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The History of Set Theory from a European Point of View

Author(s): Luigi Verdi

Source: Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Winter, 2007), pp. 154-183
Published by: Perspectives of New Music
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25164646
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The History of Set Theory
from a European Point of View

L-? ?

Luigi Verdi

The use of elementary

developments in speculativeset theory theory
compositional in music is usually identified with
in the United
States since the early 1950s. However, before 1950 composers in both
America and Europe invented various forms of pitch theory that are
clearly early manifestations of the later "set theory." In Europe versus
America, the pioneering stages of what has become known as "set
theory" is a good deal more complicated and diverse. In this paper, we
trace the development of European set theory in some detail.
One of the typical features of early European set theory is its asystematic
nature, consisting of empirical research often mixed with extra-scientific or
even esoteric elements. No single school emerged as definitive, and the var
ious theories remained isolated in different geographical locations. Thanks
to research groups connected with universities or cultural centers such as
the IRCAM1 Music Representation Group, recendy some common lines

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 155

of development in various European countries have been identified, result

ing in a more complete and integrated understanding.
The use of simple arithmetic to define and describe musical processes is
typical of Western culture. With the dissolution of the tonal system, the
use of numbers for defining pitch and time relations in music substan
tially increased. On the one hand, arithmetic was used to identify syntac
tic rules to model the development of the past musical language. On the
other hand, arithmetic implemented a search for new compositional rules
to guide the music of the future.
Very early in the twentieth century, several European theorists and
composers were simultaneously considering issues such as the structural
equivalence between minor and major chords under inversion or the
construction of scales dividing the octave into equal parts. For example,
see Vincent d'lndy (1851-1931), Cours de composition (1909),
Hermann Schroder (1843-1909), Die symmetrische Umkehrung in der
Musik (1902), or later, Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933), Polaristische
Klang- und Tonalitdtslehre (19 31). The basic methodology was to iden
tify geometrical patterns that could provide insight into the features of a
musical language.
A pioneering work by the Ukrainian theorist Boleslav Javorsky (1877
1942) analyzed Scriabin's music and pointed out that many of the Russian
composer's most innovative works were based upon patterns dividing the
octave into equal parts. The use of whole numbers proved particularly
effective to the identification of the properties of such scales and therefore
the intervals of the octatonic (tone/semitone) scale began to be indicated
as 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2. Those of the whole-tone scale were identified as 2
2-2-2-2-2, and so on. This is one of the earliest examples of the use of
interval strings to describe the structure of sets of tones. The study of the
division of the octave into equal parts was of such considerable interest in
the Ukraine that it stimulated the work of two renowned Ukrainian com
posers, Nicolas Slonimsky and Joseph Schillinger. The work of these
authors, however, is purely empirical. In the case of Slonimsky, scale sym
metry is almost treated as a curiosity. Schillinger's theories were based on
esoteric elements that are completely arbitrary and lacking scientific basis.
Both authors moved to America early in their careers and became out
standing personalities in American musical culture. Yet their influence as
theorists remained limited. Their most important theoretical works are
Schillinger's The Mathematical Basis of the Arts (1948), and Slonimsky's
Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1947).
However, the work of Slonimsky and Schillinger was the result of a
European variant of set theory; this is confirmed by many early
twentieth-century Russian avant-garde composers who segmented the

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156 Perspectives of New Music

chromatic scale in various ways. Jefim Golyscheff (b. Kherson, Ukraine

1897, d. Paris 1970), Nicolas Obuchov (b. Moscow 1892, d. Paris 1954)
Nikolaj Roslavec (b. Duschatin, Ukraine 1881, d. Moscow 1944),
Alexander Mosolov (b. Kiev 1900, d. Moscow 1973), and Ivan
Wyschnegradsky (b. Saint-Petersburg 1893, d. Paris 1979) were the
"avant-garde pioneers" (Gojowy 1972). A similar trend to the
Ukrainian-Russian development arose in Italy, particularly by Domenico
Alaleona (1881-1928), whose study J moderni orizzonti delta tecnica
musicale is unanimously recognized as a forerunner of dodecaphony.
Alaleona wrote: "Our theory starts from the mathematical division of the
octave into any number of equal parts (n-phony). With instruments
tuned in 12-tone equal temperament, this division can be achieved in five
ways: into two (biphony); into three (triphony); into four (tetraphony);
into six (hexaphony); and into twelve (dodecaphony). Each octave divi
sion into equal parts forms an autonomous system with a particular com
plete aesthetic individuality of its own" (Alaleona 1911). Among
Alaleona's most original contribution is his correspondence between
scale and arpeggio and the precise definition of procedures for combining
various divisions of the octave. For example, "octophony" is derived
from the simultaneous use of two "tetraphonic" chords. "Tetradodeca
phony" is dodecaphony derived from the use of three tetraphonic chords,
and "bihexadodecaphony" is dodecaphony resulting from the use of two
"hexaphonic" chords. These chromatic divisions are more or less equiva
lent to the modes of limited transposition later independendy developed
by Messiaen (1944). The theory of the division of the octave into equal
parts led Alaleona to the construction of a new and strange instrument
dividing the octave into five equal parts, which was used in his work
Mirra. Alaleona's theory was continued by Vito Frazzi (1930) and later
by Giuseppe Savagnone (1956), two composers for whom scientific anal
ysis was of secondary importance and whose theories did not find any
fertile ground even though they contained some aspects of interest.
The idea of the subdivision of the octave into equal parts was formu
lated in 1944 by Olivier Messiaen, whose theoretical synthesis, even at an
incomplete and early stage, was balanced by his music's originality. The
result is that today the French composer is considered to have discovered
or constructed previously unknown new sound worlds. But as we have
seen, he was not the first.
To return to the beginning of the twentieth century, there was an
increasing interest in cataloguing all the possible scales available within
the chromatic scale. In Russia in 1919, Sergei Taneev (1856-1915), in
his Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style, wrote: "it is possible to
establish a precise and clear practice only upon a mathematical basis" by

