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Hi

 

Since I am new to this site, I am using this platform to increase exposure to my theory of Newtonality and the technique Thomes&Phases.

here's the link:

 

http://www.nickcapocci.co.uk/4.html

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Hi Kris

Many thanks for taking the trouble to look at my thesis. I read all your comments and observations and found them most stimulating. I will get back to you when I've freed up some time and had a chance to digest some of your ideas.

Best wishes, Nick


Kristofer Emerig said:
I read your dissertation on Newtonality and found it a thoughtful analysis on the relativity of horizontal and vertical musical structure.

Tonality, being the highly evolved, idiomatic, and to a certain extent arbitrary language, as you've illustrated, is so profoundly subtle that it almost eludes a single, comprehensive analytical approach, although I agree with your presumption that music is to large extent a dialectic of relative consonance and dissonance; Great music moves like a bellows, but there are more dichotomies involved than merely consonance versus dissonance, and the path to understanding requires simultaneous attention to the horizontal and vertical aspects in an integrated fashion, rather than as independent parameters.

One such dichotomous relationship is symmetry versus asymmetry, or linear versus nonlinear. Traditional western (and non-Western, for that matter) tonality is a rather asymmetric system, eg, the leading tone's tendency to resolve to the tonic is not matched with that of the diminished second, representative of vertical asymmetry. The composer therefore must, in order to achieve symmetry in the form of melodic inversion (assuming that inversion is reflected about the tonic), contrive a context in which both "work" in a tonally meaningful manner. I've personally found the most gratifying music to be that which achieves symmetry and linearity within the idiomatic and awkward language of tonality.

In the absence of tonal considerations, I do not believe that treatment of the above example, or any attempt at linearity, symmetry, or imitation can be equated to such endeavors made in a tonal context, because in an atonal context, by definition, there are no bounds or constraints. What value had Bach's invertible fugues from the Art of Fugue, if they made no sense in their inverted form in the context of tonal language?

An often cited misconception is that tonality is a subset of atonality, that tonality can be achieved and defined in terms of serial and twelve tone methods. It is logically false in the respect that tonality involves nuance and idioms not entailed in such methods; If they were, there would be no reason to invent different names for the aforementioned methods. There are meta-levels of meaning in our tonal heritage which have been collectively learned throughout the generations and can not be defined through simplistic and separate vertical and horizontal models. To compare this acquired tonal language in its subtlety to the austere and academic methods of atonality is to compare Shakespeare to the jumbled 26 letters of the alphabet, as though a paragraph of English had no more meaning than a sequence of letters.
Hi Kris

I enjoyed reading your comments very much.

I think it’s important to emphasize that the theory of Newtonality and all the wider considerations concerning the historical significance of atonality - the implications of how and why it emerged when it did and so forth - grew naturally from my exploration of the various techniques I devised in order to combine tonal and atonal material into a single language.

This exploration led me up some fascinating compositional byways: most interestingly of all, those involving the application of the Newtonal techniques to the conventional tonal forms – sonata, rondo etc. Very exciting: unfortunately, however, individuals who are capable of understanding such subtleties are few and far between, and – as I am sure you must be aware – the musical academic world is basically a closed shop (at least I have found it to be so).

The critical point about atonality is that it fulfils – or rather it *can* fulfil and *should* fulfil - the same function in relation to tonality as dissonance fulfils in relation to consonance within the tonal language itself. That is to say: atonality - qualitatively, in absolute terms, - is the diametric opposite of tonality. It’s amazing to think that early 20th century composers failed to grasp this, and consequently trotted off down the barren path of exclusively atonal composition. One can only suppose they had “other things” on their minds.

If your interest has not waned, I have recently uploaded my own recording of the first composition which employed Thomes & Phases - or, as it was then called, Thomes & Opposites – a solo piano piece; Tanto Meglio. I still consider it to be one of the best pieces yet to employ the technique.

I have also uploaded as an MP3 the complete fugato section from a one-act ballet I finished a couple of years or so ago. This employs the same method as Tanto Meglio. I have left the recording raw and basic so as not to obscure the counterpoint. I thought you would appreciate this, since - having looked at and listened to some of your own pieces - we both seem to suffer from the same malady: chronic contrapunctitis!


Kristofer Emerig said:
I read your dissertation on Newtonality and found it a thoughtful analysis on the relativity of horizontal and vertical musical structure.

