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Thread: atonal music and harmony

  1. #16
    Senior Member Razumovskymas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BabyGiraffe View Post
    The melodies are constructed from the 12et-chromatic scale, so they belong to a scale.
    You can still hear tonal relations and this is the failure of the system. They are trying to hide it with all the tempo, tone colour and similar changes.
    Just because someone is using 12 tones, it doesn't mean that it is atonal. The first tone, the most repeated tone, the highest tone, the lowest tone, the thickest and the most dense voicings still grab the ear destroying the illusion of atonality.
    apart from the semantics I think it's impossible to rule out tonal relations. Just by the simple fact that the history of western music (and even in most music in other cultures) is dominated by tonal "scales" and by consequence one will always pick out the tones that have a "known" "tonal" relation.

    Just to be clear I want to explain what I understand to be a tonal scale. To me a scale is tonal when there is some kind of irregularity in that scale that makes it possible for someone to immediately "feel" the position of a note in that scale. The most widespread and most recognized scale being the major scale with its two semi tone steps. I'm not even getting into if wether this scale has "natural" origins or not, that's not the main issue in my opinion. I think every western child can whistle a C-major scale without even knowing there are 2 semi-tone steps in it. It will be much harder to learn to whistle the semi-tone scale (12 tone scale) or the whole tone scale despite the fact that it are scales without irregularity.

    For me the succes of tonal music lies in it's ability to grab the listener and say "at this moment you are here" and "at this moment we're going there" or "and now we're going somewhere similar then before but a bit different". With all the infinite combinations and modulations that are possible.

    In atonal music these possibilities are somewhat limited (or more challenging). And even more limited if you really want to rule out all connection with tonality. And also probably the reason why it's challenging for the listener and often subject of deep filosophical questioning

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Razumovskymas View Post
    apart from the semantics I think it's impossible to rule out tonal relations. Just by the simple fact that the history of western music (and even in most music in other cultures) is dominated by tonal "scales" and by consequence one will always pick out the tones that have a "known" "tonal" relation.

    Just to be clear I want to explain what I understand to be a tonal scale. To me a scale is tonal when there is some kind of irregularity in that scale that makes it possible for someone to immediately "feel" the position of a note in that scale. The most widespread and most recognized scale being the major scale with its two semi tone steps. I'm not even getting into if wether this scale has "natural" origins or not, that's not the main issue in my opinion. I think every western child can whistle a C-major scale without even knowing there are 2 semi-tone steps in it. It will be much harder to learn to whistle the semi-tone scale (12 tone scale) or the whole tone scale despite the fact that it are scales without irregularity.

    For me the succes of tonal music lies in it's ability to grab the listener and say "at this moment you are here" and "at this moment we're going there" or "and now we're going somewhere similar then before but a bit different". With all the infinite combinations and modulations that are possible.

    In atonal music these possibilities are somewhat limited (or more challenging). And even more limited if you really want to rule out all connection with tonality. And also probably the reason why it's challenging for the listener and often subject of deep filosophical questioning
    Tonality, for the listener, is a particular set of expectations that the tones of a scale will interact in specific ways. A composer's power consists, in large part, of his ability to play with those expectations, both fulfilling and frustrating them. Which is just an abstract way of saying what you said more concretely.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Mar-02-2017 at 05:02.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    As seen in the following chart, tonality gets "ruled out" as more notes are added.

    Atonal music is nearly or completely chromatic. Scales, and the idea of scales, become irrelevant.

    We seem to veering from the fact that we are talking about atonal music, which is music that is highly and continuously chromatic, and thus creates no sense of definite, sustained tonality.

    Howard Hanson's Harmonic Materials of Modern Music shows:


    If we begin with one note, and begin adding notes by fifths, we get the following:

    2 notes (C-G): 1 fifth

    3 notes (C-G-D): 2 fifths, 1 major second
    4 notes (C-G-D-A): 3 fifths, 1 minor third, 2 major seconds
    5 notes (C-G-D-A-E): 4 fifths, 1 major third, 2 minor thirds, 3 major seconds
    6 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B): 5 fifths, 2 major thirds, 3 minor thirds, 4 major seconds, 1 minor second
    7 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B-F#): 6 fifths, 3 major thirds, 4 minor thirds, 5 major seconds, 2 minor seconds, 1 tritone
    8 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#): 7 fifths, 4 major thirds, 5 minor thirds, 6 major seconds, 4 minor seconds, 2 tritones
    9 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#): 8 fifths, 6 major thirds, 6 minor thirds, 7 major seconds, 6 minor seconds, 3 tritones
    10 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#-D#): 9 fifths, 8 major thirds, 8 minor thirds,8 major seconds, 8 minor seconds, 4 tritones
    11 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#-D#-A#): 10 fifths, 10 major thirds, 10 minor thirds, 10 major seconds, 10 minor seconds, 5 tritones
    12 notes (C-G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#-D#-A#-E#): 12 fifths, 12 major thirds, 12 minor thirds, 12 major seconds, 12 minor seconds, 6 tritones