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History of Set Theory from a European Point ofView 157

systematically using whole numbers to mark intervals starting from 0 =

unison (Michailenko 1993).
About 1910 in Italy, Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924) was completing
his famous scale list. He wrote in his Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music:
"That some few have already felt how the intervals of the Series of Seven
might be differently arranged (graduated) is manifested in isolated pas
sages by Liszt, and recently by Debussy and his following, and even my
Richard Strauss. Strong impulse, longing, gifted instinct, all speak from
these strains. Yet it does not appear to me that a conscious and orderly
conception of this intensified means of expression had been formed by
these composers.
"I have made an attempt to exhaust the possibilities of the arrange
ment of degrees within the seven-tone scale, and succeeded, by raising
and lowering the intervals, in establishing one hundred and thirteen dif
ferent scales. These 113 scales (within the octave C-C) comprise the
greater part of our familiar twenty-four keys, and, furthermore, a series of
new keys of peculiar character" (Busoni 1907).2
According to Busoni, every scale was intended to represent a new tonal
ity equal to the traditional major and minor scales. Thus, the concept of a
"synthetic" scale was born, as opposed to the major and minor scales that
were considered "natural." The manuscript of his list of scales is housed at
the National Library in Berlin and dates back to circa 1910 (Raessler
1982). Busoni's scales were derived empirically and are often inconsistent,
full of errors and naiveties; nevertheless, they mark the beginning of a
trend to deepen research in the taxonomy of scales. Busoni's confusions
stem from an unclear understanding of the difference between scale and
mode. Many of Busoni's scales are actually the same series of notes
arranged starting from different fundamental notes and are therefore rota
tions of each other. In other words, his scales are not equivalent to a "set
of pitch classes," a concept to be formulated later.
Scales dividing the octave into equal parts are invariant no matter
what tone one begins with because the intervals between the tones are
identical. In contrast, each of the seven-tone scales under rotation give
rise to different cyclic permutations of their series of adjacent intervals
(traditionally known as "modes"); moreover no transposition of a seven
tone scale is the same as itself. The identification of the complete list of
seven-note scales, while fostered by Busoni's intuitions, developed many
years later. For example, musicologist James Murray Barbour (1897
1970) studied the problem in depth, and by the 1940s identified 66 dif
ferent series of seven pitches (Barbour 1949). These are equivalent to
the 66 seven-pc set classes in a system that recognizes transposition
without inversion.

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158 Perspectives of New Music

The relationship between Busoni and the German born theorist

Bernhard Ziehn (1845-1912) is also remarkable (Neff 1991). After he
emigrated to Chicago, Ziehn published many works. Manual of Har
mony (Ziehn 1907) and Five- and Six-Part Harmonies: How to Use Them
(Ziehn 1911) comprise a starting point for early American set theory.
Among Ziehn's American pupils, Ernst Bacon (1898-1990) was the first
to identify 350 different "harmonies" (largely by trial and error) in his
article "Our Musical Idiom" (Bacon 1917). Bacon's approach remained
isolated, but his influence is felt in the works of several theorists and com
posers, such as Donald Martino and Otto Luening, a pupil of Ziehn's
disciple Wilhelm Middelschulte (Neff 1985).
Busoni's influence is also evident in Alois Hdba's theoretical work.
Although it is characterized by a very simple empiricism, Haba's Neue
Harmonielehre (Hdba 1927) provides some early systematic cataloguing
of all chords. Haba's catalog does not have any principled foundation,
but he does recognize relationships between note groups such as inver
sion and complementation. The number of chords of each cardinality
provided by Haba are almost always wrong. Only the trichord (acordes
triadas) number is correct; 55 trichords are identified to within transposi
tion. The most interesting part of Haba's work is an early, if sketchy,
attempt to catalog microtonal scales.
Many interesting observations about microtonal note groups are con
tained in the theoretical work of Russian-French composer Ivan
Wyschnegradsky. Starting from the division of the octave into equal parts
in the dodecaphonic system, he tried to construct equal-tempered micro
tonal systems. To this end Wyschnegradsky develops the concepts of set
class and interval circles in a idiomatic way, due to some mystical ele
ments (Wyschnegradsky 1971).
While Busoni was interested in cataloguing scales of seven pitches as an
extension of traditional scales, the division of the dodecaphonic into two
complementary six-note hexachords was the basis of Josef Matthias
Hauer's theories. In the European pioneering context, Hauer's contribu
tion appears to be among the most significant. In surveying the structure
of the chromatic aggregate, he arrived at the identification of 80 different
hexachords that could be paired to complete the twelve-tone aggregate.
However, among the 80 hexachords, 8 combined with transpositions of
themselves to complete the aggregate, while the other 72 combined in
pairs. This meant that there were actually 44?that is, 8 + (72 / 2)?fun
damental hexachordal pairs. Hauer named these 44 hexachord pairs
tropes and listed them, describing their musical functions in his 1924
article "Die Tropen" that appeared in the journal Die Musik (Hauer
1924-25). The distinctive feature of tropes is their indifference to note