Tonality, being the highly evolved, idiomatic, and to a certain extent arbitrary language, as you've illustrated, is so profoundly subtle that it almost eludes a single, comprehensive analytical approach, although I agree with your presumption that music is to large extent a dialectic of relative consonance and dissonance; Great music moves like a bellows, but there are more dichotomies involved than merely consonance versus dissonance, and the path to understanding requires simultaneous attention to the horizontal and vertical aspects in an integrated fashion, rather than as independent parameters.

One such dichotomous relationship is symmetry versus asymmetry, or linear versus nonlinear. Traditional western (and non-Western, for that matter) tonality is a rather asymmetric system, eg, the leading tone's tendency to resolve to the tonic is not matched with that of the diminished second, representative of vertical asymmetry. The composer therefore must, in order to achieve symmetry in the form of melodic inversion (assuming that inversion is reflected about the tonic), contrive a context in which both "work" in a tonally meaningful manner. I've personally found the most gratifying music to be that which achieves symmetry and linearity within the idiomatic and awkward language of tonality.

In the absence of tonal considerations, I do not believe that treatment of the above example, or any attempt at linearity, symmetry, or imitation can be equated to such endeavors made in a tonal context, because in an atonal context, by definition, there are no bounds or constraints. What value had Bach's invertible fugues from the Art of Fugue, if they made no sense in their inverted form in the context of tonal language?

An often cited misconception is that tonality is a subset of atonality, that tonality can be achieved and defined in terms of serial and twelve tone methods. It is logically false in the respect that tonality involves nuance and idioms not entailed in such methods; If they were, there would be no reason to invent different names for the aforementioned methods. There are meta-levels of meaning in our tonal heritage which have been collectively learned throughout the generations and can not be defined through simplistic and separate vertical and horizontal models. To compare this acquired tonal language in its subtlety to the austere and academic methods of atonality is to compare Shakespeare to the jumbled 26 letters of the alphabet, as though a paragraph of English had no more meaning than a sequence of letters.
Nick, sorry to say I'm one of those folks whose reaction has to be one of incomprehensibility. I read through a lot of the essay you referenced, but for one, it seems like the kind of thing that would really require a book to explain fully. You're referring to a lot of philosophical ideas that I consider to be ambiguous ("quantitatively, tonality has no fixed condition"), and that as best as I can guess, I would not agree with--it's difficult to tell though without more background on your thought process, what precipitated your ideas, etc. You're also using some words in ways that are unfathomable to me--such as linking "tonality" to a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. Why would we think that _that_ is what "tonality" conventionally refers to? I'm also a bit turned off by talk such as "laws and principles" of musical language. Maybe it would all make sense to me though if we were to have an extended discussion about it. I don't know.
Once again, many thanks for your comments and observations – I guessed you’d like the fugato!

The Buddhist view is very interesting – I was not aware of this. I studied Rosicrucianism for many years: their view – one with which I fully concur – is that positive-plus-negative, the state of fundamental polar opposites, is a qualitative - not a quantitative - state, an absolute, and is the fundamental driver of all that exists. (Sadly, such metaphysical notions… that there can and do exist qualitative states which impel all changes in the quantitative world, whilst remaing, themselves, unchanging… these ideas are not likely to find many adherants in our present materialist culture.)

It is highly gratifying to correspond with an individual who fully grasps the basic ideas behind the Newtonal theory. Most people just don’t *get it* - a fact that continually baffles me, as I cannot see anything about it that is difficult or obscure.
It will probably interest you that I am currently working on a piano work “24 preludes employing newtonal techniques”. (Just about to complete the 7th). They tend to be quite short pieces; my main purpose is to return to the spirit of the original techniques, rather than get bogged down in long, formally complex structures. When I’ve made some decent recordings/vids I will post them in the appropriate places.

(By the way, the fugato is only one section of a much longer piece, a one-act ballet score, about 30 minutes in length, employing the “circle” technique – this was the first technique of Thomes & Phases.)

