For the past forty years, pitch-class set theory has served as a frame of reference for the study of atonal music, through the efforts of Allen Forte, Milton Babbitt, and others. It has also been the subject of sometimes furious debates between music theorists and historically oriented musicologists, debates that only helped heighten its profile. Today, as oppositions have become less clear-cut, and other analytical approaches to music are gaining prominence, the time has come for a history of pitch-class set theory, its dissemination, and its role in the reception of the music of Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and other modernist composers.
Analyzing Atonal Music: Pitch-Class Set Theory and Its Contexts combines thorough discussions of musical concepts with an engaging historical narrative. Pitch-class theory is treated here as part of the musical and cultural landscape of the United States. The theory's remarkable rise to authority is related to the impact of the computer on the study of music in the 1960s, and to the American university in its double role as protector of high culture and provider of mass education.
Michiel Schuijer teaches at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on topics at the interface between music theory and historical musicology.
Winner in November 2010 of the Society for Music Theory's Emerging Scholar Award. The award committee described Schuijer's book as "thoroughgoing, thoughtful, and thought-provoking."
The history of the intellectual and institutional adventure that set theory led to [in the musical domain] is of undeniable interest, and the author is the first to treat it in this fashion. One of the best chapters is the last one, in which Schuijer focuses on the fundamental role of the computer in the growth of set theory. REVUE DE MUSICOLOGIE [Xavier Hascher]
Without doubt, a book worth reading. Anybody interested in the relationship between music theory and music history . . . will find much to explore here. DIE MUSIKFORSCHUNG [Christoph Hust]
A formidable achievement, . . . written [by Dutch-born Michiel Schuijer] in English, superb English. . . . [Schuijer] is as knowledgeable as he is broad-minded. . . . He has chronicled, rather brilliantly, a slice of music history and theory that may remain of interest for a long time.--DUTCH JOURNAL OF MUSIC THEORY [Jonathan Dunsby]
[Schuijer] argues powerfully that . . . PC [pitch-class] set theory was part of a programme to lift the importance of music theory [in American universities]. . . . Remarkably compact yet wide-ranging. . . . Schuijer has a keen sense of when the theory seems to take off and live a life of its own. --MUSIC AND LETTERS [Michael Russ]
A penetrating study of pitch-class set theory, its mathematical foundations, and the context in which it was developed. -- Mark Delaere, University of Leuven, Belgium.
Schuijer's book brilliantly situates pitch-class set theory -- our dominant mode for analyzing atonal music -- in its historical, social, and cultural contexts: this is a tour de force of intellectual history. What is more, it also provides a magisterial if, at times, pointedly critical summary of the theory itself. A deeply thought evaluation of a theoretical approach that has largely escaped critical scrutiny, despite its dominant position in contemporary North American music theory. -- Joseph N. Straus, Distinguished Professor, Graduate Center, City University of New York