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 159

succession, in the sense that they are conceptually unordered without ref
erence to temporal or scale succession. This is substantially distinct from
Schoenberg's practice, in which the order of hexachordal note succes
sions was fundamental in the construction of the twelve-tone row
(Simms 1987).
We see that Hauer originated two important set theoretic concepts:
"complementarity," wherein a note group combines with another one to
complete the chromatic aggregate without intersection; and "harmonic
field" or "Klangzentrum" (Lissa 1935) a set of notes that transcends the
features of scale and chord such that the horizontal or vertical note order
is unordered. Of course, Debussy and Scriabin had already musically
exemplified this concept in their compositions.
Hauer then further classified the 44 tropes by dividing them into 5
classes. It is noteworthy that the 8 tropes composed by only one hexa
chord combining with its transposition belonged to the first 4 Hauer
classes, while the other 36 tropes all belonged to the fifth class. A similar
classification would be devised later by Milton Babbitt in the identification
of the four orders of "source sets" (Babbitt 1955), as later pointed out by
George Rochberg (Rochberg 1959). Hauer's ideas spread in America
after Karl Eschman's study Changing Forms in Modern Music (Eschman
1945). And with the development of Schoenberg's dodecaphonic prac
tice, via the Austrian emigre Ernst Krenek and his pupil George Perle,
they were assimilated and worked out in a complete and unified way by
Milton Babbitt, one of the founders of American set theory.
In Europe, Hauer's ideas did not have an immediate following partly
because certain esoteric aspects pervaded his research. Unfortunately, his
compositions based on tropes (Zwolftonspiel), did not compare with
Schoenberg's music and contributed to the initial marginalization of
Hauer's theoretical work. In German-speaking countries, however,
Hauer's influence remained. His proclivity for mysticism has influenced
other scholarly works such as Hans Kayser in his Lehrbuch der Harmonik
(Zurich, 1950), Franz Alfons Wolpert in Neue Harmonik: Die Lehre von
der Akkordtypen (Regensburg, 1951), Hermann Pfrogner, in Die Zwolf
ordnung der Tone (Zurich, 1953), and primarily Heinrich Simbriger (b.
Usti nad Laben 1903, d. Rezne 1976), in his formulation of "Komple
mentare Harmonik" (Simbriger 1969) dating from the 1960s.
According to Simbriger, complementary harmony consists in studying
partitions (Brgdnzungsgruppe) of the twelve-tone aggregate (Gesamt
komplex). From aggregate partitions, Simbriger arrived at the individual
fundamental structures he called "Grund-Typen," i.e., all the pitch sets
that are equivalent by transposition. There are 351 structures, each of
which is numbered and represented by a unique note succession and a

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160 Perspectives of New Music

geometrical figure inscribed in a regular dodecagon, a graphic represen

tation of the twelve pitches. In Simbriger's catalog, Grund-Typen are
ordered according to the Dichtstufe, so that the shortest intervals are
placed towards the left. Even the symmetrical properties of Grund-Typen
are perfecdy identified, particularly regarding hexachords, which are
divided into four groups: self-complementary hexachords (8 cases)
belong to group 1, correlated-by-inversion and mutually complementary
hexachords (13 pairs) belong to group 2, symmetrical-by-inversion and
mutually complementary hexachords (7 pairs) belong to group 3, and all
the other hexachords (16 pairs) belong to group 4. All of these distinc
tions can be found in Hubert Howe's 1965 article, "Some Combina
tional Properties of Pitch Structures" in Perspectives of New Music.
This partitional approach is similar to the one adopted by Donald
Martino, another pioneer of American set theory, according to whom the
twelve-tone aggregate can be divided into two complementary hexa
chord types sorted according to four different P, I, RI, and R relations
(Martino 1961). Martino also defined similar relations among trichords,
tetrachords, pentachords and their complements However, unlike
Simbriger and Howe, Martino's system uses both transposition and inver
sion?not transposition alone?to define set equivalence. Martino's set
system was was part of his researches into combinatoriality, a subject first
proposed and studied by Milton Babbitt (Babbitt, 1955) and later
expanded by Babbitt (Babbitt 1961 and 1973), Robert Morris and
Daniel Starr (Starr and Morris 1977-78), and Andrew Mead (Mead
1984), and others. Using different methods, Mead arrived at some con
clusions similar to Simbriger's. Simbriger's analysis of the concept of par
tition is also interesting. Through it he identified 77 different ways to
partition the dodecaphonic aggregate into as many as 12 parts. These
results are similar to those that were realized by Milton Babbitt, Andrew
Mead, and Robert Morris (Morris 1987). A subtopic is the formation of
trichordal mosaics, an important topic in American twelve-tone theory of
the late 1950s (Rouse 1984-85).
The importance of Simbriger's work in European set theory is undeni
able, even if most of it had been independendy developed in America in
the 1950s and 1960s. It is interesting to speculate about the reason for
the limited knowledge and diffusion of his works. The isolation, together
with some mystical and esoteric motivations, probably has obscured the
originality of Simbriger's research, which nevertheless appears to be accu
rate and reliable. Simbriger published very little; some of his autographs
and writings are kept in the Usti nad Laben Library, on the border
between Germany and the Czech Republic. The presence of mystical and
esoteric elements perhaps stems from a need to introduce factors into the

