Music Composers Unite!
The big question: why should anybody care what Schoenberg said? I have no answer yet, I'll think about that one. But anyways, here are a few more quotes from the book Style and Idea. The even bigger question of "why should anybody care what Tombo Rombo thinks about what Schoenberg said?" has also yet to be answered. Oh well!
What distinguishes dissonances from consonances is not a greater or lesser degree of beauty, but a greater or lesser degree of comprehensibilty.
(p.216, from the essay "Composition with Twelve Tones", 1941)
This is an interesting definition of dissonance. Is it the definitive definition? You can certainly use it that way, but I believe other meanings are also legitimate. In acoustic research, there is a term called "sensory dissonance" which deals with "beats" between simultaneous notes ( like when tuning a guitar, one adjusts string tension until no perceptible beats occur between the test pitch and a reference pitch). Not coincidentally, intervals that were traditionally classified as dissonances (seconds, tritones, and so on) have greater interference between waves than do traditional consonances. One could argue that the "beats" that arise when a dissonance is sounded do in fact lead to less comprehensibility to an ear trying to parse the individual pitches, but Schoenberg has a different notion of comprehensibility in mind here, namely stylistic integrity. In other words, if all one hears is "dissonances" in a piece, then there is in fact no dissonance in the sense Schoenberg is using here. In fact, if a sensory consonance were to occur amidst a sea of dissonance, the consonance may in fact be the only dissonance in the piece and would need to be "resolved". Dissonance, in this sense, is actually culturally determined. Schoenberg claims that the freer use of traditionally dissonant intervals in the late Romantic has made dissonances more understandable, less restricted in their motions, and that it is only a matter of time until completely dissonant music becomes fully comprehensible to all. Here in 2012, I'd say it didn't quite pan out that way...yet, I do believe there are "stylistic firewalls" in our minds that recognize styles and adjust accordingly. I need to further formulate my ideas on that topic, this is getting a bit "rambly", perhaps cognitively dissonant. Moving on.
This one is a killer:
Justified already by historical development, the method of composing with twelve tones is..not without aesthetic and theoretical support. On the contrary, it is just this support which advances it from a mere technical device to the rank and importance of a scientific theory.
(p.220, same essay)
Modernism gone amok! Why would music need to "aspire" to the level of science, isn't it a unique, valuable art form on its own? Go ahead and compose using whatever method you want, but please do not appeal to science. I liked it better when you implicitly acknowledged the cultural underpinnings of style with your definition of dissonance. Thank you.