Best wishes. Nick


Kristofer Emerig said:
Nick,

I like your conceptualization of a spectrum with polar ideal properties, ie, tonality versus atonality. The Buddhist thinkers often contend that polar opposites exist not in spite of each other, but rather because of each other. All things in life it seems can be viewed in this light, a cross-section of infinite such spectra of antithetically opposed properties. Where anything lies at any given moment on such a spectrum is usually in flux, but never absolutely at one extreme or another. Because the extreme poles are unbound, they exist only in the conceptual realm, as abstract ideals. If one accepts this premise, it follows that the midpoint, or average of two diametrically opposed properties is indeterminate. As your dissertation points out, one can only express the property in relative terms: X is more Y than Z, etc.

I did have an opportunity to listen to the Fugato, as well as a really good piano piece you wrote (the title escapes me). The fact that I like the results you're achieving in your music makes the theory even more compelling. I can definitely discern an advanced design in the two samples I've heard. I look forward to more music, scores, or theory on your method.
Hi Streaker. You’ve made a lot of observations which I will need to study before making a considered response.

In the meantime, I refer you the comments given above.

Will get back to you soon. – Thank you for taking the trouble to read my thesis.

Best wishes, Nick


Streaker Ofinsky said:
Nick, sorry to say I'm one of those folks whose reaction has to be one of incomprehensibility. I read through a lot of the essay you referenced, but for one, it seems like the kind of thing that would really require a book to explain fully. You're referring to a lot of philosophical ideas that I consider to be ambiguous ("quantitatively, tonality has no fixed condition"), and that as best as I can guess, I would not agree with--it's difficult to tell though without more background on your thought process, what precipitated your ideas, etc. You're also using some words in ways that are unfathomable to me--such as linking "tonality" to a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. Why would we think that _that_ is what "tonality" conventionally refers to? I'm also a bit turned off by talk such as "laws and principles" of musical language. Maybe it would all make sense to me though if we were to have an extended discussion about it. I don't know.
I agree about the style. I deliberately tried not to mince words, but get directly to the point.

I will try to answer your criticisms one at a time – though they all stem, it seems to me, from a single root.

1) “… quantitatively, tonality has no fixed condition”. This is clearly explained, as far as I can recall. However: tonality is not a “thing”: it’s an idea – an idea we invented. It is totally artificial. It’s a peg on which we have hung our ideas about musical language – in particular, our ideas about consonance and dissonance – what is “consonant” and what is “dissonant”.

It’s important to remember that Newtonality came about as a direct consequence of the need to define atonality (a need which, ipso facto, could not have existed in the tonal era) in order to devise methods for integrating tonal and atonal material.

In the 1970’s, the term “atonal” was used to describe most “contemporary” classical music. The trouble was that nobody ever defined exactly what it meant! It was simply assumed that atonal music could be virtually anything provided it made no reference to the conventional triadic vertical harmonic structures of the so-called “tonal” era.

I was always troubled by this. After all, why MUST “atonal” music not contain any triadic sounds: what assumptions were composers making about atonality that they always associated it with non triadic sounds?

I began to experiment with linear designs – phases - which juxtaposed “tonal” and “atonal” material, and immediately came up against a brick wall: the “atonality” of the “atonal” phase could not be defined without first defining exactly what was meant by the “tonality” of the “tonal” phase. It immediately struck me that atonality cannot exist independently: it is a quality – an absolute, qualitative state that exists by and because of its relation to its diametric opposite: tonality. Once atonality has come into existence, it and tonality are totally, irreversibly, and eternally inseparable. This is where it gets really interesting, because qualitative states can change their physical – quantitative – manifestation without altering their own fundamental nature. It’s almost as if they are a force or a constant – like gravity, or the speed of light – which can cause a multiplicity of quantitative causes and effects whilst remaining absolutes.

The language of music is the quantitative modus operandi being driven by these fundamental absolutes, and through which these absolutes “touch earth” as it were, find their expression.

So, in order to use atonality in composition, one must first define exactly what atonality is. But because atonality exists by relation to tonality – it cannot exist independently – it is first necessary to define what is meant by tonality. Only the definition of tonality can yield the true definition of atonality.

