Dissertation Abstract

This is the abstract of my doctoral thesis in Music entitled “The Origins of Synthetic Timbre Serialism and the Parisian Confluence, 1949–1952.”

The role of the three major composers of synthetic timbre serialism—Cage, Boulez, and Stockhausen—can be described through the standard model employed in the Hegelian dialectics of history: Cage is the father of extended serialism, Boulez is the composer of the Past, and Stockhausen the composer of the Future. The suggestion that Cage—and not Boulez—was the father of extended serialism will be argued in both historical and composition-technical terms.

By 1948 Boulez had combined Leibowitz’s promotion of Webern’s athematic music with Messiaen’s applications of Hindu rhythm theory, and merged both with the art of Bach. Cowell in the 1930s designed serial theories and electronic instruments; he was at the forefront of a universal music in Bauhaus spirit. Cowell taught Cage ‘new materials’ composition and micro-macrocosmic structure. Around 1948 Cage discovered several forms of silence in Coomaraswamy, Meister Eckhart, Klee, Webern, Blanchot, and McCarthy, and conceived his own universal theory of music.

The Parisian confluence between 1949 and 1952 portrays the links between the origins of timbre serialism and several other modernist aesthetics as well as important related trends in poetry, art, science, and philosophy. During his 1949 sojourn in Paris, Cage’s music and theories deeply influenced Messiaen, Goeyvaerts, Boulez, and Schaeffer. Messiaen composed Mode de valeurs inspired by Cage’s ‘parametrical thinking’ and in response to Boulez’s critique of his harmonic style. The neo-classicist Goeyvaerts turned to serialism and Boulez redoubled his theoretical speculations. New friends Cage and Boulez forayed into uncharted musical territory and, together with their associated circles, constituted a Trans-atlantic School. Boulez joined Cage in calling for the establishment of music research centers. Schaeffer had access to such a center and, stimulated by Cage in 1949, invented concrete music as a new type of universal music.

The neophyte-serialist Goeyvaerts introduced static serialism to Stockhausen who joined the Transatlantic School in 1952. Boulez introduced him to Cage, Stravinsky, Webern, electronic timbre serialism, and Schaeffer’s experimental timbre alchemy. When Parisian pointillism was born in 1952, it included a heterogeneous group of electronic and instrumental timbre painters: Boulez, Cage, Goeyvaerts, Messiaen, and Stockhausen.