View Full Version : ATONAL MUSIC

James McFadyen
25.03.2003, 23:17
A poll on the music academics appreciate the most, Atonal Music!

25.03.2003, 23:19
it depends on the piece.

James McFadyen
25.03.2003, 23:22
Of course every piece of music is differant and some atonal music may be better than others but in General, what is your opinion

25.03.2003, 23:34
if the piece is good, then atonal sounds very good, I suppose i'm generally for, as bad composers exist in every form of music.

James McFadyen
25.03.2003, 23:46
One I particularly like is 'Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima' by Kristoff Pendereski,

Webern's orchestral compositions are outstanding!!

You wanna blow my what?
26.03.2003, 00:15
Atonal is the tone row stuff.......NOT all stuff that sounds pants is Atonal!

26.03.2003, 09:52
Excuse my ignorance but what is atonal music???????????????

I hope I'm not the only one to wonder this!!

26.03.2003, 10:13
Excuse my ignorance but what is atonal music???????????????

I hope I'm not the only one to wonder this!!

Good question!

James McFadyen
26.03.2003, 10:22
Atonal Music begain at the beginning of the 20th Century with the movement of what is known as Serialism (which Wagner kicked off with his 'Tristan Chord')

The 2nd vieneese composers, Berg, Shoenberg and Webern really started and developed the movement along with others like Stravinsky.

Anyway Serialsim is devided up onto the folloing series (or note rows) Melodic Seriesl, Tonal Series, Atonal Series, Symetrical Series,All-Interval Series, Symetrical All-Interval Seties, Short Series and Long Series. Tonal Series, Atonal Series,

Composers write a 'Note Row' (or a 'Tone Row' as it's sometimes known. Note Rows are constructed within the Total-Chromatic (that is all the twelve notes contained within the octave. They can be in ANY order the composer chooses but must write them for a purpose, not just any old series can be written. If he wants to use his row for melodic purpose, then he will construct his row to have melodic intervals. Even if a Tonal Series is composed, it will more often than not, still be atonal.

It's such a massive subject that it takes a lot of explaining.

I hope you have a better Idea of Atonal music (or Serialism)

26.03.2003, 10:56
The idea of a tone row was introduced in order to give some structure to the music, but Berg, in particular, was often very free in his interpretation. It always surprises me how lyrical some of the twelve-tone pieces can be, especialy some of the later Stravinsky, and then there have been those composers, such as Walton, who took a twelve-tone theme (from the Hindemith cello conerto) but then gave it his own theme and variations treatment. There have also been composers who have tried to treat note-length, pitch and even dynamics in a tone-row style, with mixed success.

I think we should all be wary of using terms such as "atonal" too glibly, as people could then be put off from investigating music that they may well enjoy if they approached it without any preconceptions. There is music that I like which is tonal, modal, atonal, polytonal - I would not want to come out with any blanket judgement, as others have already stated.

26.03.2003, 11:20
James.....thank you for your explanation. Its as clear as mud now!

Dyl...glad you're on my side! Is it any clearer to you now?!?!?

26.03.2003, 11:50

Thanks for this explanation of Atonal Music. Do you have examples in manuscript or mp3 format that you could link to..? It might help to clarify further what Atonal music is if audible examples are available. It's good to articulate what Atonal Music is - but to actually listen to examples is a sure way to make things even clearer yeah?

I am happy to host here on tMP if you have any...


26.03.2003, 12:42
I'm with Peter on this one: 'atonal music' is 'music' first and foremost. There are many pieces I enjoy which happen to be atonal; equally there are many I don't like.

Most music we hear is in a key - a tonal centre around which the structure revolves and to which it ultimately resolves. If you take a simple tune in C major and add chromatic notes, you will weaken the tonal centre of the music and pull the melody in the direction of other keys.

In the 19th century music became increasingly chromatic as composers tried to increase the emotive effect of their work, resulting in a situation where in some pieces, tonalilty (the state of being in a key) had been virtually eliminated. Atonal music is therefore restless and unresolving, unstable and even disturbing at times.

Most of the mature works of Schonberg and his pupils Berg and Webern fall into the catagory of 'atonal' music, but they are all very different in style and content.

To bring order into this chaos, Schonberg developed a method of composing using a fixed series of all twelve chromatic notes, to bring a sense of order and organisation to his music: serialism.

