MacArthur Fellows Program

MacArthur Fellows / Meet the Class of 1986

George Perle

Composer and Music Theorist

New York, New York

Age: 71 at time of award

Deceased: Jan. 23, 2009

Published August 1, 1986

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.