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 161

theory which could elevate it from seeming otherwise too dry and imprac
tical. This concern is not found in the positivistic American approach.
Original and sometimes eccentric approaches occur frequently from the
1960s to the 1980s in Europe. For example, consider the Tone Clock Sys
tem (1984) proposed by Peter Schat. The tone clock is an original elabo
ration of the concept of trichordal mosaics found in earlier American
theory. Since there are 12 trichord chord types in a system that recognizes
transposition and inversion as identity operations, they can be assigned to
the 12 hours of the clock face and be correlated to the 12 signs of the
zodiac. Schat's theory presents some analogies to the theory proposed in
La musica tricordale by Italian composer Francesco Valdambrini.
Such numerical associations remind us that the number 12 had been
often linked to esoteric symbols in Europe. For example, the theosophist
Gurdjieff wrote: "On Earth we are very far from the will of the Absolute.
We are separated from it by 48 orders of mechanical laws. If we could get
rid of half of them, we would depend only on 24 orders of laws"
(Uspensky 1976). In this way Gurdjieff arrives at 12 laws towards the
Absolute, etc.. But we may see in such reductions to 12 a (perhaps fortu
itous) relation to certain properties of the 12-tone equal-tempered
aggregate. In defining degrees of symmetry derived from the number of
possible operations by which a set reproduces itself, John Rahn lists the
same figures: the most asymmetrical sets have 48 forms, while the other
sets have various degrees of symmetry, yielding fewer than 48 forms:
from 24, 12, 6, 4, 3, 2, to 1 singular form (Rahn 1980).
Turning to set-theoretical developments in France, an early and uncer
tain synthesis of theoretical concepts appears in Edmond Costere's work
Lois et styles des harmonies musicales (1954). Costere developed a contro
versial theory due to its many arbitrary elements, in which fundamental
relations among different series of notes are modelled by a linear graphic
system to represent the 351 possible note combinations to within trans
position. This classification seems to have been among the earliest, before
Howe and Simbriger.
According to Costere, a set is an "entite sonore" or "lieu sonore":
"groupement des sons isoles dans sa purete premiere, hors de tout con
tenu tonal preexistant, de toute impulsion melodique, de toute accentua
tion ritmique" (Costere 1954) which is realized in the echellonement, a
series limited to one octave only, starting indifferently from any of its
constitutive pitches. The echellonement can be represented by a
sequence of black and white rectangles, including in itself the comple
mentary arrangements in relation to dodecaphonic space: "Every graphic
representation begins with the longest succession of white squares, i.e.,
the longest succession of semitones" (Costere 1954).3

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162 Perspectives of New Music

si do ^| re H mi fa ~| s?l ~____ la ~H I
2 1112 11111


The identification of the number representing a sequence of figures

corresponding to the number of contiguous squares of the same color
was new and original. For example, the major scale is 2111211111. Later
researchers have not developed this model. For an example of this kind of
listing, see Example 1.
The identification of echellonements is complete and precise, even if
their order in Costere's tables is unclear. Costere's other concepts are
often relevant and innovative. For example, his "transposition cardinale"
is a sequence of numbers indicating the notes that are common between
every scale and its various transpositions, that is, of the cardinality of
intersection under transposition. Transposition cardinale is therefore
equivalent to interval function, as developed by David Lewin in his semi
nal article in American set-theory (Lewin 1959).
However, Costere's concepts do not seem to be useful tools for analy
sis due to many arbitrary components. Perhaps this is the reason why
Costere did not leave any heirs, although in Brazil he seems to be rather
well known. In 1995 Marisa Ramires Rosa de Lima wrote a thesis on his
theory at the Belo Horizonte School of Music. Costere's main work, Lois
et styles des harmonies musicales, was translated into English by Brian
In the 1970s, original research developed in Eastern Europe. Almost
simultaneously and apparendy without any exchange of ideas, Alois
Pinos's (1925- ) Tonove Skupiny (1971) in Czechoslovakia, Maciej
Zalewski's (1925-1970) Harmonia Teoretyczna (1972) in Poland, and
Anatol Vieru's (1926-1998) Cartea Modurilor (1980) in Romania
arrived at similar results but from different points of view and using differ
ent methods. The research of these authors was primarily speculative, but
theoretically parallels work in American set theory at the beginning of the
1970s. In particular, Vieru's work has been extensively developed and
generalized by the mathematician Dan Vuza (Vuza 1998 and 1991-93).
Circa 1960 in Poland, Maciej Zalewski devised a mathematical mea
surement to provide numerical data defining the "tension grade" of a
chord. By introducing the concept of "deformation" (odksztalcenie), all
chords can be classified on the basis of their degree of tension as an

