Author Topic: Atonal and tonal music  (Read 25789 times)

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Offline Ken B

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #40 on: November 21, 2016, 06:09:49 PM »
It is surely true that people who use it pejoratively do not like music they label "atonal," but it is also true that those who use it pejoratively will label music as "tonal" if they like it regardless of its harmonic content.  I have seen others redefine music by Scriabin, etc. as tonal, just because they don't think it sounds "atonal" to them.

When the term atonal first came into wide circulation in the 1920s, it was applied to just about all modern music, from Mahler to Debussy to Ravel to Stravinsky to Hindemith.  Schoenberg and his school likely retained the term only because their music never gained the same level of acceptance.

Words are important because they frame perception, and the perception that Schoenberg and his school produced music that is contrary to tradition, rather than an extension of it, has damaged their work from the beginning.

But you see, that last sentence is what I, and I think others here, object to. You want to impose a form of newspeak on us in service of an agenda. Balk! We just want want to have a useful discussion and don't give a crap about retooling language for some imagined greater good.
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #41 on: November 21, 2016, 06:10:18 PM »
If it did aid understanding, that would be one thing.  Can you tell me a single way in which the term atonal helps you to understand the music of Schoenberg or anyone else?

I think that, on the contrary, the existence of this nonsensical label has hindered understanding.

I don't think any label has helped me in the understanding of any music, but I can't speak for anyone else but myself of course. If a term helps someone else, then that's great, I won't make any objections.
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Offline Mahlerian

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #42 on: November 21, 2016, 06:18:15 PM »
But you see, that last sentence is what I, and I think others here, object to. You want to impose a form of newspeak on us in service of an agenda. Balk! We just want want to have a useful discussion and don't give a crap about retooling language for some imagined greater good.

Newspeak?  I'm not trying to hide anything or use euphemisms, on the contrary, I want language to be more precise and better match the reality of the music in question.

I'm not trying to impose anything on anyone.  I'm explaining why the term should be abandoned if any useful discussion is ever to be had.

Offline Gurn Blanston

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #43 on: November 21, 2016, 06:25:02 PM »
But you see, that last sentence is what I, and I think others here, object to. You want to impose a form of newspeak on us in service of an agenda. Balk! We just want want to have a useful discussion and don't give a crap about retooling language for some imagined greater good.

I assume that is the magisterial 'Royal We'? There is an easy solution, which is to not involve yourself in that part of the discussion. There are people here, other than Ken B., who may have an interest in that aspect. It certainly relates to the main topic. Perhaps those who haven't seen it all and heard it already would like to achieve some different understanding? 

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Offline Scarpia

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #44 on: November 21, 2016, 06:44:00 PM »
If it did aid understanding, that would be one thing.  Can you tell me a single way in which the term atonal helps you to understand the music of Schoenberg or anyone else?

I think that, on the contrary, the existence of this nonsensical label has hindered understanding.

I do not find it nonsensical. It's meaning is clear to me. Before Schoenberg western classical music was arranged around a "tonic" note or chord, towards which the music tended to resolve. Schoenberg strove to invent a way of composing music which was not based on this principal, but in which the 12 tones of the chromatic scale could be used freely and still be harmonically and melodically coherent. When I read that a composition is atonal or has atonal elements, I don't know exactly what to expect, it may be free chromaticism, it may be Schoenberg's 12 tone method, it may be one of Boulez's or Messiaen's weird schemes, it may be something else. But it is music where everything is possible. The term is vague, but helpful and attractive to me.

The term atonal is no different than any other word in the English language, or in any other language. In the end it is defined by what it is applied to. The word "symphony" means "sounding together,"  and says nothing, really. But the word is defined by the set of works it has been applied to over there years, from Bach's cantata interludes, Mozart and Haydn's slender works, Beethoven's 9th, the works of Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Webern, Stravinsky's, etc. "Atonal" is no different.
« Last Edit: November 21, 2016, 06:57:41 PM by Scarpia »

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #45 on: November 21, 2016, 07:01:06 PM »
Is this an example of a useful discussion?  Because to me, your ideas are pedantic and useless for advancing a meaningful discussion of music.

There have been many useful discussions about atonal music.  Atonal is a useful term no matter how many arguments you make against it's use.  Atonal music is known, some people love it (me for example) some people don't. 

"Classical music" is also a label.  For many people "classical music" is a pejorative term.   Do you also want to stop using that term?

I am surprised so much time has been devoted to what appears to me a pointless debate.

Couldn't agree more. Surely getting back on topic would be a good idea?
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Offline Gurn Blanston

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #46 on: November 21, 2016, 07:05:02 PM »
Is this an example of a useful discussion?  Because to me, your ideas are pedantic and useless for advancing a meaningful discussion of music.

There have been many useful discussions about atonal music.  Atonal is a useful term no matter how many arguments you make against it's use.  Atonal music is known, some people love it (me for example) some people don't. 

"Classical music" is also a label.  For many people "classical music" is a pejorative term.   Do you also want to stop using that term?

I am surprised so much time has been devoted to what appears to me a pointless debate.

