Hello all, I am new to this forum. I am a composer with a generally traditionalist taste and style, and I'd like to have a discussion on why or why not tonal music is/isn't dated.
As an artist searching for my voice I must admit I have schizofrenic tendencies with regards to my artistic philosophy/theory, so you may find that I will want to play devil's advocate at times. I myself compose completely functionally ("common-practice") tonal music but I also write a lot of music that doesn't conform to that style.
Tonal music is something that we hear all around us, in the movies, pop music, folk music, elevator music, and jazz to name a few examples. It is therefore something that we are familiar with. However, atonal music (although not necessarily serial music) is something we are also exposed to in the movies. Think, what would a scary movie be like without atonal music? It wouldn't be very scary. Moreover modal music is also something that we are somewhat familiar with though not to the extent of tonal music.
So why is it that tonal music is considered to be dated by most "serious" composers? I propose to you that the answer lies in the fact that the common-practice harmonic vocabulary has become cliche. Since tonal music has such prominence in popular culture, it has become too typical, even mundane. The reason for this is not because the system of functional tonality is in and of itself naive by modern standards, but because its prominance in our culture lends itself to exploitation by the naive and unlearned. Therefore it has been abused and bastardized be more exponents than have composed "learned" tonal music. We in the modern art world have come to asscociate bastardized tonality with tonality itself, or at least I have. In fact the season we are in now exemplifies this. Take Christmas carols and slap pop orchestration on top of it and you've got complete cheese (something we hear a lot of during this time of year).
The ideas that "we've heard it all" so to speak or "its already been done" are common sentiments among modernists but what they fail to realize is that it hasn't. The problem lies in the lack of interest in tonality as a vehicle for new art because of what I mentioned above. It hasn't already been done, and as far as I'm concerned as long as there's a tune that hasn't been composed, unless I compose it nobody will. On the flip side however, traditionalist composers as myself should not turn a blind eye to modernism. For modernism has opened up a whole new world of harmonic and polyphonic possibilities that should be studies and kept as cards to play. Just don't show all of your hand at once.