Atonal Music


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.

Atonal Music

 

a concept pertaining to music that does not have a tonal organization of sounds.

Atonal music arose at the beginning of the 1900’s and was connected with the work of a new Viennese school (A. Schönberg, A. Berg, and A. Webern). The basic characteristic of atonal music is the absence of a unifying correlation between tones and the main center of a key, the tonic; this results in amorphousness of musical discourse, disintegration of the structural functions of harmony, dissonance, and so forth. The lack of tonal and harmonic centers makes it extremely difficult to understand the music, although various major composers have at times created impressive atonal works. Particularly sharp, expressive timbre and rhythm, intense theatrical situations, and poetic texts are used in the monodrama Erwartung (1909) and the suite Pierrot Lunaire (1912) by Schönberg, the opera Wozzeck by Berg (1921), and other works.

In 1922, Schönberg devised a method of composition “with twelve tones which are related only to one another” (this was later called dodecaphony); its purpose was to introduce strict order into the anarchy of atonal music. Atonal music is the basis of many systems of composition that have entered the arsenal of avant-gardism. The aesthetic principles of atonal music are closely related to expressionism. The method, devices, and elements of atonal music are found among composers of different schools (C. Ivés, B. Britten, B. Bartók, A. Honegger, and others).

REFERENCES

Druskin, M. “Puti razvitiia sovremennoi zarubezhnoi muzyki.” In the collection Voprosy sovremennoi muzyki. Leningrad, 1963.
Shneerson, G. O muzyke zhivoi i mertvoi. Moscow, 1964.
Mazel’, L. “O putiakh razvitiia iazyka sovremennoi muzyki.” Sovetskaia muzyka, 1965, nos. 6, 7, 8.
Berg, A. “What Is Atonality?” In N. Slonimsky, Music Since 1900. New York, 1949.
Schönberg, A. Style and Idea. New York, 1958.
Rognoni, L. Espressionismo e dodecafonia. Turin, 1954. (Bibliography, pp. 355–95.)
Reti, R. Tonality, Atonality, Pantonality. London, 1958.
Perle, G. Serial Composition and Atonality. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1962.
Austin, W. Music in the 20th Century. New York, 1966. (Bibliography, pp. 552–662.)

G. M. SHNEERSON

References in periodicals archive ?
Kincaid uses serialism to tune references to atonal music into the history of slavery and colonialism and to continue her career-long critique of the Enlightenment project.
Forte's nonsensical account of atonal music issues from an earlier attempt to explain musical understanding mathematically, using modulo twelve arithmetic to model pitch-class sequences and simultaneities.
Similarly motivated was the criticism of "artificial" atonal music. The demand for lyrical expression and the belief that it was able to establish a link between modern and traditional music was typical in interwar Czechoslovakia and, in the form of highlighting the necessity to attain the effect of cogency, this mindset persisted throughout the bulk of the 20th century And the conservative circles have held sway until the present day.
In the end, Scruton believes that atonal music is kitsch in this same sense.
The Schoenbergian 12-tone row (a pattern of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale used as the basis for the harmony and melody of a whole piece) is central to much atonal music, and Ross efficiently shows us how it works.
Atonal music, non-figurative painting, or the disintegration of narrative structures then become models for an art that is anti-capitalist by principle, turning the explosion of traditional forms into objective means of critiquing the dehumanization operative in modern societies.
With respect to the change represented in the revolution to musical language wrought by Schoenberg, Etter adopts the kind of humanist attitude represented by Thomas Mann in Doctor Faustus (1948), as he exposes the brilliant but empty atonal music of Adrian Leverkfihn as dehumanizing both its creator and listeners.
Eisler broke away from the Schoenberg circle and its preoccupations with atonal music and, from 1930, immersed himself in the jazzy cabaret atmosphere of Brecht and Weill.
I won't especially berate you about your evident distaste for atonal music, since I shared that aversion during my years as a horn player and organist.
It includes such sketches as "Words, Words, Words" - the piece about the three monkeys - and "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," which uses atonal music and repetitive language to mimic the music of minimalist composer Glass.
All three are quite listenable (conductor Jose Serebreier's liner notes make the case that in the '50s, atonal music was the rage, and music like this was simply overlooked), and indeed, more than that, they are quite rewarding to listen to.
An example of Wheeldon's burgeoning maturity--and his willingness to experiment--is his starkly fascinating triptych of dances to Ligeti's atonal music: Morphoses and Polyphonia for New York City Ballet and Continuum for San Francisco Ballet.