You may well be right, that the name is not the reason why many people are put off by the music, but a couple of things I don't agree with: I don't know that there IS a full understanding of the term, and I also think that the word itself is off-putting, predisposing people to be tentative about the music before they even hear it.

Not that this does indeed bring us closer to deciding on the best post-1950 string quartet cycle, but that's nothing but a unicorn anyway. I said Bloch ages ago and nothing I've seen here since has convinced me otherwise. I don't even think Bloch is atonal, which is incredibly unstylish for the early 1950's...  :)

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Offline Jeffrey Smith

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #47 on: November 21, 2016, 07:07:49 PM »
Carter and Tippett.
Chiefly on the grounds that I have heard their cycles, unlike most of the others mentioned here.

Offline Mahlerian

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #48 on: November 21, 2016, 07:10:30 PM »
Is this an example of a useful discussion?  Because to me, your ideas are pedantic and useless for advancing a meaningful discussion of music.

There have been many useful discussions about atonal music.  Atonal is a useful term no matter how many arguments you make against it's use.  Atonal music is known, some people love it (me for example) some people don't. 

"Classical music" is also a label.  For many people "classical music" is a pejorative term.   Do you also want to stop using that term?

I am surprised so much time has been devoted to what appears to me a pointless debate.

You were the one who brought the topic up by misrepresenting my position as being based on the pejorative connotations of the word.  I tried to explain that it was based on the irreconcilability of its putative meaning and its common usage.

Offline jessop

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #49 on: November 21, 2016, 08:06:41 PM »
Recent years have certainly seen a multitude of new quartets and ensembles who specialise in new string quartet music. I think quartets in recent years absolutely surpass the quartets of the past in their quality and imaginative content. :)

Offline Jeffrey Smith

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #50 on: November 21, 2016, 08:21:23 PM »
Recent years have certainly seen a multitude of new quartets and ensembles who specialise in new string quartet music. I think quartets in recent years absolutely surpass the quartets of the past in their quality and imaginative content. :)

That may be overstating the case.  But even John Adams has managed something worthwhile



Offline jessop

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #51 on: November 21, 2016, 08:37:56 PM »
John Adams has indeed written some pretty cool pieces for string quartet. I don't really listen to his music much, but John's Book of Alleged Dances is good fun.

Offline Scarpia

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #52 on: November 21, 2016, 10:00:01 PM »
Changed my vote to Someone else (Ligeti)

Offline arpeggio

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #53 on: November 21, 2016, 10:13:32 PM »
I read forums like this in order to expand my knowledge of music.

I ignore posts by supposed experts grousing about the quartets they dislike without any documentation to support their observations.   Very rarely do any of their criticisms hold up.  Most of the time when I check out compositions that they have a low opinion of I end up liking the work anyway.

I rarely discuss music I hate because most of the good readers could not care less about what music I dislike.

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #54 on: November 22, 2016, 12:29:30 AM »
Dear Mahlerian and Gurn,

Etymology is not meaning.

While it is still accepted that a string quartet requires four players, it has long since ceased to be a requirement of chamber music that it be played in a small room.
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Offline The new erato

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #55 on: November 22, 2016, 12:56:37 AM »
Hilding Rosenberg's last 6 quartets are written post 1950, and are pretty darn fine.

Offline Gaspard de la nuit

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #56 on: November 22, 2016, 06:01:22 AM »
I read forums like this in order to expand my knowledge of music.

I ignore posts by supposed experts grousing about the quartets they dislike without any documentation to support their observations.   Very rarely do any of their criticisms hold up.  Most of the time when I check out compositions that they have a low opinion of I end up liking the work anyway.

I rarely discuss music I hate because most of the good readers could not care less about what music I dislike.

I (literally) could not have said it better myself.

Offline Ken B

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #57 on: November 22, 2016, 06:12:04 AM »
I assume that is the magisterial 'Royal We'? There is an easy solution, which is to not involve yourself in that part of the discussion. There are people here, other than Ken B., who may have an interest in that aspect. It certainly relates to the main topic. Perhaps those who haven't seen it all and heard it already would like to achieve some different understanding? 

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You might be right, I might actually be the only one who objects to being hectored to not use the word. But then how to explain all those other posts?
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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #58 on: November 22, 2016, 06:57:11 AM »
Well, it's just that there is no atonal music.  Of course the word is bad; it's a misnomer that tells us nothing about how the music is constructed or about its harmonic basis.  Like I said before, words used to describe things should convey some information about them.  "Atonal" fails to do that.

"Atonal music" is an umbrella term, in the same way that "classical music" is an umbrella term.

It may also be a misnomer, but then so is "cor anglais" - an instrument which is neither of English origin, nor related to brass horn instruments.

I guess the point is, I don't actually understand what the issue is.

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Atonal and tonal music
« Reply #59 on: November 22, 2016, 07:51:25 AM »
The problem is always that tonality is a moving target.

Is a Palestrina motet atonal (or "pre-tonal") because it was written before Common Practice?  Is the Hindemith Flute Sonata atonal because the harmonies are not tertian?  Is Le sacre atonal?  If a piece of minimalism repeats an A Major triad for five minutes, is it tonal?
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