The 12-Tone Technique, Serialism And Pitch Sets

The 12-Tone Technique was invented by Arnold Schoenberg in 1921. It is a technique where tone-rows are used to ensure that all of the 12 notes in the chromatical scale are used the same amount of time as one another without invoking an emphasis to any element in the series – sort of like organised randomness.

This a-tonal technique of composition was very influential on composers of the mid 20th century, for example Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Milton Babbitt.

In music theory, the technique of attaining a series of values like this to use in composition is called ‘serialism’. I modified this theory in my Brass piece by creating my own pitch-set (a set of pitches that assign value to and apply in serialism). I chose the notes C, C sharp, F, F sharp and G and found that I could pretty much throw them in any order, for any length of time and they would fit together harmoniously. This made it very easy to make variations, which is why there are probably over 20 variations in my Brass piece.

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