Book ReviewsNo. 98, Fall 2014

Boss, Jack. 2014. Schoenberg’s Twelve-Tone Music: Symmetry and the Musical Idea. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Densely informative and richly detailed, Jack Boss’s monograph on Schoenberg’s twelve–tone music is the product of an impressive thirteen years of analytical work, itself drawing on a career–spanning engagement with Schoenberg’s music. This volume is the latest offering in Cambridge University Press’s Music since 1900 series, which also published Schoenberg’s Musical Imagination by Michael Cherlin, one of Boss’s primary interlocutors. Cherlin, however, is in no way the only thinker whose work the author builds upon and Jack Boss truly offers an item of value on behalf of all students of Schoenberg’s music; the book synthesizes and indexes a tremendous volume of prominent thought on all aspects of Schoenberg’s output. Those wishing to develop some familiarity with the discursive history of twelve–tone analysis and Schoenberg scholarship will be rewarded by the meticulous footnoting through the book. Building on and maintaining dialogue with such a substantial literature, Boss motivates his own project from a unique career specialty of his, and the text is by no means derivative. Though the long analytical narratives told between the covers of this book often deal in careful note–for–note analysis, they are chiefly motivated by Boss’s long–standing interest in describing the processes that unfold across entire pieces and their forms, developmental narratives by which the pieces can be understood as dynamic unities.