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Thread: What did Schoenberg have in mind when he invented the 12-tone method?

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    I actually find the scores very interesting! Just as interesting as how it sounds. Understanding a Schoenberg score, for me, is like understanding a Schumann score. There are fascinating ideas on the paper; they are the closest we can really get to the thought process of any composer and that's what makes score analysis really invigorating. One thing which I find exciting is reading a score and looking at the fine details, how they fit together and imagining everything being played in my head. Most often, there is no interpretation quite like it when I try to find one closest to how I would play it!

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    Senior Member Richannes Wrahms's Avatar
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    Berg's and early Webern scores, full of variety and detail of all kinds, parallel the beauty of the sound they code. In contrast, most of Messiaen's scores are the most boring great things I've looked at.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    Okay, I love these pieces. They're compact and beautiful and expressive. What did you find in reading them that you didn't find in listening to them?
    By reading it I can study how Schoenberg handled the score but the sound is not what I am looking for when it comes to aural enjoyment. Just the same, I can study a Shakespeare piece and see the characters relate dramatically but a live play of the same piece is unlikely what I would be willing to pay money to see for enjoyment. Learning and enjoyment are separate in these examples.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    By reading it I can study how Schoenberg handled the score but the sound is not what I am looking for when it comes to aural enjoyment.
    That's just rewording what you said before. What specifically did you find enjoyable about reading this score? What did you note and take pleasure in? Why do you think that these pleasures didn't translate into aural pleasure when listening to these pieces?

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    I'm still more interested in defining the differences between 12-tone and tonality. There is a grey area in which both approaches share characteristics, such as division of the octave geometrically rather than harmonically. I hope I don't have to explain that.

    But some of the differences emerge when we look at how post-tonal atonality and serialism integrated the vertical and the horizontal; in tonal music, major and minor triads are 'superior' in terms of how they are handled; a C-F-G would be considered an unstable entity, needing to be resolved to the 'structurally superior' C-E-G. In atonality, or free tonality, C-F-G can stand alone as a sonority in itself. Atonality includes every possible triad, as well as the ones tonality uses. These other triads can be used as a central sonority in themselves.

    If there is no tonal hierarchy, things immediately change, and this is audible. There may be a degree of similarity and method overlap when we get to total chromaticism, but with 12-tone, this hierarchy is gone, and the ordered row is the only way to create a new hierarchy to replace it.

    I agree with Artmusic's assessment:
    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    I think Schoenberg knew very well indeed that twelve-tone/atonal development was going to be the way forward for the new school of composers.
    Yes, he just hadn't quite worked out all the details, especially the problem of how to create a vertical harmonic dimension beyond just simplistically stacking the rows.

    In this sense, the 12-tone method was an extension of Schoenberg's tonal methods and thinking; in this regard, it was a half-baked solution. It had to be developed, and some general principles had to be formed in order to make it into the serialism we know and love today.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-05-2015 at 20:45.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I'm still more interested in defining the differences between 12-tone and tonality. There is a grey area in which both approaches share characteristics, such as division of the octave geometrically rather than harmonically. I hope I don't have to explain that.

    But some of the differences emerge when we look at how post-tonal atonality and serialism integrated the vertical and the horizontal; in tonal music, major and minor triads are 'superior' in terms of how they are handled; a C-F-G would be considered an unstable entity, needing to be resolved to the 'structurally superior' C-E-G. In atonality, or free tonality, C-F-G can stand alone as a sonority in itself. Atonality includes every possible triad, as well as the ones tonality uses. These other triads can be used as a central sonority in themselves.

    If there is no tonal hierarchy, things immediately change, and this is audible. There may be a degree of similarity and method overlap when we get to total chromaticism, but with 12-tone, this hierarchy is gone, and the ordered row is the only way to create a new hierarchy to replace it.
    I can't hear any difference between 12-tone and freely tonal music, other than some characteristic patterns that appear more frequently in the former than the latter. Given how few people seem to be able to distinguish them, I'd say that your clear distinction is at the least not clear to most.

    Given your absurd lumping of Elliott Carter with the serialists, your definitions play extremely fast and loose with the facts of the matter.

    And I thought that you had defined tonality such that triads were not relevant. What do you do, then, with all of the non-triadic modal and traditional music that you have insisted is tonal?

