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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Thanks Bob, Lawrence and Teoh for your help. This is what I mean for a serious and grammatically correct definition of terms.

Bob, I agree that tone and tonal are two different concepts, and so they should be, but see below.

Teoh, I think you got it in a nutshell.  "Atonal" as a term does derive from the word "tonal" as a concept. Here I think that language and its usage failed us. I find this term quite poor for describing such a marvellous and complex application as tonality with 400 years history.

And Lawrence, you've got it in a nutshell too! If you refer to my explanation of the steritic "a" and the word that follows it as a concept meaning the opposite than the word that follows it, there it is:

Tonal is a positive term

Atonal is a negative term which can only tell us what something is not, but never what it is.

 I also find myself in sympathy with the idea of pan-tonal, but given our 20th century music practices and taking into account the East as well as the West hemisphere, I prefer to call modern music pan-intervalic rather than pan-tonal.

I wish I had some more time to carry on but… :-)

Hey guys, it’s fine if you want to discuss this, but please do it on a different thread, this thread is for sign-ups for the proposed project -

But that's just it. Folks can't sign-up for something if they don't know what they are signing up for. "Atonal" (whatever that is) might be too broad a term for a treatise.

Hi Bob, once someone signs up, they can help define the scope of the project, the meaning of the word, etc. All signing up does is get you a seat at the discussion table.

OK. Thanks for clearing that up.

Deadline approaching!

Schoenberg, for one, described his music as pantonal. There are parts of his serial works that can be described as tonal or, at least, have tonal references. I think it is very difficult to completely avoid tonal references altogether. Webern, perhaps, succeeded, but not Berg. Schoenberg used a series to try to give his ultrachromaticism some structure and hopefully convey more meaning or logic to the listener.

I agree that before one can discuss atonality (without tonality, not without a tone), we should really decide if that is the best term, and then (if it is) what is atonality.

Hi Stephen, whoever joins the project can hash all that out. Just indicate if you are interested to join the project if you want to be part of that group >

I would be happy to be involved in the discussions. That said, I start teaching tomorrow, and have a concert of my music to prepare for at the end of September. I don't know yet how much that entails, since I'm neither conducting, nor performing, but I may be involved in a lot of rehearsals.

That is fine Stephen, almost all of the composers here work and we will find a way to fit the project in with everyone’s schedule, assuming we get enough people signed up. I have also heard privately from one other composer, so we now have 2 people who have expressed interest. If we can get one more signup before the deadline, the project will be a go -


Ok Gav, if you are looking for a third man, I am your Harry Lime.

But I must clarify from the very beginning that I will be a passive more than an active participant, at least until I have the time to be more active in this conversation.

Given my grammatical definition of the word "atonal", which I don’t intend to change for whatever reasons, as I cannot come into terms with it meaning something else than it says to me in its ordinary everyday Greek usage,  and defined as the absence of tonal centre rather than its correct definition which should be the absence of tones i.e.  The absence of major seconds, I will wait to see a musical example provided by any participant (score necessary), in which the absence of tones rather than the absence of tonal centres is evident.

If such a score is not provided the word "atonal" has no meaning for me and also this conversation is philosophically irrelevant and at best only an abuse of linguistic terms.

I am sorry if again I sound dogmatic. I understand and I appreciate all help and suggestions given so far, for the usage of the word meaning something else than it should mean, and I do agree with them, but I'm getting old and more conservative perhaps, as far as terminology is concerned, so it is maybe an effort on my part, to rehabilitate terms already beyond rehabilitation in reality as in the following short example.


"Atonal" in its usage is as meaningless to me as another well-known and well abused Greek musical definition.

Just think about it: Thesis and Arsis. (try to get a few real life Greek musicians jamming with any other nation and you'll get my point , either the Greeks, or the others will sound off beat and that is because of how we understand the ordinary language we use. :-) )

Thesis and Arsis, (from the verbs tithimi and Aro), two Greek terms in every-day use which in current day Greek musical parlance (not changed since the time of Pythagoras) mean the exact opposite of what they mean in current day English musical parlance.

Why on earth should I accept the (wrong) English meaning, knowing that in my mother tongue yes is yes and no is no? (That's a preoccupation of the current Greek prime minister, but not of mine, as an ordinary musician).

Thesis means position, means strong, means putting the foot down and emphasizing the strong beat in a 2/4 measure.

Arsis means its opposite, lifting the foot, freeing the flow of music (in the same 2/4 measure).

Apart from music, these are philosophical terms that have similar meanings in many fields of life.

Yet, being also an English speaker, I observe that this language has borrowed a Greek term, and in music has turned it up side down, though it has tried to maintain its original meaning in other applications of language, like in a usual university PHD thesis (in academic parlance) which still maintains the taking of position, the positive rather than the negative, the affirmation, rather than the continuation or conclusion.

In this sense, I must admit, I have no confidence whatsoever in the English language. It is a medieval Latin wrong translation of original Greek terminology.

I am still an observer of conceptual mistakes (including all idealistic philosophy from Parmenides and Plato to now a days).

Do you seriously ask me to accept the term "atonal" (outside my previous definition) as worthy of conversation and philosophical discourse?

Socrates, it doesn’t seem to me this would be an enjoyable project for you. While I am certainly willing to work around peoples’ schedules, we do need active participants, not passive ones. Also, as I’ve stated above, the members of the group will come up with their own definition, which means a definition all can agree on, and I don’t see in your various points much if any room for viewpoints which differ from yours to enter into the conversation. Given all that I must decline your offer, though I thank you for it -

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