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

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Default What did Schoenberg have in mind when he invented the 12-tone method?

    Why did he develop this method? What was his goal? Was it musical, artistic? What was he hoping to achieve? Was he trying to destroy tonality, or create a new kind of music? Did this need to be done? You tell me, I'm here to listen for a while.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
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    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

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    Senior Member Petwhac's Avatar
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    Coherence is what he had in mind.

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    Unity.

    Ever since the early 1900s, from around op. 6 or so, he had been focusing more and more intently on motivic and harmonic development out of small cells that generate whole pieces. This meant that the vertical and horizontal directions of music became closer and closer until they were eventually fused nearly completely with the Chamber Symphony.

    With the move into music that is not written in the traditional tonal system that began with op. 10 and The Book of the Hanging Gardens, this motivic/harmonic development was freed of its need to fit into standard molds; the pieces that followed in this new style were brief and intensely focused. Often, their structure was tied to ostinati or a reference harmony which could provide stability and form. Just as frequently, they were tied to a text. It was found difficult to create longer movements.

    The years of experiment that followed paralleled WWI in Europe and the move away from post-Romanticism in the arts which led to Neoclassicism and "New Objectivity" (Neue Sachlichkeit). Schoenberg's own experiments led him towards a more consistent use of procedures that he had already been using in his earlier works, and he called it "composing with the tones of the motive." These works, including the Serenade and the Five Piano Pieces op. 23, used a proto-serial technique which became the basis for his introduction of the row, or "basic set," as was Schoenberg's term.

    This had several advantages:

    - It facilitated motivic and harmonic unity, the kind of vertical/horizontal integration which had already been part of Schoenberg's style for two decades
    - It allowed one to manipulate the material freely and maintain coherence over longer spans, in contrast to the freer treatment in the previous decade which had been difficult to organize
    - This unity is audible to the listener (who is accustomed to a fully chromatic language)

    It must be noted that for Schoenberg, this unifying element had an almost religious connotation.

    As for whether it needed to be done, I am not sure. It seems unlikely that the method as such is to be consistently employed again by composers in the future. I do believe that serial thinking in terms of the operations and processes of serialism and the integration of vertical and horizontal dimensions of music is here to stay for quite a long time. We should be aware, for example, that even the "tonal" works Schoenberg wrote after the introduction of 12-tone technique (Suite for Strings, Theme and Variations for Band, parts of the Chamber Symphony No. 2, Kol Nidre, etc.) employ serial treatment of non-row materials.

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    Senior Member Victor Redseal's Avatar
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    Schoenberg, I think, was trying to do away with the concept of a key. I may be completely wrong here but the smallest scale you can have would be the interval of a fifth (or fourth depending on how you look at it). It would be pretty monotonous. To allow those two notes to modulate through keys, we would five more notes--the pentatonic scale. Chinese music is structured something like this--five notes with two more added that allow key change, those two modulators are played like grace notes. Now if you add those two scales together--2+5--you get a seven-note scale or diatonic scale. Now you can modulate the pentatonic scale through seven keys. Add the pentatonic and the diatonic and you get--5+7=12 notes or the chromatic scale. Now you can modulate the diatonic scale through 12 keys. The next in line would be the 7+12 or 19-tone scale.

    I think they have made 19-tone instruments but they don't work well. They are cumbersome and some of the intervals are really off but could theoretically play the chromatic scale through 19 keys. So I think Schoenberg may have gotten the idea of 12-tone technique by hitting this brick wall of 12 tones which cannot modulate through key changes because it must have a larger scale to move around in. So the normal interval relationships are changed to get rid of the idea of being in a key. Does that make sense? It's music right at the edge of everything we know about music, as it were.