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 163

alternative to or generalization of the traditional concept of conso

nance/dissonance. Earlier, Hindemith had also defined degrees of chord
tension in his theory (Hindemith 1937). Zalewski's methods are inde
pendent of Hindemith's.
According to Zalewski, the "interval structure" (struktura) is of prime
importance. Each set is catalogued on the basis of this structure, and is
represented by the "module" with the use of parenthesis indicating
whether a structure is asymmetrical, symmetrical, or monomorphical. The
module is a list of the successive intervals in a pitch-class set, correspond
ing to the INT in Morris (1987). This is the same classification scheme
used by the American set-theory pioneer Howard Hanson in 1960, with
simple, isometric, and enharmonic sonorities (Hanson 1960), and by
Forte in his 1964 article. In Zalewski (1972), the asymmetrical module
[543] corresponds to Forte's 3-11 (0,3,7). The symmetrical module
[633] corresponds to Forte's 3-10 (0,3,6). The monomorphical module
[444] corresponds to Forte's 3-12 (0,4,8). The interval vector (the list of
the number of each bichord-type included in the set) is termed "widmo
struktury" (Zalewski 1972). Hanson used a similar structure to identify
his set classification, but not the module or prime form of Forte (1973).

set I (66) I (75) I (84) I (93) I (10,2) 1(11,1)

LeTo 0.16 0.33 0.50 0.66 0.83



Zalewski defines the deformation of the set (using the label "z") by
operations that become more and more complex with increasing values.
Deformation is unique to Zalewski and not found in any other set
theorist's work. This is the most intriguing part of Zalewski's theory and
it deserves description and elaboration in a separate article. However,
placing structures according to order of deformation makes the listing of
sets rather difficult. For example, the six two-chord deformations are
ordered as shown in Example 2.

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164 Perspectives of New Music

Very different structures having the same deformation number are

called "reflexed," and they are termed proper. A structure lacking reflex
(having a unique deformation) is termed improper. Maximum
deformation structures are almost-uniform. This term refers to structures
with all elements of deformation that are equal to each other except one,
for example the hexachord (61111). It is not possible to compare defor
mation of structures of different tension grades except by introducing a
new concept of tension called "Z." This is accomplished by measuring
the tension value of structures in various relationships to each other.
Zalewski indicates that tension (Z) defines the relationship between dif
ferent tension grades (z).
Another interesting concert proposed by Zalewski is the "family,"
involving asymmetrical pairs that give rise to symmetrical structures,
which involve inclusion, reduction and expansion; sets related by inversion
are taken together to form a inversionally invariant set. For Zalewski, such
concepts could explain the perception of dissonance and the way in which
some derived structures can be similarly perceived as equally dissonant.
The reason for Zalewski's limited influence is undoubtedly due to his
isolation, heightened by a general disinterest in abstract music theory in
the Soviet Union, especially from 1950 to 1970. In addition, Zalewski's
original theory remained largely unknown outside of Poland until a few
years ago when his writings were translated into Italian by Carmine
Moscariello (Moscariello 1996-97).
In the complex field of musical analysis, much depends on a writer's
methodological approach, on the novelty and difficulty of his or her ter
rninology, the concepts employed, and on critical reception. Many origi
nal concepts, proposed at an inauspicious time and in an unfamiliar way,
are unable to influence others and evolve. However, they may be eventu
ally recognized but in a different context after many years. For instance,
we now know that Costere and Zalewski reached the same enumeration
for all the set-classes where transposition is an identity operation, using
completely different computational terminologies and systems. With the
development of the computer, combinatorial analysis of pitch-class sets
has received a new impulse, as had been the case in America in the middle
1960s with the work of Howe and Forte. Of course computer languages
and concepts have provided the necessary tools to implement calculation
techniques that are indispensable for a sophisticated development of set
class enumeration. It seems to me, for example, that Peter Castine's recent
contribution in this direction is of remarkable interest (Castine 1994).
Many concepts generally undeveloped in the technical literature of
European theorists appear in American set theory. For instance, the
"prime form" (Forte 1973) or "normal-form representative" (Rahn

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 165

1980) that labels and clearly differentiates set classes (or set types) is
more or less universally accepted today. The success of set theory is also
confirmed by the results of set analysis, which has demonstrated its effec
tiveness and methodological relevance when applied to major twentieth
century authors, initially Scriabin, Stravinsky, Bartok, and Webern, and
more recently, aspects of almost all twentieth-century compositions.
The achievement of American set theory was probably due to the pos
sibility of scholarly discourse within a relatively unified school. But even
in America, there were isolated forerunners such as the above-mentioned
Ernst Bacon who in 1917 "determined to map out exhaustively the
melodic and harmonic possibilities of the twelve-note universe" (Bernard
1997, 21), or similarly independent musicians such as George Perle, who
wrote an article discussing what would eventually be called set classes
(Perle 1954), or Howard Hanson who, in his Harmonic Materials of
Modern Music (Hanson 1960) enumerated all the sets by reducing them
for the first time to 224. Hanson calculated their vector and interval
structure as well as complementary relations among the various subsets.
Hanson also proposed, although it did not enter the theoretic lexicon,
the new term "involution" in the place of "inversion" to avoid misunder
standing with the traditional meaning of "inversion" (in Italian rivolto, in
French reversement).
Other independent research on set theory in Europe includes the
extensive and lucid work by Alois Pihos (1971), which includes the iden
tification of equivalence under the cycle-of-fifths transformation (M or
M5 operation). In Europe, Herbert Eimert had discussed this transfor
mation earlier in his Atonale Musiklehre (1924) and later in Lehrbuch der
Zwolftontechnik (1952). In America, the transformation had been known
in the 1960s at least at Princeton, via Howe and J. K. Randall's teaching.
The relationships among the M5, M7, and inversion (Mn) operations is
developed in Howe 1965. Charles Wuorinen also describes and uses M
operations (Wuorinen 1979).
The M operations (or transformations or mappings) were also studied
in America by Starr, who proposed a set classification identical to the one
suggested by Pinos, which reduces the number of set classes to 158 (Starr
1978). Pinos's classification appears to be accurate and aligns with
American contemporary models.
Pinos used the graphic representation of sets by means of a circle with
marks determining single pitches. Although this graphic representation
was used earlier sometimes by other authors, Pinos developed the tech
nique intensively. Today this pitch-class circle is often used in teaching set
theory. Because of its clarity, it permits visualization of the main features
of an interval structure, its transpositions and inversions. Since Pinos is a