Interesting though, Schonberg appeared to revert back to tonality towards the end of his life, and apart from a short burst of modernist experimentation after WWII, serialism has never really taken hold amongst composers or audiences. More people know about Schonberg's theories and ideas than listen to his work.

Today the most advanced composers certainly owe a debt to Schonberg but most now work within tonal frameworks, or at least with a tonal centre to bring a sense of direction and order to their work. Prague for example was firmly rooted in tonality though at times this was heavily disguised through extensive chromatic writing... Even the most challenging band pieces I know (Grimethorpe Aria and Chromoscope) have tonal centres around which their music revolves.

This is a big subject! I'll try to figure out a 'recommended listening' list if anyone is interested.


26.03.2003, 13:17
Dyl...glad you're on my side! Is it any clearer to you now?!?!?

Not really! I agree with MM - some examples might be useful.

James McFadyen
26.03.2003, 14:41
There are countless examples of Atonal Music or Serialism. I don't have any links but Berg, Scheonberg, Webern are the main one's known as the 2nd vieneese composers.

Serialism is suchj a huge topic that it need A LOT of explaining

In lamens terms, a lot of people refer top it as plinky-plonky music, it's music which on the surface doesn't make sence it doesn't appear to a have a tune (there are exceptions, The Lyric Suite by Webern)

Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima by Krostoff Pendereski

Cello Concerto by Lutoslawski

Six Bagatelles for String Quartet Op.9 by Webern

Six Little Piano Pieces by Shoeenberg

Cirles by Berio

Five Pieces of Orchestra by Schoenberg

Threni by Stravinksky

Canticum Sacrum by Stravinsky

Serenata No.1 by Berio

Il Canto Sospeso by Nono

String Quatet by Bartolozzi

There's plenty of examples, among thousands oif other exist.

The poll is about generalisation, there are bad Tonal Works and there are Bad Atonal works.......The whole point of this poll is make your own general decision, if you dont know or dont know enough about serialism then you dont have to vote.

27.03.2003, 07:03

So what's Atonal Music then?

I've read all the way through that and I still don't know! I always assumed that atonal works were just no written in any specific key, but then someone mentions "serialism" and lots of other words I don't understand.

Interesting stuff, but a bit heavy going for this time in the morning :)

27.03.2003, 07:53
I'm giving up on this one!!

27.03.2003, 12:10
I will also give up on this I dont understand a bit of it. The list of atonal tunes given is hardly going to make the top 1 million tunes ever written. Bit too high brow. Dunston Band are going to remain blissfully ignorant of atonal music. Our band manage to make most pieces sound disturbing without any help of Atonal music. :roll: Apologies to Berio, Pendereski, Webern and Berg their descendants and anyone else that knows them. :P

27.03.2003, 12:29
i'm sure it has it's place in the history and development of music, but on the whole I find it uncomfortable to listen too... so it's a vote against i'm afraid... :cry:

27.03.2003, 16:31
I think that Serialism and atonal music is very mathmatical and clever. It is really interesting to study but not so great to listen to!

27.03.2003, 23:44
Is it otherwise known as squeaky gate music? I think i heard that hiroshima doodaa at some point. it didn't tune my telly.

You wanna blow my what?
28.03.2003, 00:35
All you need to know about atonal music is that it sounds ****.

28.03.2003, 09:30
I recon Mr McFadyen is playing one BIG April Fool on us and on April 1st he's going to announce there's no such thing as Atonal music!...heres hoping!

28.03.2003, 15:40
Edited: I trust you're not too keen on Atonal music then! (RT)

Atonal music is also known as a complete crock of old s***. We had a piece that we were asked to play for someone to listen to so they could write a review for the british bandsman. it was called brass band noises. comlpete and utter load of old b*******!

28.03.2003, 15:52
Just because a particular type of music does not appeal to us, that does not mean to say that it is rubbish, and I think we should avoid making judgment calls like that when someone else's view of it will be different. The history of music is full of stories recounting adverse reactions to new music - Beethoven was considered as horribly discordant in his day, and Rite of Spring was considered virtually unplayable at first, but we now are not at all surprised to find a youth orchestra performing it in concert perfectly acceptably.

At a gathering of Salvation Army musicians a year or so ago, the leader started the proceedings in the afternoon by quoting a writer complaining about the new music being used in churches, and how it would never catch on: gradually, as he continued the quote, it became apparent that it was not a diatribe against the latest worshiop songs being introduced, but rather someone complaining about the "new" hymns coming from Messrs Watts, Newton and Wesley.