2) “such talk as ‘laws and principles’”… You are not alone in expressing discomfort with the idea of such a prescriptive view of the evolution of musical language, something which appears, on the face of it - and has always been traditionally regarded as – organic in the sense of being free to develop as it were by whim or chance. My own view is not something I arrived at overnight, but seemed to present itself logically the more I looked into the history of Western music. And - I have to say – far from retreating from this position, I have, over the years become more convinced that it is correct. However uneasily it may sit with notions of freedom, self-determination and so forth, there appears to exist the potential, at the very least, for organic, dynamic systems (for example, the Western musical language) to evolve and develop along prescriptive, pre-deterministic lines. The history of the Western musical language demonstrates how potentialities contained as it were “within” it emerge over time in a definite and ordered sequence, the whole language becoming increasingly complex as the process unfolds. When looked in this light, the word “organic” takes on a special meaning, for the process does appear similar to the growth of a natural organism: the “one-way” membrane I mentioned connecting tonality with atonality also applies within tonality itself; classical harmony could not evolve *before* strict organum any more than the leaf of a tree could evolve *before* the roots. Laws, definitions and principles, when applied to the evolution of human systems can seem shocking at first. But – at least in the present context – when you lay it out and look logically at it, it is also beautiful.

3) “..linking “tonality” to a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. Why …. ?

I linked tonality with the fundamental tone to illustrate the (in my view) false assumptions regarding the nature of atonality. I could just as easily have quoted the opening of *Abide With Me* to make the same point.

There is no reason at all why tonality should be associated with a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. But this is not an assumption *I* made! It was, however, beyond any doubt, an assumption made by a whole generation of atonal composers. Going right back to the precedent set by the Second Viennese School, there has been a tacit working assumption that atonal music must contain no reference to the notion of consonance and dissonance. So extreme was this view that it manifested as the virtually total avoidance of vertical triadic structures. This precedent, this assumption, underpinned practically all developments in atonal composition.

I hope some of this makes sense. I am constantly trying to find ways of explaining these ideas in the simplest, most accessible way. But, as I’m sure you will agree, the subject is intrinsically complex.

I recommend you to have a listen to the two pieces I have uploaded: the piano piece, Tanto Meglio, and the fugato from the tone poem, She. Both employ the original technique I evolved in the late 70’s early 80’s. The score of the fugato is a free download at the Sibelius site. (Unfortunately there were a couple of beaming problems which occurred during uploading, which you will have to try and ignore. It plays back fine)

Best wishes. Nick


Streaker Ofinsky said:
Nick, sorry to say I'm one of those folks whose reaction has to be one of incomprehensibility. I read through a lot of the essay you referenced, but for one, it seems like the kind of thing that would really require a book to explain fully. You're referring to a lot of philosophical ideas that I consider to be ambiguous ("quantitatively, tonality has no fixed condition"), and that as best as I can guess, I would not agree with--it's difficult to tell though without more background on your thought process, what precipitated your ideas, etc. You're also using some words in ways that are unfathomable to me--such as linking "tonality" to a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. Why would we think that _that_ is what "tonality" conventionally refers to? I'm also a bit turned off by talk such as "laws and principles" of musical language. Maybe it would all make sense to me though if we were to have an extended discussion about it. I don't know.
You suppose, that giving all these ideas of "Tonality and Atonality" a bigger name, or a greater philosophy, anything will change?
Let me tell you, in german language we distinguish between two styles (rather than systems) wich are named "Atonal" and "Freitonal" (= "Freetonal"). Freitonal would practically be very much, the behaviour of composers of the romantic era, treating dissonance more freely. Leaving the tonal center, but not tonality itself.
That would be the "amalgamation" of tonality and atonality. Furthermore it is not unprecedented, considering works of Strawinsky, Messiaen, Cerha, Crumb, and others who have very well liberated themselves from strictly thinking tonal or atonal

Not "Newtonality" (Rather Freetonality) is the consequence of tonal and atonal music... It is atonality, wich was born by the need of more dissonance, than just leaving a tonal center.

In my opinion, the last 50 years or more, the world hasn't seen a good book on counterpoint (and quadruple counterpoint; Leaving the theories of baroque era preferred). I hope people like you summarize some theory for future composers to come (being able to skip the theories of Palestrina and build a foundation on Bartok and Schönberg in their first years of study), rather than putting an idea into your heads of "New-whatever-the-world-wants-to-make-me-famous-Tonality/Mentality"!

Sometimes I wonder, how pioneers forget the actual ones...
"tonality is . . . an idea – an idea we invented. It is totally artificial. It’s a peg on which we have hung our ideas about musical language – in particular, our ideas about consonance and dissonance – what is “consonant” and what is 'dissonant'."

I agree with all of that, but I do not think there are many people who wouldn't. We do not need to invent a new language to say that.

