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.


  1. Man, this is so alarming to read. Your ignorance is staggering. Your entire argument is based on a logical fallacy, which essentially renders your opinion invalid. Check out this vocab term: "Ad Populum." Here's a definition from Wikipedia - In logic, an argumentum ad populum (Latin for "appeal to the people") is a fallacious argument that concludes a proposition to be true because many or most people believe it. In other words, the basic idea of the argument is: "If many believe so, it is so."

    First of all, you can't speak for "the bulk of the classical music audience." Second, you can't say that tonality is the only thing that makes music. You are completely negating all the other elements, such as rhythm, melody, harmony, form, orchestration, motivic development, phrasing, etc... the list goes on and on. And don't tell me that there's no harmony in atonal music, because there is. It's just not FUNCTIONAL harmony. You have to open your ears and consider everything ELSE that makes music sound the way it does. Otherwise you're missing out on so much, and you're not being a responsible listener.

    The casual classical music aficionado may be able to get away with overlooking these other crucial aspects of music, but if you are calling yourself a musician and a composer, it just isn't right to completely rule out a whole era of composition simply because you don't enjoy it or it's not pleasing.

  2. Latin terms and scientific analyses are not relevant to what I'm pointing out. My argument might be based on a logical fallacy but it still describes reality in this case. It has been over a hundred years now since a piece of music was composed that the classical music audience collectively loves as much as they love their pre-1900 favorites.

    And yes, it is right to completely rule out a whole era of composition if it is not pleasing. At least in terms of the concert hall, the record labels, and the audience. From a socio-cultural perspective it may be interesting to look at it and analyze why people composed music that no one enjoyed listening to, but in terms of its supposed function as music it can justly be ruled out.

  3. And I'm not ignoring all the other aspects of music. Tonality is simply one of the foundational aspects without which it ceases to be music. Everything in existence has some fundamental elements that are essential to it being whatever it is. Tonality to music is like nutrition to food.

  4. One can listen and make sense of Schoenberg's music with some concentration. I think the problem is that people expect music to express something outwards which would be analogous to talking. Schoenberg's music is about experiencing emotions, basically it's stream of consciouness in music. It's about thoughts and inner emotional states.

    Try to listen to last three Beethoven sonatas. You don't get a feeling that he is expressing something to you. It's about thoughts and desires. Well schoenberg's music is all about that, only in a different context.

    You have to completely concentrate on the vertical aspect of music and pick up everything else along the way. There are chord progressions in his music but they are hidden underneath. You don't need to be a genius to figure it out. With some patience anybody could do it.

    Give it a try. You won't be disappointed if you figure it out.