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.