"In the 1970’s, the term “atonal” was used to describe most “contemporary” classical music."

Well, a lot of classical from that era and prior to it was atonal, so yes, it would be handy for describing it. ;-)

"The trouble was that nobody ever defined exactly what it meant!"

I do not think that's the case. I'm not sure where you're getting that belief from. You can find "atonal" defined in music dictionaries, in many monographs on theory, etc.

"It was simply assumed that atonal music could be virtually anything provided it made no reference to the conventional triadic vertical harmonic structures of the so-called “tonal” era."

Given how language works, with "a" being the privative prefix, "atonal" would be the complement of "tonal", sure. Again, this shouldn't be controversial.

"I was always troubled by this."

I don't know why. It's a pretty simple matter.

"After all, why MUST “atonal” music not contain any triadic sounds:"

It's rather than atonal music wouldn't contain _tonal_ triadic sounds. Not all triads would be tonal or function tonally. The reason that it refers to that you already mentioned--simply the convention of the way the term is used. It doesn't "have" to refer to what it does--no term does. But there are conventions about what terms refer to. Again, that's simply the way that language works.

"what assumptions were composers making about atonality that they always associated it with non triadic sounds?"

Always associating it with triads would be simply misunderstanding the conventional usage of the term.

"I began to experiment with linear designs – phases -"

I'm not sure what that would refer to.

"which juxtaposed “tonal” and “atonal” material,"

"Tonal" versus "atonal" is not really an "off" and "on" idea, so much music has a bit of both.

"and immediately came up against a brick wall: the “atonality” of the “atonal” phase could not be defined without first defining exactly what was meant by the “tonality”"

Again, these terms are well-defined in theory. So you'd be solving a problem that doesn't exist.

"It immediately struck me that atonality cannot exist independently: it is a quality – an absolute, qualitative state that exists by and because of its relation to its diametric opposite: tonality."

The word "absolute" doesn't fit in that sentence, in my opinion. But sure, it's relative to tonality. Again, that's no revelation.

"This is where it gets really interesting, because qualitative states can change their physical – quantitative – manifestation without altering their own fundamental nature."

??? We're not referring to some objective state. We're referring to ideas, subjective ways of hearing and thinking about things, as you noted in your opening remarks in the post I'm responding to. All of a sudden, without justification, it seems like you're switching to a belief that you're referring to objective states.

"It’s almost as if they are a force or a constant – like gravity, or the speed of light – which can cause a multiplicity of quantitative causes and effects whilst remaining absolutes."

Again, that's jumping to an idea of them being objective. I don't know why you'd jump to that.

"The language of music is the quantitative modus operandi being driven by these fundamental absolutes, and through which these absolutes “touch earth” as it were, find their expression."

That just reads like word salad to me. I have no idea what it refers to.

"So, in order to use atonality in composition, one must first define exactly what atonality is."

Not at all. "Atonal" is a subjective designation, as you noted relative to "tonal", and per the interpretation of the listener (which can also be the composer). Of course, there are conventions and typical reactions there--particular things that people tend to hear one way or the other, but that's still subjective. However, the composer need not have the faintest idea of whether a listener will hear something as atonal or not for a listener to hear something as atonal. It in no way hinges on the composer defining it in any way.

"But because atonality exists by relation to tonality – it cannot exist independently – it is first necessary to define what is meant by tonality."

Basically, "If you're using the terms, and they're complements of each other, you need to have some idea what you're referring to in order to have some delineation". Sure, I agree with that, but the terms have definitions already.

"Only the definition of tonality can yield the true definition of atonality."

There is no such thing as a "true definition", in my opinion.

"You are not alone in expressing discomfort with the idea of such a prescriptive view of the evolution of musical language,"

There's nothing necessarily prescriptive about that. I don't believe that it describes anything. It's a fact that there are not laws or principles of musical language. There are conventions rather. That's something different.

If they were _laws_, by the way, in anything like the sense of physical laws, there would be no need to utter prescriptions (recommendations or "shoulds") about them. You'd not be able to do anything but follow them. Maybe you mean something more like laws in a legal sense, but that would require some type of codification system that does not exist.

"The history of the Western musical language demonstrates how potentialities contained as it were “within” it emerge over time in a definite and ordered sequence,"

I'm not sure I understand what you're claiming there.