    Each new note adds one new interval, plus adding one more to those already present; but beyond seven tones, no new intervals can be added. In addition to this loss of new material, there is also a gradual decrease in the difference of the quantitative formation; i. e., redundancy begins to set in.

    The sound of a sonority, whether it be harmony or melody, depends on what is present, but also on what is not present. The pentatonic sounds as it does because it contains mainly perfect fifths, and also maj seconds, minor thirds, and one major third, but also because it does not contain the minor second or tritone.

    As sonorities get projected beyond the six-range, they tend to lose their individuality.

    In other words, a sustained sense of tonality cannot be maintained.
    This does not mean that atonal, 12-tone, or serial music cannot have sonorities and harmonic meaning and color. It simply means that, when using all 12 notes continuously, no overall "gestalt" of harmony or sonority will be dominant. There will be no sustained harmonic consistency which will be continuously exerting influence and gravity towards one note, or even a larger tonal area. The effect is "spread out" evenly among the 12 notes, and any sense of tonality which one thinks one perceives is fleeting, and must be grasped from moment-to-moment, which is not really the way real Western tonality was intended to function. Here, with atonality, we have entered a world of "moment time" which is instantaneous, and is really more "Eastern" and vertical by nature.

    That is, if you are looking for tonality. If you're not, tonality does not matter. It doesn't matter if it is fleeting or not.

    I have the feeling that a lot of listeners are pre-conditioned by listening to tonal music, and to be fair, I can't blame them, because tonality is music based on principles which are sensual, harmonic, and ear-based. This is only natural for the ear to search out a central note.

    My point is, if you are listening to Webern and are habitually hearing snatches of "tonality," or are consciously trying to hear it in tonal terms, you are not really accepting the music on its own terms, with a more severe, objective, intellect-based stance.

    Serial and modern music is quite different, in that it is generated from
    mathematical and geometric principles of symmetry. This is not to say that it cannot sound good, at the same time.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-02-2017 at 20:56.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    The 12-tone method can be used in different ways. Schoenberg's first use of it was polyphonic, creating separate lines which intersect. Later on, he began to form "chords" out of the row, such as four 3-note chords. This created a "harmony" of sorts, but it must be emphasized that this is not tonal harmony.

    The 12-tone row needs to be seen as a pervasive, unifying presence which is not "imposed" on the material, but actually "is" the material in a literal way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    The 12-tone method can be used in different ways. Schoenberg's first use of it was polyphonic, creating separate lines which intersect. Later on, he began to form "chords" out of the row, such as four 3-note chords. This created a "harmony" of sorts, but it must be emphasized that this is not tonal harmony.

    The 12-tone row needs to be seen as a pervasive, unifying presence which is not "imposed" on the material, but actually "is" the material in a literal way.
    I agree with you about the versatility of the 12-tone method. The method is highly flexible: it can even be used to generate tonal harmonies.

    For instance, Berg sometimes used 12-tone techniques in a tonal fashion, such as in his Violin Concerto which uses a tone row based on broken triads. This demonstrates that 12-tone music can come in many shapes and forms, not all of which are necessarily atonal.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettina View Post
    I agree with you about the versatility of the 12-tone method. The method is highly flexible: it can even be used to generate tonal harmonies.

    For instance, Berg sometimes used 12-tone techniques in a tonal fashion, such as in his Violin Concerto which uses a tone row based on broken triads. This demonstrates that 12-tone music can come in many shapes and forms, not all of which are necessarily atonal.
    Berg did use a row, in his violin concerto, which was minor triads, ending with a whole-tone fragment. This enabled him to create music which had a lot of triads and was harmonic-sounding, but I hesitate to say that it is "tonal" music.

    There's been so much confusion as to atonal/tonal that I use the term "tonal" carefully, when referring to music that is actually tonal through-and-through.

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    Senior Member Razumovskymas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    There's been so much confusion as to atonal/tonal that I use the term "tonal" carefully, when referring to music that is actually tonal through-and-through.
    isn't the problem (as with many musical terminology) that there never is a "real" scientific consensus about certain concepts and the meaning of terms like "tonal" are never really clear unless one clearly explains what he means by it?