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166 Perspectives of New Music

composer, he has not felt compelled to work out an analytical theory but
rather has used his research in composition. His research has roots in the
many theoretical works written in the Czech Republic in the 1960s, such
as those by Eduard Herzog, Karel Janecek, and Karel Risinger, which
deserve wider recognition.
Anatol Vieru's methodological approach is highly structured and dates
some years after his contemporaries from Eastern Europe. Vieru devel
oped the concept of tropes, derived from Hauer's concept, and so there
are 44 hexachords in his structure list. The concept of tropes, then,
appears to be a European concept and was not originally considered
essential in early American set theory. However, Babbitt and Martino's
research into combinatoriality does involve the equivalent of tropes, but
mainly those that allow equivalence under transposition and inversion.
Of course, combinatoriality is originally European; it developed in
Schoenberg's music just before he left for America, and he was probably
influenced by Hauer. The generalization of tropes to partitions and
mosaics or partition classes has been studied by Mead (1988) and Morris
and Alegant (1988).
Vieru arranges structures by complementary pairs that are identified by
their interval structure. In Dan Vuza's formulations (Vuza 1991-93)
Vieru's theories are deepened and developed with advanced mathemati
cal techniques, as has also been more recendy accomplished by Moreno
Andreatta in several of his studies (Andreatta and Vuza 2001).
Some of Vuza's theoretical concepts can also be found in David
Lewin's contemporaneous work (Lewin 1987). In particular, by means of
mathematical group theory, it is possible to achieve greater subdety and
sophistication in the analysis of musical structures. The use of group
theory in music theory was originally advanced by Milton Babbitt in the
early 1960s, and as worked out by Lewin (1987), Rahn (1980), and
Morris (1987), permits a generalization of basic results of set theory.
In Europe, particularly in France, research has definitely accelerated
during the last ten years. One of the first important discussions appeared
in 1989 in the journal Analyse musicale, edited by Celestin Deliege.
Thanks to the fine work by the Music Representation Group of IRCAM,
with the Open Music Program (1999), extremely flexible and effective
tools were developed to represent the various properties of structures.
Guerino Mazzola must be singled out as one of the foremost researchers
in Europe today, whose theoretical elaborations are based on well
known, if advanced mathematical concepts and techniques. In his 1985
book, Gruppen und Kategorien in der Musik (Mazzola 1985), Mazzola
introduced a new catalog of set classes, reducing them to the smallest
possible number (88) by means of equivalence under transposition,

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 167

inversion, the cycle-of-fifths transformation, and complementarity.

Mazzola's research has continually progressed towards an increasingly
abstract formalization of models (Mazzola 2002) that goes far beyond
the topic of set theory. But in set theory Mazzola uses Costere's graphic
transcription; he uses the equivalence principle of transformation by fifth
which was already present in Pinos, and the equivalence principle of
Vieru's complementarity. The latter equivalence is found in Starr, and
implied by the two-mosaics of combinatoriality. Mazzola was not influ
enced by American theorists, as the bibliography of his first book confirms
(Mazzola 1985). Nevertheless, Mazzola has not deliberately worked out
particular concepts along previous authors' lines. Although his models
seem to be peculiarly European and differ from American research by
emphasizing aspects that are implied but not worked out in the American
school, his work is actually a synthesis of American and European ideas.
Some more basic features of Mazzola's contributions are: 1) set theory is
only one aspect of his research; 2) his research has been carried out by col
leagues in addition to himself, so it is the result of a scientific research
community, not just one mind, as in America; 3) its mathematical basis
derives from mathematical "category theory," which de-emphasizes the
role of sets and depends upon a geometric interpretation of mathematical
structure (which is somewhat analogous to the move from set theory to
group theory in American music theory research).
There is another direction in set-theory research in France that does
not spring from Costere, but rather from Messiaen and Xenakis, exempli
fied by authors like Andre Riotte (1979) and Marcel Mesnage (1997).
These contributions appear to be the earliest examples of a mature phase
of European set theory, and especially in developing the implications of
certain pitch/time isomorphisms. In fact, every interval structure is at
the same time also a rhythmic structure and "in order to read, at a rhyth
mical level, some structural properties similar to those considered in the
pitch organization, it is necessary to construct an algebraic pattern of
musical rhythm" (Andreatta 2001). Such ideas and research can also be
found in Babbitt's time-point system (Babbitt 1962).
Some important work in set theory has been carried out in other
European countries, particularly by Jonathan Dunsby in Great Britain,
Thomas Noll in Germany, Mario Baroni and Marco De Natale in Italy,
and Nicolas Meeus in France.
My own contributions to set-theory have been stimulated by work on
Scriabin's music as developed by the French researcher Manfred Kelkel
(Kelkel 1984) and by James Baker (Baker 1986). Scriabin's last works are
often based upon a unique chord that is incessantly and continuously
transformed. In investigating the various possibilities of connecting any