"the whole language becoming increasingly complex as the process unfolds."

As many people continue to analyze something, as we keep adding ideas to it, it's going to get more complex. I agree with that.

"classical harmony could not evolve *before* strict organum any more than the leaf of a tree could evolve *before* the roots."

Again I'm not sure just what you're claiming there. It seems to be more flowery and taking an analogy too seriously to me.

"Laws, definitions and principles, when applied to the evolution of human systems can seem shocking at first."

It's not a matter of shock, in my opinion, just a matter of whether we're picking out something that really exists or not. I say we're not.

"I linked tonality with the fundamental tone to illustrate the (in my view) false assumptions regarding the nature of atonality."

Tonality isn't defined that way. That was the point there. Also, since we're talking about conventions and not facts of a non-mental world, we can't have false assumptions about it. It would just be a different way of looking at it.

"There is no reason at all why tonality should be associated with a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. But this is not an assumption *I* made! It was, however, beyond any doubt, an assumption made by a whole generation of atonal composers."

Could you cite something you have in mind there? Maybe it's something I'm not familiar with, but if it actually exists in the literature, it should be controversial.

"there has been a tacit working assumption"

Being "tacit" would suggest that you're interpreting this into things.

"that atonal music must contain no reference to the notion of consonance and dissonance."

Sounds extremely dubious to me. Again, any citations for that?

"So extreme was this view that it manifested as the virtually total avoidance of vertical triadic structures."

Some music has avoided triads, sure. But I think you're reading your own views into it rather than basing this on anything that others have expressed.
@Streaker O Finsky:

I see, someone actually gets the point in this discussion... You talk much sense.

But again I must mention, that IMO there has not been enough work on atonal theory... We might have the thought of 12-tone music (I really cant spell out dodecaphony [?] ) and serialism. But who ever thought of writing a book an atonal counterpoint? It's all so free and floating in the air, that some guy like Mr. "Newtonal" Would be most productive, supplying the future world with a few rules, like they had around renaissance and baroque - adapted to our time (or at least 1950's).

If you want to analyse Berg or Webern harmonically, you really have to break your tongue to speak out a measure of "chords"... Hope you get the point. The 20th century (which has passed anyways) needs a few rules and regulations... Just for the perception and understanding of future composers. The pace of compositional "progress" (within them) would rise considerably.

If any other theorists are reading this, please do reconsider your work... + Microtonality and new divisions of an octave might be the right goal ;-)

Regards
Ario
Something positing rules of 20th century atonal counterpoint, though, couldn't fail to be simply mythologizing something that typically wasn't thought of that way.

I agree that the 20th century is much more difficult to study analytically due to the fact that in previous eras there was a far greater conformity to all types of musical conventions (though it would be wrong to say that there were no deviations, or that there was no experimentation), but I think the best we can do there is to talk about some tendencies of counterpoint (and harmony in general, and whatever else we might be interested in), and often that would need to be as specific as particular composers during particular periods. That would still be instructive, it's just that it wouldn't consist of "rules" or any sort. But other than a desire for simplicity (which would be an extremely misleading oversimplification in this case) or even a desire for not having to make one's own choices, I don't see why we'd have a compulsion to characterize anything as "rules" anyway.

Particular composers, at least, had something like rules, or at least strategems, that they used for themselves, so we could talk about that . . . but only if we're aware of them thinking about things that way, which would require natural language comments from them to that effect.
Surely there are more direct ways of becoming “famous” – if that had been my intention – than writing an obscure thesis on an obscure subject that almost nobody would be remotely interested in.

A pioneer?! Composition is a science. Ego doesn’t enter into it.



Ario said:
You suppose, that giving all these ideas of "Tonality and Atonality" a bigger name, or a greater philosophy, anything will change?
Let me tell you, in german language we distinguish between two styles (rather than systems) wich are named "Atonal" and "Freitonal" (= "Freetonal"). Freitonal would practically be very much, the behaviour of composers of the romantic era, treating dissonance more freely. Leaving the tonal center, but not tonality itself.
That would be the "amalgamation" of tonality and atonality. Furthermore it is not unprecedented, considering works of Strawinsky, Messiaen, Cerha, Crumb, and others who have very well liberated themselves from strictly thinking tonal or atonal

Not "Newtonality" (Rather Freetonality) is the consequence of tonal and atonal music... It is atonality, wich was born by the need of more dissonance, than just leaving a tonal center.

