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George Perle

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George Perle (born May 6, 1915 in Bayonne, New Jersey; died January 23, 2009 in Manhattan) is a composer and music theorist. A student of Ernst Krenek, Perle composes with a technique of his own devising called “twelve-tone tonality,” which is different from, but related to, twelve-tone technique (Perle, 1992). Perle’s former student Paul Lansky describes it 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” (Chase 1992, p.587).

Perle’s first musical experience was an encounter with Chopin’s Étude in F minor, played by an aunt.
The New York Times obituary by Allan Kozinn notes that in an interview in 1985, he said, “It literally paralyzed me. I was extraordinarily moved and acutely embarrassed at the same time, because there were other people in the room, and I could tell that nobody else was having the same sort of reaction I was.”

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). In 1986 Perle was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize for his Fourth Wind Quintet.

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