    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows
    Yes, he just hadn't quite worked out all the details, especially the problem of how to create a vertical harmonic dimension beyond just simplistically stacking the rows.
    But that's far from the only thing he did harmonically. You could just as easily say common practice composers were unable to find ways to organize music other than simplistically stacking thirds.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    That's just rewording what you said before. What specifically did you find enjoyable about reading this score? What did you note and take pleasure in? Why do you think that these pleasures didn't translate into aural pleasure when listening to these pieces?
    The whole score. Atonal music makes good study but not good listening for me. I can't be more specific than that. Again, there is a very clear separation between didactic scores and listening ones. Johann Sebastian Bach was a grand master with that, so I would say his Art of Fugue is another example - the whole score is formidable but listening enjoyment is less so for me. I hope this is clear.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    The whole score. Atonal music makes good study but not good listening for me. I can't be more specific than that. Again, there is a very clear separation between didactic scores and listening ones. Johann Sebastian Bach was a grand master with that, so I would say his Art of Fugue is another example - the whole score is formidable but listening enjoyment is less so for me. I hope this is clear.
    What is it specifically that you don't listening about "atonal" music? I am just curious.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    I can't hear any difference between 12-tone and freely tonal music, other than some characteristic patterns that appear more frequently in the former than the latter.
    You can't? I was comparing 12-tone and tonality. That's a grey area you are talking about.

    The 12-tone method was an extension of Schoenberg's tonal methods and thinking; in this regard, it was an idiosyncratic tool, not fully developed or having general characteristics.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    ...And I thought that you had defined tonality such that triads were not relevant. What do you do, then, with all of the non-triadic modal and traditional music that you have insisted is tonal?
    That's the narrowest possible definition you are using of tonality. In the general, broad definition, which is the only one I will use, "tonal" means having a tone center which more often than not governs the entire composition.

    I would also look at the definition of atonality in WIK:

    Quote: "...as a categorical label, 'atonal' generally means only that the piece is in the Western tradition and is not 'tonal'" (Rahn 1980), although there are longer periods, e.g., medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics to which this definition does not apply."(End quote) In other words, they are tonal.

    You are too hung-up on definitions. I think you should strive for some sort of clarity.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    But that's far from the only thing he did harmonically. You could just as easily say common practice composers were unable to find ways to organize music other than simplistically stacking thirds.
    My point is that tonality is a complete, integrated system, with a clear hierarchy and general structural principles. The 12-tone method was only an extension of Schoenberg's tonal methods and thinking; in this regard, it was a half-baked solution. It had to be developed, and some general principles had to be formed in order to make it into the serialism we know and love today.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    I would also look at the definition of atonality in WIK:

    Quote: "...as a categorical label, 'atonal' generally means only that the piece is in the Western tradition and is not 'tonal'" (Rahn 1980), although there are longer periods, e.g., medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics to which this definition does not apply."(End quote) In other words, they are tonal.
    No, that says the exact opposite, that medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics are not tonal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    No, that says the exact opposite, that medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics are not tonal.
    No it doesn't. Medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics are tonal in the general sense of having a tonal center.

    'Atonality' is a term to be used to oppose the general definition of tonality, a tonality which includes medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics .

    The term 'atonality' is not applicable to medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics (because they are generally tonal).

    The distinctions in the definitions of tonality range from narrow to general.

    "Atonality" in modern usage refers only to "not generally tonal." Forget about the old Nazi definition.

    WIK: Quote: "...as a categorical label, 'atonal' generally means only that the piece is in the Western tradition and is not "tonal"....although there are longer periods, e.g., medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics to which this definition does not apply." (Rahn 1980)(End quote)

    In other words, medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics are tonal in the general sense, but not in the narrow sense. Therefore, the general term "atonality" does not apply to those forms. It means "music without a (general) tonal center."

    Atonality has to be paired as term opposing the general definition of tonality, always.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-06-2015 at 18:07.

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    Yes, the quote means that those musics are not tonal.

    It says that the definition of atonality "being in the Western tradition and not being tonal" does not apply to those kinds of music in spite the fact that, like the music called atonal, they are within the Western tradition and they are not tonal. There is no other way in which this sentence can be understood.

    Atonality never has been opposed to tonality. Any attempt to define it as such runs into contradictions.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    No, that says the exact opposite, that medieval, renaissance, and modern modal musics are not tonal.
    I disagree. I have read extensively on this and pre-Baroque music generally do have a tonal center. Monteverdi operas for example, that we all know and love.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArtMusic View Post
    I disagree. I have read extensively on this and pre-Baroque music generally do have a tonal center. Monteverdi operas for example, that we all know and love.
    You can disagree, but you're still misreading what that sentence says.

    Secondly, Monteverdi is commonly thought of as the beginning of the Baroque era, not pre-Baroque.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    You can disagree, but you're still misreading what that sentence says.

    Secondly, Monteverdi is commonly thought of as the beginning of the Baroque era, not pre-Baroque.
    That's fine, Mahlerian; I recognize now that you are overly-sensitive to the use of the term 'atonality' because of its past resonances, and I now understand that.

    But the term 'atonality' is now commonly used in many textbooks, with the newer, more general, and more neutral definition.

    I also now see that you are putting us through a wringer of definitions, explanations, and proofs, so I will henceforth ignore all future questionings of my use of the term, which I have no problem with.

    That is, unless you'd like to put in a forum dictate/request to all modern music lovers/haters who post here that this term no longer be used because of its offensive nature.

    I would comply, since I would be more or less powerless to do otherwise.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jul-07-2015 at 17:57.

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