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Razumovskymas View Post
    isn't the problem (as with many musical terminology) that there never is a "real" scientific consensus about certain concepts and the meaning of terms like "tonal" are never really clear unless one clearly explains what he means by it?
    Not a scientific consensus, but I've heard the Berg Violin Concerto, and I hear it as being atonal, in addition to knowing that it is a 12-tone based work. There's a quotation of a Bach Chorale, which is exempt.

    I have no problem with people hearing it as 'tonal,' but I doubt very seriously if it could be analyzed tonally.

    For me, this means that the Berg Violin Concerto IS a 12-tone work, whose row is made up of triads to create a quasi-tonal effect.

    Beyond that, the 12-tone "method" is chromatic; one of its main possible goals is to keep all 12 notes in circulation. This chromaticism alone is enough to negate tonality, which is dependent upon "less" notes, not more, to establish a sense of tonality.

    I would guess that it's not really "tonality" that many listeners hear in Berg's work, but other tonal devices, such as voice-leading, resolutions of dissonances, texture and voicings, triads, arpeggios, which give the illusion of a tonal work, while not establishing a true sense of tonality. The genre and style of Late Romanticism is chromatic, anyway, so "establishing a sense of tonality" was not its goal, as is demonstrated by his Op.1 Piano Sonata, which IS tonal.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-18-2017 at 18:17.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettina View Post
    I agree with you about the versatility of the 12-tone method. The method is highly flexible: it can even be used to generate tonal harmonies.
    Well, that statement needs qualifying; the method can even be used to generate the appearance of tonal harmonies, in the form of triads, which are a tonal device. There are no tonal "triads" in 12-tone music; there are no 'tonal' triads in 12-tone which are invertible (C-E-G/E-G-C/G-C-E), and retain their tonal identity as C major triads under inversion.

    "Triads" in 12-tone music (actually 3-note sets) are NOT invertible, because they do not relate to a tonic. Thus, C-E-G, when reversed, becomes C-Ab-F, or F minor, and loses its identity as a C triad. The inversion is literal and arithmetical, not tonal.

    For instance, Berg sometimes used 12-tone techniques in a tonal fashion, such as in his Violin Concerto which uses a tone row based on broken triads.
    Berg used triads, but this is not a 'technique' of tonality, only a clever allusion. These "triads" would not behave as tonal triads.

    This demonstrates that 12-tone music can come in many shapes and forms, not all of which are necessarily atonal.
    It demonstrates that Berg wished to retain a strong connection to traditional tonality, by "emulating" its devices within the 12-tone method. For me, the music still sounds atonal, since I hear no real tonal relations taking place over spans of time.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Mar-18-2017 at 18:11.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    Well, that statement needs qualifying; the method can even be used to generate the appearance of tonal harmonies, in the form of triads, which are a tonal device. There are no tonal "triads" in 12-tone music; there are no 'tonal' triads in 12-tone which are invertible (C-E-G/E-G-C/G-C-E), and retain their tonal identity as C major triads under inversion.

    "Triads" in 12-tone music (actually 3-note sets) are NOT invertible, because they do not relate to a tonic. Thus, C-E-G, when reversed, becomes C-Ab-F, or F minor, and loses its identity as a C triad. The inversion is literal and arithmetical, not tonal
    That's a good point about the unavailability of inverted triads. However, I think it's possible to create a tonal effect without using triadic inversions. I need to give this more thought...when I have a chance, I'll re-listen to the Berg violin concerto with these issues in mind.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bettina View Post
    ...However, I think it's possible to create a tonal effect without using triadic inversions.
    Of course it is, because the ear hears harmonically; it will hear "from the bottom up" as we hear harmonics of of lower fundamental.

    As I said above, I would guess that it's not really "tonality" (like the drone of a bagpipe) that many listeners hear in Berg's work, but devices of tonal music, such as voice-leading, resolutions of dissonances, texture and voicings, triads, arpeggios, which give the illusion of being a tonal work, while not establishing a true sense of tonality.

    Berg does not "sound tonal" in the sense of "
    establishing a tonality which gravitates toward one tonic note," like a bagpipe, or a Grateful Dead 30-minute jam on "E."

    Berg "sounds like tonal music" in the sense that his music sometimes sounds like Common Practice Tonality because of its texture, voice leading, resolutions of dissonances, triadic formations, and other devices; not because it centers us around a tonic note.

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