Thursday, May 24, 2012

Atonality in classical music has failed

In the world of classical music today, there is still the idea being promoted that the transition to atonal music at the beginning of the 20th century was a logical and acceptable progression in the evolution of the art from what came before it.
For those who don’t know what atonal means.. basically, you know that thing about music that makes you know it’s music when you hear it? Well, the idea behind atonal music is to take that thing out, and leave everything else. (If you want a more in depth description email me or look it up).
Throughout the history of classical music, there have been different revolutionary composers at different times who sometimes did radically new things with music, which weren’t always accepted by classical music lovers at the time of their composition. Much of what Beethoven did for example what considered crazy in his day, but of course people grew to love it later. It is through this concept that the defenders of post-tonal music stake their claim to legitimacy in their non-music music, and there is this implication that we’re kind of all just waiting for the public to grow to enjoy and appreciate this new radical shift, just as they grew to appreciate the originally unappreciated works by Beethoven.
The only problem with this is that even Beethoven’s most challenging works were loved within 50 years of his death, and the reason for that is because it was music. It was great music. And it had a lot of new ideas in it that the public couldn’t digest at first, but because it was great music, naturally they’d grow to appreciate it.
It has been 100 years now since Arnold Schoenberg killed tonality in music, and essentially, in the classical music world (except for in a few schools which proudly champion the performance and creation of new atonal music and within which their students may become disillusioned about the reality of the situation for the bulk of the classical music audience) nobody has grown to appreciate it. And how could they? Unlike all the other revolutionary things that happened in music before, this was not a new revolutionary thing in music. This was the death of music.
Beethoven wrote a significant number of string quartets during his lifetime, and today there are an average of 75 - 80 recordings of each quartet.
Schoenberg’s most-recorded quartet is his No. 2 in F# minor, with 21 recordings, and this relatively decent number is due to the fact that this quartet was still tonal.
After he killed tonality, he wrote quartets No. 3 and No. 4, which have been recorded 9 and 10 times, respectively.
Likewise, Alban Berg, a disciple of Schoenberg’s in the new atonal tradition, wrote a violin concerto which is “considered a masterpiece” by “reputable figures” in classical music. It has been recorded 46 times, vs. well over 200 recordings each of the great violin concertos previous to the 20th century (Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Brahms, etc).
Atonality has failed. It’s a ludicrous idea to consider the murder of music to be a revolutionary thing that people should be expected to grow to appreciate. Let’s end it now and start writing music again.