Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

The Composers’ Forum is looking for members who are interested in participating in a collaborative treatise on the subject of Atonalism, to be presented on this site. 3 members are needed in order for the project to be a go. You can express interest by replying on this thread or PMing me. The deadline to express interest is 9/30/18 at 5 pm EST. Feel free also to ask any questions you may have by replying to this thread.

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     Interesting idea, though I do not have time to participate much.  I think such a project should include a solid definition of atonalism, its roots in history,(is there a founder of atonalism? some good examples in the present, and where is atonalism headed?

Only one way to be sure your voice gets heard on this project, Lawrence!

Deadline approaching!

The 31st might not be long enough. With so many members (most of whom don't seem to check in very often), it might take a while for interested parties to see this. I agree with Lawrence that there needs to be some kind of definition. I'm not sure experts even agree.

I am not very much interested in participating in this project (I leave that to the academics on the subject), but I don’t have enough time to devote to it, although I do have the scholarly interest necessary for it. But in this sense I will follow whatever discussion and progress ensues when I have the free time which is going to be after next November.

I agree with Bob above that a precise (as near as possible) definition of atonalism is needed as a basis for a preliminary conversation, but to that end I feel obliged to raise the first objection:


My first objection is philosophically grammatical and conceptual.

The word "a" and the word "tone" are both Greek and in this context are both grammatically and conceptually wrong, and as a Greek speaking person I can only advise on their grammar and meaning. The "a" we can call steritic in a grammatical analysis (a word not existing in English), but meaning, together with the word that follows it, the opposite of the word that follows it, (taking away its qualities or properties). We all know (at least I hope so), what in a musical context the word "tone" means. On this concept we have defined (for better or worse) the music of a certain historical period as "tonal" and it is too late to change terminology even if that was desirable.

So, in my view, we have made (I don’t know which half-informed brain or when) the first mistake. We regard the word "atonal" as one where grammatically we have two words, while on the other hand we go into more extremes and abuse the primary concept "atonal" which should literally mean as having no tones, knowing all the while that in the so called atonal music a lot of tones do occur in succession or simultaneously.

I believe that Schoenberg was amongst the first thinkers to take notice of this grammatical and conceptual antinomy and that is why, in my opinion, he said that even the devil could not think of a worse word than "atonal" to describe his serialism or as a musical term in general, and eventually he called his music ,pan-tonal , dodecaphonic, or serial.


I find myself in agreement with Schoenberg as far as that goes, and anyhow, the weakening and finally the abolition of tonality, does not suggest something "atonal", i.e. the absence of tones, whatever else it may suggest to a logical brain.


Sorry if I sound a bit hard or pedantic, but I do hate distortion of simple language and by extension of its more complex structures.

Hi Bob, I don’t have a problem extending the deadline if at least one person signs up, otherwise, will let it go and perhaps try again later. If we get a group together, they can come up with a definition.


Bob Porter said:

The 31st might not be long enough. With so many members (most of whom don't seem to check in very often), it might take a while for interested parties to see this. I agree with Lawrence that there needs to be some kind of definition. I'm not sure experts even agree.


I think you would be correct if the word we are trying to define was "atone". Tone and tonal are different parts of speech. So music with out tones, of course, doesn't make sense, as you say. But music without a tonal center, or framwork, or.....(?)) seems to be within comprehension. But still way too broad a picture.

Hi Socrates, if you want to help define what it means, you can join the group -


I think atonal describes the body if you don't work out for a few weeks.

Socrates, I have also noticed this unfortunate abuse of language in the word "atonal" (I think it originated from describing music that lacks a tonal center, but the chosen word unfortunately has other, wrong connotations), and have on more than one occasion toyed with the idea of music that actually has no tones in the sense of a fixed pitch, but instead is composed of a series of glides (glissando / portamenteau). While I haven't actually delved too far into it, my cursory examination of it showed interesting similarities to the pitch contours prevalent in human speech, which should provide a rich field of innovation if anyone is interested in this sort of thing.

@Lawrence: LOL, thanks, that lightened up my day. :-)

So lets clean up the vernacular.  True atonal music would be really difficult to hear.  Why not use the term atonalcentric?  All music is pan-tonal or polytonal except for the test pattern drone, (monotone).  To me, pan-tonalcentric or polytonalcentric music would be like a sequence put through a circle of fifths.  Each iteration has a different tone center.  Schoenberg's music should be described as atonalcentric, since throughout most of it there is no tonal center.  Dodecaphonic doesn't seem to relate to a certain tone center, but refers to using chromatic passages even though the music could have a tone center.

     Just some thoughts, though I have not written or studied atonal music and so I feel I am not qualified to pontificate on the subject.

On second thought, atonalcentric is a bad definition because it labels music by what it is not.  i.e. What is the color of the sky.  It is not green.  After a study of the subject we should be able to label this music by what it is.

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