In my opinion, the last 50 years or more, the world hasn't seen a good book on counterpoint (and quadruple counterpoint; Leaving the theories of baroque era preferred). I hope people like you summarize some theory for future composers to come (being able to skip the theories of Palestrina and build a foundation on Bartok and Schönberg in their first years of study), rather than putting an idea into your heads of "New-whatever-the-world-wants-to-make-me-famous-Tonality/Mentality"!

Sometimes I wonder, how pioneers forget the actual ones...
Not good at pick-&-mix, but I’ll do my best….

*Definitions in dictionaries*

Look up *happiness* in any dictionary. You’ll find all the symptoms but not a mention of its origin. People are unhappy not because they don’t know what happiness means, but because they don’t know its cause.

Lots of dictionaries will tell you that atonality is the absence of consonance and dissonance. For a composer confronting a sheet of blank manuscript, this definition is useless. As a composer, how can one begin to sensibly consider what constitutes musical material in which consonance and dissonance are absent, unless one has first precisely defined what consonance and dissonance are?

*Given how the language works etc etc* - particularly “ but there conventions about what terms refer to”

Well precisely! But they are not conventions; they are *assumptions* which have acted as an impediment to a rational assessment of atonality.

“Not all triads would be tonal or function tonally”. But can you not see that this sentence only makes sense after you have specified a defined precisely what you mean by *tonal* and “function tonally*. Of course “triads may or may not function tonally”, but you MUST SAY WHY! The existence of atonality as an element of the composers’ technique necessitates a definition of these terms within the context of the actual musical language being employed. You simply cannot bandy them about on the basis that *Well, it doesn’t really matter what they mean*!


“… tonal versus atonal…. So much music has a bit of both….”

Agree. But Newtonal music is NOT a “bit of both”. Ideally, its one long “D” phase. Totally different concept.

“…solving a problem that doesn’t exist..” Wrong; it most definitely does exist. (please see above… ibid.)


“…we’re referring to ideas, subjective ways…..” Where did you get the idea that there is anything subjective about the topics in hand? Which “opening remarks” do you mean? Possibly semantics… I certainly consider the definitions I have given objective realities.

“’atonal’ is a subjective designation”. No. It is not: it’s a state in an evolved language which must have an exact definition.

“…if it exists in the literature, it should be controversial”

On the contrary, since a whole generation of composers took the assumptions under discussion as read, they would certainly not be controversial.


Streaker Ofinsky said:
"tonality is . . . an idea – an idea we invented. It is totally artificial. It’s a peg on which we have hung our ideas about musical language – in particular, our ideas about consonance and dissonance – what is “consonant” and what is 'dissonant'."

I agree with all of that, but I do not think there are many people who wouldn't. We do not need to invent a new language to say that.

"In the 1970’s, the term “atonal” was used to describe most “contemporary” classical music."

Well, a lot of classical from that era and prior to it was atonal, so yes, it would be handy for describing it. ;-)

"The trouble was that nobody ever defined exactly what it meant!"

I do not think that's the case. I'm not sure where you're getting that belief from. You can find "atonal" defined in music dictionaries, in many monographs on theory, etc.

"It was simply assumed that atonal music could be virtually anything provided it made no reference to the conventional triadic vertical harmonic structures of the so-called “tonal” era."

Given how language works, with "a" being the privative prefix, "atonal" would be the complement of "tonal", sure. Again, this shouldn't be controversial.

"I was always troubled by this."

I don't know why. It's a pretty simple matter.

"After all, why MUST “atonal” music not contain any triadic sounds:"

It's rather than atonal music wouldn't contain _tonal_ triadic sounds. Not all triads would be tonal or function tonally. The reason that it refers to that you already mentioned--simply the convention of the way the term is used. It doesn't "have" to refer to what it does--no term does. But there are conventions about what terms refer to. Again, that's simply the way that language works.

"what assumptions were composers making about atonality that they always associated it with non triadic sounds?"

Always associating it with triads would be simply misunderstanding the conventional usage of the term.

"I began to experiment with linear designs – phases -"

I'm not sure what that would refer to.

"which juxtaposed “tonal” and “atonal” material,"

"Tonal" versus "atonal" is not really an "off" and "on" idea, so much music has a bit of both.

