As scholars begin to gain a sense of historical perspective on art music in the twentieth century, it seems clear that the introduction and development of twelve-tone compositional procedures will remain one of the cardinal markers of musical modernism. The careers of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Boulez, Stockhausen, Babbitt, and even Stravinsky (among many others) are all at some point intimately bound up with dodecaphonic concerns, as is the course of avant-garde music generally. No matter what one may think of the twelve-tone idea – and it has been the source of considerable controversy almost from the start – understanding dodecaphony and its appeal to several generations of composers in Europe and America will continue to play a central role in understanding twentieth-century music and culture.
The twelve-tone idea has also played a pivotal role in the development of music theory as a professional discipline, especially in the United States during the post-World-War-II period. Indeed, twelve-tone theory and composition are deeply interdependent, and this is in no small measure attributable to the fact that in many cases the theorists involved were also composers. Unlike Schenkerian theory – which along with twelve-tone theory has played an important role in the professional growth of music theory in the second half of this century – twelve-tone theory often seems more prescriptive than descriptive; rather than explicating the structural features of works already established within the canon of Western art music, dodecaphonic theory is frequently speculative, suggesting structural possibilities for pieces yet to be written (or in some cases, pieces just finished by the composer himself).