George Perle

George Perle

Perle in 1991
Background information
Birth name George Perle
Born (1915-05-06)May 6, 1915
Bayonne, New Jersey, United States
Died January 23, 2009(2009-01-23) (aged 93)
New York City, New York, United States
Genres classical
Occupation(s) Musician, composer, music theorist

George Perle (May 6, 1915 January 23, 2009) was a composer and music theorist.[1]


Perle was born in Bayonne, New Jersey. He graduated from DePaul University, where he studied with Wesley LaViolette and received private lessons from Ernst Krenek. Later, he served as a technician fifth grade in the United States Army during World War II.[2][3] He earned his doctorate at New York University in 1956.[4]

Perle composed with a technique of his own devising called "twelve-tone tonality". This technique was different from, but related to, the twelve-tone technique of the Second Viennese School,[5] of which he was an "early admirer" and whose techniques he used aspects of but never fully adopted.[6] Perle's former student Paul Lansky described Perle's twelve-tone tonality thus:

Basically this creates a hierarchy among the notes of the chromatic scale so that they are all referentially related to one or two pitches which then function as a tonic note or chord in tonality. The system similarly creates a hierarchy among intervals and finally, among larger collections of notes, 'chords.' The main debt of this system to the 12-tone system lies in its use of an ordered linear succession in the same way that a 12-tone set does".[7]

In 1968, Perle cofounded the Alban Berg Society with Igor Stravinsky and Hans F. Redlich, who had the idea (according to Perle in his letter to Glen Flax of 4/1/89). Perle's important work on Berg includes documenting that the third act of Lulu, rather than being an unfinished sketch, was actually three-fifths complete and that the Lyric Suite contains a secret program dedicated to Berg's love-affair.[6]

After retiring from Queens College in 1985, he became a professor emeritus at the Aaron Copland School of Music.[6] In 1986, Perle was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Music for his Fourth Wind Quintet and also a MacArthur Fellowship.[6] In about 1989 Perle became composer-in-residence for the San Francisco Symphony, a three-year appointment. It was also around this time that he had published his fourth book entitled The Listening Composer.

He died aged 93 in his home in New York City in January 2009.[8] He was subsequently buried in Calverton National Cemetery. On his headstone are inscribed the words "An die Musik."[3]

A growing number of younger artists have come to appreciate Perle as a composer ahead of his time. In the run-up to his 100th birthday celebrations the composer-pianist Michael Brown released a well received CD of a sampling of Perle's work for piano.[6][9]


Swift differentiates between Perle's 'free' or 'intuitive', tone-centered, and twelve-tone modal music.[10] He lists Perle's tone-centered compositions:

Partial bibliography

See also


  1. Lansky, Paul (July 2, 2009). "Perle, George". grove. Oxford Music Online. (subscription required (help)).
  2. Perle, George (2007). "Biography". Retrieved 11 May 2012.
  3. 1 2 Find a Grave, memorial page for George Perle (1915-2009). Find a Grave Memorial #72,375,644. Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton, Suffolk County, New York, USA.
  4. Kozinn, Allan (2009-01-24). "George Perle, a Composer and Theorist, Dies at 93". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-06-23.
  5. Perle (1992).
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Schweitzer, Vivien (May 11, 2014). "Paying Homage, Vivaciously, and Somberly", New York Times.
  7. Chase, Gilbert (1992). America's Music: From the Pilgrims to the Present, p. 587. University of Illinois Press, ISBN 0-252-06275-2.
  8. Kozinn, Allan (January 24, 2009). "George Perle, a Composer and Theorist, Dies at 93", New York Times.
  9. Schweitzer, Vivien (2014-05-11). "From Michael Brown, an Evening of George Perle". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-06-23.
  10. Swift, Richard. "A Tonal Analog: The Tone-Centered Music of George Perle", p.258-259 & 283. Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 21, No. 1/2, (Autumn, 1982 - Summer, 1983), pp. 257-284.

External links

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