MacArthur Fellows Program

George Perle

Composer and Music Theorist | Class of 1986

Composer and Music Theorist
New York, New York
71 at time of award
January 23, 2009
Published August 1, 1986

About George's Work

George Perle was a composer, a music theorist, and a musicologist.

Perle, both as composer and theorist, radically reinterpreted the work of the Second Vienna School in his critique of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method as the first step toward a new tonality, rather than a special technique of atonal composition.  His book, Serial Composition and Atonality (1962; 6th ed., 1991), was recognized as the standard work on Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.  The Operas of Alban Berg, in two volumes (1980, 1985), was a comprehensive overview of all of Berg’s compositions and of his life as well.  In Twelve-Tone Tonality (1977; 2d ed., 1996) and The Listening Composer (1990), Perle set forth his own musical language, and presented the view that the seemingly disparate styles of post-diatonic music share common structural elements, which collectively imply a new tonality.


Perle was a professor emeritus of music at the City University of New York.  His music is still widely performed by soloists and major orchestras in the U.S. and around the world.  He had numerous commissions resulting in significant pieces; his music also appeared on many recordings.

Perle received a B.Mus. (1938) from DePaul University, an M.Mus. (1942) from the American Conservatory of Music, and a Ph.D. (1956) from New York University. 

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Select News Coverage of George Perle
January 31, 2009
"George Perle Dies at 93; Theorist and Composer Championed Atonal Music"
Los Angeles Times
George Perle , 1986 MacArthur Fellow
January 24, 2009
"George Perle, a Composer and Theorist, Dies at 93"
The New York Times
George Perle , 1986 MacArthur Fellow
More Fellows

View All 1986 Fellows

Stay Informed
Sign up for periodic news updates and event invitations.
Connect with us on social media or view all of our social media content in one place.