentiated. Skryabin’s Seventh Sonata (1911–12), for example, is based upon such a complex, or ‘set’ (ex.1). The set, at any of its 12 transpositional levels, generates both the melodic and the harmonic elements of the composition. It is defined in terms of its pitch-class content, relative to transposition, and no pre-compositional ordering or segmentation of the set is assumed. Clearly there is only one analogously unordered set of all 12 pitch classes. About 1920 Hauer and Schoenberg independently arrived at concepts of 12-note set structure that make it possible to differentiate between one 12-note set and another, and among transformations and transpositions of any given 12-note set....

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Journal of Music Theory
Music Review
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Perspectives of New Music
Journal of the American Musicological Society