What goes around comes around. Let's have our own opinions about what we like or dislike, but allow others to have theirs as well.

28.03.2003, 16:58
Peter..I think you will find that everyone on here IS allowed their own opinion.
jimothy is just stating his opinion which, after reading the messages on here, is the same view as alot of us!
I remember Band Noises too. Has anyone else played it??
Certain to clear a concert hall in one fail swoop!!

28.03.2003, 18:03
i agree absolutely that everyone should have their opinon and be able to express it. so please be a little more grown up than to throw your toys out of your pram just because i have expressed mine in a robust manner.

28.03.2003, 22:46
One of the main aims of The Mouthpiece.com is to enable lovers of brass bands to voice their opinions. However, we do expect them to be able to express those opinions in a mature, rational manner.
If you have an opinion, we want to hear it, but we also want to hear the reasons behind it.

Also, bad language has no place on these boards. Please be a little more grown up, and express your views in a mature fashion.

29.03.2003, 00:16
Hear hear! Well said Neal!

I don't mind atonal music - playing viola you tend to get quite a lot of it because the repertoire isn't particularly big, but as with every genre there will be some good stuff and some not so good stuff! Archetypal curate's egg situation really....

I rather like Schoenberg (although I always thought he was neo-classical as opposed to serialist/atonal), especially Verklarte Nacht - one of the most beautiful works of recent years. The Chamber Symphonies aren't half bad either (I played one at Uni in the New Music Ensemble and it took a bit of getting into but well worth it!) so maybe they're a good starting place as there are tuney bits in there!

Let's all agree to differ on this subject - it's certainly provoked a lot of debate!

Rach x

29.03.2003, 11:07
The meaning of 'atonal' isn't nearly as complex as it's been made to look here! 'A-Tonal'='Not Tonal'='not conforming to the key system as used in European musical history as familiar to most people here'. Serialism is one subset of this.

This label covers a vast range of topics, and I'm not convinced that the poll as presented here makes any sense; suppose someone of Stravinsky's generation had set up a poll on their early 20th century Internet forum, asking: 'So, Romantic music (i.e. everything from late Beethoven up to Richard Strauss or so) - great/not great?' This poll seems exactly equivalent...


p.s. I've just found this site, which looks excellent. I've been wondering for a while where all the traffic from Delphi went!

29.03.2003, 11:51
p.s. I've just found this site, which looks excellent. I've been wondering for a while where all the traffic from Delphi went!

.. glad to have you aboard Dave, a BIG welcome! Looking forward to reading your posts...


James McFadyen
30.03.2003, 00:52
The whole reason for this poll is just to double-check my findings.

Although I write some Atonal stuff, it's just for Academic Purposes.

I hate Atonal Music!!!!! I'm not supposed to say that being a Composer and all but it really is the biggest pile of nonesence ever.

Speaking from experence, writing Atonal Music is mathematical, clinical and down right boring.

It is the music industries version of how a piece of Art is a crumpled bit paper, or flashing lights.

I think we need to get back to traditional ways and write some melodies!!!! Everyone loves a ****** good tune and this is especially so for Brass Banding!!!

Thanks for everyone's Input and ur all welsome to keep the subject and poll going if you all wish!

30.03.2003, 15:11
Not sure where the Music Industry comes into this, as that's a term that I associate purely with the Svengalis who control the Charts, and are busy converting the popular music scene from a Music-based art form to a Dance-based one... I assume that you mean what I'd probably term the Musical Establishment, that is, the Universities and Pro orchestrally-centred performers out there. If I had to pick an equivalence between Musical Serialism (being where atonality started) and Art here, I'd nominate Cubism. Its preoccupation with displaying different facets of the same object simultaneously seems philosophically similar to the Serialist idea of any note potentially meaning anything to any other note, which is, I suppose, what the abolition of a tonal centre implies. The Musical equivalent of "The Lights going On and Off" would be John Cage or similar, in my opinion.

