atonality

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atonality

(ā'tōnăl`ĭtē), in music, systematic avoidance of harmonic or melodic reference to tonal centers (see keykey.
1 In music, term used to indicate the scale from which the tonal material of a given composition is derived. To say, for example, that a composition is in the key of C major means that it uses as its basic tonal material the tones of that scale which is associated
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). The term is used to designate a method of composition in which the composer has deliberately rejected the principle of tonalitytonality
, in music, quality by which all tones of a composition are heard in relation to a central tone called the keynote or tonic. In music that has harmony the terms key and tonality
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. Tonality is a form of musical organization that involves a clear distinction between consonance and dissonance, a definite classification of harmonic results as more and less dissonant, and arrangement of tones in a scale that contains common harmonic and melodic functions and goal points. The gradual rejection of this principle has been apparent since the later 19th cent., when greatly increased use of chromatic harmonies in the music of LisztLiszt, Franz
, 1811–86, Hungarian composer and pianist. Liszt was a revolutionary figure of romantic music and was acknowledged as the greatest pianist of his time. He made his debut at nine, going thereafter to Vienna to study with Czerny and Salieri.
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, WagnerWagner, Richard
, 1813–83, German composer, b. Leipzig. Life and Work

Wagner was reared in a theatrical family, had a classical education, and began composing at 17.
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, and Richard StraussStrauss, Richard
, 1864–1949, German composer. Strauss brought to a culmination the development of the 19th-century symphonic poem, and was a leading composer of romantic opera in the early 20th cent.
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 and the use of nonfunctional harmonies in the music of DebussyDebussy, Claude Achille
, 1862–1918, French composer, exponent of musical impressionism. He studied for 11 years at the Paris Conservatory, receiving its Grand Prix de Rome in 1884 for his cantata L'Enfant Prodigue.
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 almost completely obscured whatever basic tonalities were present in their music.

The abandonment of tonality in the early 20th cent. by SchoenbergSchoenberg, Arnold
, 1874–1951, Austrian composer, b. Vienna. Before he became a U.S. citizen in 1941 he spelled his name Schönberg. He revolutionized modern music by abandoning tonality and developing a twelve-tone, "serial" technique of composition (see serial
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, BergBerg, Alban
, 1885–1935, Austrian composer. In his youth he taught himself music but in 1904 he became the pupil and close friend of Arnold Schoenberg. Later Berg himself taught privately in Vienna.
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, WebernWebern, Anton von
, 1883–1945, Austrian composer and conductor; pupil of Arnold Schoenberg. He conducted theater orchestras in Prague and in various German cities until 1918, devoting himself thereafter to composition and teaching.
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, IvesIves, Charles
, 1874–1954, American composer and organist, b. Danbury, Conn., grad. Yale, 1898; pupil of Dudley Buck and Horatio Parker. He was an organist (1893–1904) in churches in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.
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, and many other composers was the next logical step in the evolution of musical style. To compensate for this lack of one principle of order, another had to be substituted. The most successful one proposed thus far is that of dodecaphony, or twelve-tone music (see serial musicserial music,
the body of compositions whose fundamental syntactical reference is a particular ordering (called series or row) of the twelve pitch classes—C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B—that constitute the equal-tempered scale.
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). Atonality is also used by some to designate all music that has discarded the earlier principle of tonality, whether organized in some other way or not. Others use it only for works such as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, in which notes and harmonies are used in a free, nonsystematic manner. By the close of the 20th cent., atonal music has become a part of the classical repertoire. However, some critics feel that this music's austerity and rigor lessen its expressive potential, and it has failed to attract a large audience.

Bibliography

See R. Reti, Tonality in Modern Music (1962); G. George, Tonality and Musical Structure (1970); G. Perle, Serial Composition and Atonality (3d ed. 1972); A. Forte, The Structure of Atonal Music (1973).