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168 Perspectives of New Music

chord with its transpositions circa 1980, I identified a numerical

sequence that indicates the number of notes in common between one
particular chord and its own transpositions (Verdi 1998). In substance, it
is the same as Lewin's interval function (Lewin 1977). When a reference
note (fundamental) of the chord is identified, a series of numbers that
repeat cyclically (module) indicate the sequence of transposition levels.
The application of the chord to a deriving cyclical series (base module)
gives shape to a new structure that I termed "kaleidocycle," in analogy
with some graphic themes in M. C. Escher's drawings. A kaleidocycle is
the result of a vertical structure changing into a horizontal structure
(Verdi 2006). It is a type of regular division of sound space. I also have
used the kaleidocycle in the composition of a series of musical excerpts
based on a unique chord that connects with itself according to pre
arranged transposition levels. This chord is often accompanied by its own
inversion or by its own complement, creating a superchord including
both versions.
In my Notturno (1991), for example, the material used was exclusively
based on three four-note chords A = (0,1,5,8), T10B = (0,1,5,9), and T3C
= (0,1,4,8), periodically transposed by a series of numbers that repeat
cyclically so as to complete a dodecaphonic series without doubling.
A cycle is based upon groups of intervals periodically repeating them
selves upon the various pitches of the chromatic scale. The group of
intervals repeating itself is the module of the cycle. The module repeats
itself upon a unit interval named the base, given as the sum of the ele
ments of the module; for example, in the case of the module (1-2-3-4-5
6-7-8-9-10-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2), the base amounts to 12(mod
12) = 0 and the subsequent repetitions of the same module are placed
upon interval 0 (Example 3). In order to develop musical chords, every
cyclical repetition (period) placed a canon entry on the transposition
levels derived from the base (sum of the module elements): in this case
12 = 0, unison. (See Example 4.)
The three chords, A = (0,1,5,8), Tl0B - (0,1,5,9) = (2,6,9,10), and
T3C= (0,1,4,8) = (3,4,7,11), complete the total of twelve tones without
any doubling. (See Example 5a.)
In the following Examples (5b-e) the three chords are transformed
according to the base module so that the sum of the three developments
complete the twelve-tone aggregate in different ways, without any dou
bling. In my work Organizzazione dello spazio temperato (Verdi 1998), I
investigated the various forms in which set theory manifested itself in dif
ferent times and places. An interesting result identifies the various classifi
cation modalities of all sets. A universally accepted classification does not

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 169

I module 11-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 I

[base I (0,1,3,6,10,3,9,4,0,9,7,6,4,1,9,4,10,3,7,10) I


10 1010^^ / s^ \ \\

999 ^CA \-^^^6- \\^ 333




exist, although the type of classification scheme found in Allen

writings is the most widely used (Forte 1973).
The table in Example 6 shows thirteen different classifications
determined by different definitions of the term "equivalence."
includes all sets, including the empty set (0) and the so-called tr
dinalities 1, 2 (and 10, 11), and the aggregate. The classification
lem posed by the trivial cardinalities was widely discussed in th
(Perle 1954).

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170 Perspectives of New Music

I I 1 1

base 11+2+3+4


~A^ [0 [1
0,1,5,8 1 1I II I1 [5
1 1I II 1
T81 I1I 1I 1
Tl0B = \ I fl I I I [9 I I TO Tl I
T3C= I I I [O fl I I [4 I I I [8

Note that Costere's and Simbriger's two pioneering European propos

als, and Howe in America, define equivalence under transposition alone.
(Rahn (1980) proposes this system and one equivalent to Forte.) There
fore the number of set classes is 351. Vieru (1980) lists sets in comple

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 171

~A= |0 |1 |2 |3 |4 |5 |6 |7 |8 |9 110111
5_5__8_0 1
U_0 1_5___8_
J7__5__8_0 1
19 5__8_0_J_
20 1 | 1 j5 1 | 18 | 1

mentary pairs so that the 80 hexachords reduce to 44 hexachord

which is equivalent to Hauer's trope theory (1924).
The consideration of equivalence by inversion seems to be more
American concept. Hanson (1960) and Forte (1964 and 1973) g
the 4096 sets into 224 set classes. Hanson arranges sets on the bas
interval structure while Forte arranges them on the basis of pri
form. Both take the interval vector as an important aspect of set ident
cation. Since the interval vector lists the interval classes in a set

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172 Perspectives of New Music

\T19B= |3 |4 |5 |6 |7 |8 |9 llOlll |0 ll |2
1_5_! _'2?\?_JLT^_
2 _1_[Z_i_\2l_",_|o~
^3 O 1_\ _5__I __9_1 _
4 9_o [T~_;_\~5_\^2_!
[_ 0_J_|_!
7 _L2-CZ_
is _i_j__ lZ
J4__5_9_0 1
J7__5_9_0 1_
20 |5 1 1 1 [9 1

interval classes are not changed under transposition or inversion, it ma

sense for these theorists to construct a set-class system on equiva
under both transposition and inversion.
Zalewski (1972) also reduces sets (structures) to 224, but for diffe
reasons?that is, not according to equivalence. Zalewski states
inverted sets are to be listed under the same form since they hav
same level of "deformation'' (Moscariello 1996-97).