For me, composing takes place in the space left by tying down the set of all meaningful notes/themes/structures/whatever with various constraints. Doing away with a tonal centre is a pretty severe constraint, but it can be worked with/around, and James has cited examples of pieces which manage this. I think what he is saying is that he does not like working under this constraint (fair enough! As straightmute (David Lancaster?) has pointed out, it is a slightly dated idea now anyway) but prefers to return to earlier constraints in an effort to find clear musical ground in a different direction. The danger there is that one doesn't strike out as far as one needs to to make original and thought-provoking musical statements, and ends up merely recreating what's gone before. Writing "****** good tune"s is an excellent thing to do, if one bears in mind that the definition of a "****** good tune" is not the same now as it was at any other point in the past. If Eric Ball was a young composer today, I don't suppose that we'd get the same works written in the same way; everyone is a product of their times, is I suppose what I'm saying. That is, the desire to write melodies that people will enjoy is a fine thing, but one often finds people confusing it with a desire to ignore all musical thought that they don't immediately appreciate - not that I'm saying for a minute that James is doing that!


30.03.2003, 15:30
James, James.....you should have left your revelation till 1st April!!!!!!

30.03.2003, 15:38
Thank goodnes the national finals and Pontins are using Eric Ball's music for their contests this year. That's what traditional brass banding is all about. And just to show i'm not a fuddy duddy we are playing phil wilby's pagannini variations at the senior cup in may and that is wonderful music too.

31.03.2003, 10:50
Speaking from experence, writing Atonal Music is mathematical, clinical and down right boring.

Atonal is a very wide bracket of music... not just serialism and note rows :S

I think you have it well and truely stereotyped there ;)
Atonal is simply music not written in any particular mode
There is a lot of really good atonal stuff out there.. and many that would sound really good for band.

31.03.2003, 11:46
I have found this discussion very interesting and have monitored it since it has began. Doing research on contemporary music myself I am perhaps more interested than most in the author of this subject.

Well to start with I'll nail my colours to the flag pole. I am very much into contemporary music of all types, including the Stravinskyan neo classic period, to the grouping under the heading of Schoenberg (including Berg and Webern). We have to remember that we as a movement have not even seen the peak of the iceberg in hostility that composers felt in those days.

If you look at the music around the time that Serialism was beginning you had already had one of the most experimental composers writing music. Charles Ives (as a matter of interest, his father a military/marching band conductor) in the 1890's experimented with chance, aleatoric, multilayered thematic counterpoint (with extended themes). You name it and Ives did it. His work does not have any reference to the tone row system of composition. He used in most of his succesful pieces, possibly two or three traditional American tunes and played them at the same time and they sound like the brassed off band on whit friday. It is often a racket of sound, noise even, but it isnt controlled by a tone row. Another person who is of great interest to me is John Cage and his technique of writing pieces with the flip of a coin choosing which note to use next.

As for band music, I love Eric Ball stuff. BUT for us to be in the 21st century we are playing late romantic transcriptions, even from the great Elgar. I think Prague was a piece of fresh air to the tedious excercises in instrument playing that describes not music but the technique of playing of individuals. A fast loud start, followed by a nice slow section in the middle, with at least one or possibly 2 solos, then a rip roaring ending with dynamics raging from ff to ffffff. Hmmm sounds good, yes, but every piece we play and like is around that sort of formula. Tunes, Tunes, Tunes, we play them all year around in concerts because, fair enough the audience likes it. I like tunes, but does every piece have to have a hummable tune it to make it a good piece.

If you look at the music we (as the majority) want, it is basically romantic music with a touch of modernism. So we take a look at why composers wanted to get away from late romantic music. The themes were extended to their limits (as in lengh), the instrumentation was so massive (Mahler symphony of a thousand, so called bcos of all the players involved). The music was over sentimental, excessively emotional. So ppl like Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Debussy to an extent wanted to get out of this over sentimentality. Sadly brass band music of days gone by are over sentimental to the point of retching!! Whilst it is nice to play now and again, I will no doubt enjoy enigma variations in London, I am a firm believer that the future must hold more music that does not need the listener to builded by the hand, bar for bar all the way through a piece. We think our audiences are primarily dumb, not appreciative of other types of music and only attend band concerts ? the ppl I have talked to have a wide range of taste and would...in their own words...mind "..listening to something new, although not all concert...". And I here the howls, what about the contest audience !! Well bad news there, in my survey 78% of those interviewed stated that they have never been to a contest ( including Whit Friday's) and so confirms to me the theory that contests are for Brass banders to play for brass banders who often don't even bother to listen. Hence the gradual decline in the contesting audience.

Ranted on enough now.