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"Despite the depth and breadth of his activities, he is basically and deeply a composer, and his music is his finest and most eloquent accomplishment."

Reflections on George Perle and His Music

It's surely a sign that a composer has added something to our lives when merely the mention of his name will conjure up musical images in our mind's ear. It is only necessary to say Chopin, for example, in order to recall the rich legacy of his music in our aural memories. We even go so far as to form adjectives, such as Mozartian, or Schoenbergian, to describe musical features in meaningful ways.

For many people today the name George Perle has this magic. Just its mention rings with the sound of his music: it recalls artful phases, overlapping, colliding, dovetailing, dancing with wonderful elegance one moment, coming to a sudden halt the next, rich harmonies which seem to have an internal logic and consistency all their own, unlike that of any other music; clear, brilliant, and inventive orchestration which masterfully captures the colors and subtleties of instruments and allows them to sound free and natural; a high minded and deeply serious concern with making music all that it can be; a rich and humorous texture full of musical equivalents of puns, jokes, and riddles; and most of all a music which is clear, understandable, and inviting.

For those fortunate enough to know the composer personally, his name also conjures an image of tirelessness and passion for music; he sleeps little and is totally absorbed by his work— how else could he have written seven important books and numerous articles, dozens of extraordinary pieces, been a devoted and effective teacher for more than forty years, and become known as an important theorist of contemporary music as well as the world's leading Berg scholar.

Conversation with George invariably revolves about music—he always has an infectious enthusiasm about something musical. Whether he is enthralling you with the mysteries of Berg, his own compositional theories, or any of the musical discoveries he makes daily, you always feel enlightened and uplifted. For him music is simply the most wonderful thing there is, and after having talked with George you feel this way too.

Despite the depth and breadth of his activities, he is basically and deeply a composer, and his music is his finest and most eloquent accomplishment. The sound and surface of his music is marked by a relative simplicity which is actually the underpinning of a rich and complex language based on principles he has developed and which owe much to the thinking of Bartók, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Berg. He has eschewed serialism, however, and his compositional approach is one which differs fundamentally from most post–Schoenbergian practice.

Moreover, Perle's music does not present itself in radical disjunction with tonal music and music of the past. In fact, his way of composing owes as much to tonality as it does to post–chromatic dodecaphonic thinking. Concepts of harmony, counterpoint, formal consequence, and coherence are as vivid and lively in Perle's music as they are in tonal music. His music is a special language, and while each piece sings uniquely and individually, his language is consistent, convincing, and all his own. The quality and character of his body of pieces is remarkable and unforgettable; there is nothing else remotely like it. It reveals no sense of arbitrary abstraction, formalism, or the whims of fashion. The notes are alive with a life, breath, and purpose which only a superbly gifted musician can create.

George Perle often talks enthusiastically about dance:  Balanchine and Stravinsky hold a special place in his heart. It is therefore not surprising that one of the most palpable features of his music is its compelling and persuasive rhythmic profile. His music moves with the subtlety and sureness of good ballet—it has a real physical, rhythmic presence. Some might say it "swings," but I prefer to sky that George's music really dances!

Paul Lansky
Princeton University

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