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 173

T3C= |9 -110111 |0 ll |2 |3 |4 |5 |6 \l |8
JJ_4_8_0 1
J9_4_8_0 1
20 I 10 11 I I

Perle (1962) and later Rahn (1980) furthermore reduce this numb
209, considering both equivalence by inversion and equivalence by
chord complementarity. While it is possible that Rahn was influen
Forte, Perle's system is independent, although the set number is the sa
For Martino (1961), the set number would amount to 209, b
considers the definition of only 114 sets as sufficient since the oth
complementary and may be deduced from them. Martino liste
according to their interval vector, as did Forte (1964), who also i
fied Z-related sets under the same number, which reduces the num

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174 Perspectives of New Music

A+B+C\ I I I I I I I I I I I
1 ~~VT~~5~~6~~T~~9~~4~~S~~d~l~'8~
20 \5 |0 |l |s \9 [4 |8 \

201. Since even completely different sets cou

Forte decided to abandon this convention in h
lists the Z-related sets at end of the list for ev
own numbers; therefore his sets are not listed
Czech composer and theorist Alois Pinos (19
pendendy accepted equivalence by the cycle-of
the number of set classes was reduced to 158

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 175

Costere Simbriger Vieru Hanson Zalewski Forte Perle Rahn Martino Forte Pinos Starr Mazzola
(1954) (1969) (1980) (1960) (1972) (1973) (1962) (1980) (1961) (1964) (1971) (1978) (1985)
*0 "(0) "(0) "5 W) ~W) 7?) W) ~W) ~W) "(0) 7?) W) ~&
1 1 "1 i TT) 71) TT) 1 0) U) 71) 1 TT) "i
1 1 "6 ~6 "6 ~6 7^ ~6 76) "(6) "6 1 1 1
1 19 19 19 \2 ll 12 12 12 12 12 ~9 "9 1
1 "43 "4l "43 "29 "29 "29 "29 "29 "29 _8 Ti I
1 "66 "66 "66 ~38 38 ~38 "38 _8 ~38 "35 _5 _5 _5
~6 8b" *80 "44 "50 "50 lo ~35 "35 35 35 34 ~34 "26
1 "66 "66 766) "38 "38 ~38 ~38 ~38 738) ~35 15 ~25 725)
1 "4l "43 743) "29 _9 _9 "29 _9 "(29) ~28 H H "(21)
-9 19 1S> "(19) 12 12 12 ll 12 IJl) 12 ~9 1 "(9)
_____ _ __ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ __

__ _ __ _ _ _ _ __ _ _ _ _ _.

lT""i 1 TT) TT) 1 TT) TT) TT) TT) 0) 1 TT) 0)

151 "351 180 1-0 122 151 _07 193 U4 197 157 154 "88
(352) (352) (316) (224) (224) (224) (209) (209) (209) (201) (158) (158) (150)



ally complementary hexachords as equivalent. This number was further

reduced by Mazzola (1985) to 150 structures, by grouping complemen
tary hexachords with the same interval content together. Thus the total
resulted in 88 main structures.
The variety of approaches confirms that research has developed in
many independent ways and that a universally accepted set-theory sys
tem, comparable to the tonal system, is still being processed, even if there
are rival theories of tonality. Yet the basic concepts remain substantially
the same.
Recent exchanges of views between and among theorists across the
Adantic and in Eastern Europe will undoubtedly lead to what I call a
"meta-set theory, a theory of set theories" (Verdi 2003). Such a theory
has already been suggested by Morris (1987 and 2002), Lewin (1987),
and Mazzola (1985 and 2002).

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176 Perspectives of New Music


1. Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique in Paris

dedicated to research and contemporary musical creation.

2. "Che alcuni abbiano sentito come gli intervalli della serie delle sett
note possano venir ordinati (graduati) in modo differente, s'e g
visto in momenti isolati in Liszt e, piu. esplicitamente, nel movimen
musicale progressista di oggi. La spinta, l'anelito, l'istinto intelligent
vanno in questo senso, ma non mi sembra che di questi nuovi mez
espressivi superiori si sia formata una visione cosciente e ordinata. H
tentato tutte le possibility di graduazione della successione delle sett
note, emii riuscito di fissare 113 scale diverse abbassando e inn
zando gli intervalli. Queste 113 scale (nell'ottava do-do) compre
dono la maggior parte delle 24 tonalita conosciute e, in piu, una ser
di nuove tonalita di carattere proprio." Ferruccio Busoni, Entwu
einer neuen Asthetik der Tonkunst (Trieste: C. Schmidt, 1907
English translation by Th. Baker, Sketch of a New Esthetic of Musi
(New York: G. Schirmer, 1911), 29. Italian translation by Laur
Dallapiccola, Abbozzo di una nuova estetica della musica, in Lo
sguardo lieto: Tutti gli scritti sulla musica e le arti (Milan: II
Saggiatore, 1977), 65.
3. "Toute presentation graphique d'un echellonement deboute par
plus grande suite des rectangle blanc qui y sont incorpores, c'est a
dire par la serie la plus longue des demi tons." Edmond Costere, Lo
et styles des harmonies musicales (Paris: Presses Universitaires de
France, 1954), 39.

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History of Set Theory from a European Point of View 177


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