Atonal Music........Great or Not Great?

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Active Member
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

New Member
One I particularly like is 'Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima' by Kristoff Pendereski,

Webern's orchestral compositions are outstanding!!

James McFadyen

New Member
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)


Staff member
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.


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?!?!?


tMP Founder
Staff member

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...



Active Member
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.


James McFadyen

New Member
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.


Active Member

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 :)


Active Member
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


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:


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!

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