George Perle

A notable American composer as well as theorist, George Perle championed an American method of composing atonal music based on intuition and freedom. His writings about contemporary music are just as important as his compositions.

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Born in New Jersey, George Perle completed his undergraduate at DePaul University and his PhD at New York University. Throughout his life, he served on the faculty of several universities, including Yale University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Perle was also a composer-in-residence at many major music festivals, including Tanglewood Music Center, Marlboro Music Festival, and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

Perle was an important scholar on twentieth-century music, especially the works of the Second Viennese School. In the 1930s, Perle was drawn to the works of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg and especially ideas regarding dodecaphonic (twelve-tone) composition. Beginning in 1939, Perle developed a “12-note tonality” method of composition, based on “hierarchical distinctions[s] found in tonal music,” such as the functional concept of a key.

Perle’s song cycles include his Thirteen Dickinson Songs as well as several settings of Rainer Maria Rilke.

–Christie Finn

Source: Paul Lansky’s article in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Related Information



Tribute to Soprano Bethany Beardslee

(George Perle)


Songs by George Perle

(George Perle)



Sheet Music

Thirteen Dickinson Songs

Composer(s): George Perle

Song(s): 1. Perhaps you'd like to buy a flower
2. I Like to see it lap the miles
3. I know some lonely Houses off the road
4. There came a Wind like a Bugle
5. Beauty—be not caused—It is
6. The Wind—tapped like a tired Man
7. These are the days when Birds come back
8. The Heart asks—Pleasure first
9. What if I say I shall not wait!
10. If I’m lost—now
11. The Loneliness One dare not sound
12. Under the Light, yet under
13. She bore it till the simple veins

Voice Type: Soprano

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