    But don't take that as gospel. I'm not a Schoenberg scholar (or any other kind of scholar) by any stretch and I'm sure someone here will tell I have no idea what I'm talking and unfortunately they could be right.
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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    I do believe that serial thinking in terms of the operations and processes of serialism and the integration of vertical and horizontal dimensions of music is here to stay for quite a long time. We should be aware, for example, that even the "tonal" works Schoenberg wrote after the introduction of 12-tone technique (Suite for Strings, Theme and Variations for Band, parts of the Chamber Symphony No. 2, Kol Nidre, etc.) employ serial treatment of non-row materials.
    I call this 'modernist thinking,' since it is based on the fact of the 12-note division of the octave. This is its kinship with serialism, not ordered rows or non-repetition. In this sense, Serialism is a subset of more general modern approaches.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Forte uses the term 'atonal' because that's what it means: music structured without using a tonal hierarchy, and heard without a sense of 'tonality' or key center, but heard only in terms of sonorities.

    As far as actually hearing the effects of 'atonal' music, we can hear it as sonorities, but not as being tone-centric. In atonal theory, unordered pitch class intervals are described and defined as if they were simultaneities. From Ear Training for Twentieth Century Music (Friedman), we see:

    "...the same unordered pitch class interval includes the motion from pitch class 1 to pitch class 2, the motion from pitch class 2 to pitch class 1, and the sonority of pitch classes 1 and 2 sounding simultaneously.

    Instead of thinking of an unordered pitch class interval as a measurable distance between two notes, it may be more helpful to think of it as a type of sonority, analogous to its "color," or timbre."


    We can hear it as a sonority, but NOT as being tonal or tone-centric.

    My main point is that in most modern and 'post-tonal' music, music can still be heard as having sonority and having a harmonic dimension, without being structured as, or being heard as, 'tonal' or 'tone-centric.'

    Unordered sets are similar to scales and modes, in that they allow free unordered use of the notes as an 'index' of relations, in which every note related to the others. This is similar to tonality, in which every note is related to the key note, except in this case, there is no 'key' note, and therefore no set of 'functions' as in tonality. Every sonority has an equal value, and can be used as the overall basis for a composition.

    You could use a 'diatonic set" such as C-D-E-F-G-A-B as the set, but emphasize B-C-G as the main sonority. This is quite dissonant, and in tonality would be considered unusable, too dissonant, or inferior to C-E-G. Nonetheless, this triad has a sonority, and could be the basis of an entire composition, with the use of transposition, inversion, and retrograde procedures.

    Additionally, unordered sets can have an 'interval vector,' which is a six-number list of all possible intervals in the set. This is basically a list of what sonorities will be present in using the set.

    Ordered sets do not have interval vectors, because they are ordered, and there is no relation among all notes of the set. The ordered row is strictly melodic, and has no sonorous vertical dimension.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    At this point, I'm not sure how original or innovative Schoenberg's 12-tone method was, if all it did was 'order' the notes. Other 'atonal' ideas were in the air at the time. By 'atonal ideas,' I mean ideas which create musical structure without using the tonal hierarchy.

    Josef Matthias Hauer
    (March 19, 1883 – September 22, 1959) developed a system of 'tropes' which used the entire chromatic scale for composing, before Schoenberg came up with his 12-tone system.

    From WIK:

    In certain types of atonal and serial music, a trope is an unordered collection of different pitches, most often of cardinality six (now usually called an unordered hexachord, of which there are two complementary ones in twelve-tone equal temperament). Tropes in this sense were devised and named by Josef Matthias Hauer in connection with his own twelve-tone technique, developed simultaneously with but overshadowed by Arnold Schoenberg's.

    Hauer discovered the 44 tropes, pairs of complementary hexachords, in 1921 allowing him to classify any of the 479,001,600 twelve-tone melodies into one of forty-four types.

    The primary purpose of the tropes is not analysis (although it can be used for it) but composition. A trope is neither a hexatonic scale nor a chord. Likewise, it is neither a pitch-class set nor an interval-class set. A trope is a framework of contextual interval relations. Therefore, the key information a trope contains is not the set of intervals it consists of (and by no means any set of pitch-classes), it is the relational structure of its intervals.

    Each trope contains different types of symmetries and significant structural intervallic relations on varying levels, namely within its hexachords, between the two halves of an hexachord and with relation to whole other tropes.