"and immediately came up against a brick wall: the “atonality” of the “atonal” phase could not be defined without first defining exactly what was meant by the “tonality”"

Again, these terms are well-defined in theory. So you'd be solving a problem that doesn't exist.

"It immediately struck me that atonality cannot exist independently: it is a quality – an absolute, qualitative state that exists by and because of its relation to its diametric opposite: tonality."

The word "absolute" doesn't fit in that sentence, in my opinion. But sure, it's relative to tonality. Again, that's no revelation.

"This is where it gets really interesting, because qualitative states can change their physical – quantitative – manifestation without altering their own fundamental nature."

??? We're not referring to some objective state. We're referring to ideas, subjective ways of hearing and thinking about things, as you noted in your opening remarks in the post I'm responding to. All of a sudden, without justification, it seems like you're switching to a belief that you're referring to objective states.

"It’s almost as if they are a force or a constant – like gravity, or the speed of light – which can cause a multiplicity of quantitative causes and effects whilst remaining absolutes."

Again, that's jumping to an idea of them being objective. I don't know why you'd jump to that.

"The language of music is the quantitative modus operandi being driven by these fundamental absolutes, and through which these absolutes “touch earth” as it were, find their expression."

That just reads like word salad to me. I have no idea what it refers to.

"So, in order to use atonality in composition, one must first define exactly what atonality is."

Not at all. "Atonal" is a subjective designation, as you noted relative to "tonal", and per the interpretation of the listener (which can also be the composer). Of course, there are conventions and typical reactions there--particular things that people tend to hear one way or the other, but that's still subjective. However, the composer need not have the faintest idea of whether a listener will hear something as atonal or not for a listener to hear something as atonal. It in no way hinges on the composer defining it in any way.

"But because atonality exists by relation to tonality – it cannot exist independently – it is first necessary to define what is meant by tonality."

Basically, "If you're using the terms, and they're complements of each other, you need to have some idea what you're referring to in order to have some delineation". Sure, I agree with that, but the terms have definitions already.

"Only the definition of tonality can yield the true definition of atonality."

There is no such thing as a "true definition", in my opinion.

"You are not alone in expressing discomfort with the idea of such a prescriptive view of the evolution of musical language,"

There's nothing necessarily prescriptive about that. I don't believe that it describes anything. It's a fact that there are not laws or principles of musical language. There are conventions rather. That's something different.

If they were _laws_, by the way, in anything like the sense of physical laws, there would be no need to utter prescriptions (recommendations or "shoulds") about them. You'd not be able to do anything but follow them. Maybe you mean something more like laws in a legal sense, but that would require some type of codification system that does not exist.

"The history of the Western musical language demonstrates how potentialities contained as it were “within” it emerge over time in a definite and ordered sequence,"

I'm not sure I understand what you're claiming there.

"the whole language becoming increasingly complex as the process unfolds."

As many people continue to analyze something, as we keep adding ideas to it, it's going to get more complex. I agree with that.

"classical harmony could not evolve *before* strict organum any more than the leaf of a tree could evolve *before* the roots."

Again I'm not sure just what you're claiming there. It seems to be more flowery and taking an analogy too seriously to me.

"Laws, definitions and principles, when applied to the evolution of human systems can seem shocking at first."

It's not a matter of shock, in my opinion, just a matter of whether we're picking out something that really exists or not. I say we're not.

"I linked tonality with the fundamental tone to illustrate the (in my view) false assumptions regarding the nature of atonality."

Tonality isn't defined that way. That was the point there. Also, since we're talking about conventions and not facts of a non-mental world, we can't have false assumptions about it. It would just be a different way of looking at it.

"There is no reason at all why tonality should be associated with a fundamental tone and its harmonic partials. But this is not an assumption *I* made! It was, however, beyond any doubt, an assumption made by a whole generation of atonal composers."

Could you cite something you have in mind there? Maybe it's something I'm not familiar with, but if it actually exists in the literature, it should be controversial.

"there has been a tacit working assumption"

Being "tacit" would suggest that you're interpreting this into things.

"that atonal music must contain no reference to the notion of consonance and dissonance."

Sounds extremely dubious to me. Again, any citations for that?

"So extreme was this view that it manifested as the virtually total avoidance of vertical triadic structures."

Some music has avoided triads, sure. But I think you're reading your own views into it rather than basing this on anything that others have expressed.

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