    Based on the knowledge one has about the intervallic properties of a trope, one can make precise statements about any twelve-tone row that can be created from it. A composer can utilize this knowledge in many ways in order to gain full control over the musical material in terms of form, harmony and melody.

    The depicted example trope (no. 3) indicates that one hexachord of this trope is an inversion of the other. Trope 3 is therefore suitable for the creation of inversional and retrograde inversional structures. Moreover, its primary formative intervals are the minor second and the major third/minor sixth. This trope contains [0,2,6] twice inside its first hexachord (e.g. F-G-B and G-A-C and [0,4,6] in the second one (e.g. A-C-D and B-D-E).

    Its multiplications M5 and M7 will result in trope 30 (and vice versa). Trope 3 also allows the creation of an intertwined retrograde transposition by a major second and therefore of trope 17 (e.g., G-A-C-B-F-F-|-E-E-C-D-B-A → Bold pitches represent a hexachord of trope 17)

    (end of quote)

    So you can see, this type of 'atonal' thinking was already in the air. Yes, it is 'atonal thinking' because it sees notes in terms of their internal symmetries, not according to the 'tonal hierarchy.' It is non-tonal thinking and structuring.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Apr-16-2015 at 18:01.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member arpeggio's Avatar
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    I remember studying this in music history class forty years ago. I can not remember why?
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    Quote Originally Posted by arpeggio View Post
    I remember studying this in music history class forty years ago. I can not remember why?
    So you could analyze or structure music that is not tonal (atonal). It might even help your listening.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    I think Schoenberg 'ordered' the rows so he could make horizontal melodic constructs: themes, and motives, and contrapuntal lines which are melodic in nature. Since Debussy and Bartok were already expanding the harmonic aspects, there was really nothing left to do.

    Schoenberg's ordered 12-tone system is limited in this respect; he makes no consideration for harmony, or vertical chordal aspects. He didn't have to, either; harmonically, Debussy, Stravinsky, and Bartok (and Hauer) were already using unordered sets, which were not tonally derived, to create new harmonic, vertical sonorities.

    So, big deal. Schoenberg's 12-tone method is only a half-solution. It's only melodic. The unordered, harmonic set thinking was already taking place.

    I think Schoenberg was to a degree, grandstanding, and trying to ensure his place in history. His method, and the way he used it, was never codified very strictly, and he seems to have bent an awful lot of rules in creating any kind of "harmony' out of the system itself, since it is inherently melodic and un-harmonic.

    I think he used it to create themes and motives, like Brahms, but the rest of it was using unordered rows. Even within each composition, I think he was 'winging it' and fudging on the strict adherence to ordered rows.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    I think Schoenberg was much more worried about harmony. After all he wrote a harmony book that's richer in thought than his 'contrapuntal exercises' and his melodies tend to fit together in fixed harmonies that drive on the music, often compressing the rhythms in the line for the sake of it. Berg on the other hand wrote much more fluid polyphony.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Richannes Wrahms View Post
    I think Schoenberg was much more worried about harmony.
    Yeah, he was worried about harmony! He was worried about how to get it by using those rows! And I'm doing you a favor by calling it 'harmony!'
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    But the more I think about it, the more possibilities arise from using different forms of the row, and also by breaking it down into smaller groups of 6, 4, 3, and 2 notes. Three notes can become almost as flexible as an unordered scale! 1-2-3/3-2-1. You can't get 2-1-3. though. And it gets less flexible as you add notes.

    Still, though, what a system! It's like being in the Marines!
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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    I think that he tried to create a new language by using and old structure. New words but same syntax.

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Schoenberg, Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, and George Perle were all interested in certain rows which had symmetry under transformation; in other words, rows which gave the same intervals when inverted or reversed.

    Why was this? It was because they were searching for some form of consistency in the row, so that when combined with other forms, they at least had some control over the materials, and could predict what the results might be.
    "The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?"
    -Confucious

    "In Spring! In the creation of art it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg

    "We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal of that which others have made us." -Jean-Paul Sartre

    "I don't mind dying, as long as I can still breathe." ---Me

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