Serial No.1

Schoenberg, eh?  What a lad!  You see, when he devised his system of 12 different notes all in a row, he made sure that no-one could possibly use it to write music that sounded in the slightest bit consonant.  Ok, they say Berg had a go, but let's face it, the odd minor or even major triad is not going to give the music any sense of tonal direction.  But of course, Schoenberg didn't do it out of spite to try and make the tide of music become more modern sounding.  Oh no, sir.  What he did was streamline everything his contemporaries were doing already.  You see, Arnold Schoenberg was an expert in tonality of the ultimate Viennese tradition.  He could whisk off a Bach style chorale in a matter of seconds.  His 'Transfigured Night' is one of the most beautiful tonal pieces of the early half of the century.  However, when he realised that all around him, his fellow composers were trying to free themselves from the manacles of adherence to tonal and diatonic structures, he thought that the best thing to do would develop a system in which whatever you write, if you abide by this system, you won't be able to write tonally whatever you do.  So, over a number of years, he finally came up with a solution.  One must write a sequence of 12 tones within the octave whereby only one note could appear just once (unless it was immediately repeated) so that each note would be equal to every other note, instead of having prominent notes like dominants and tonics.  Now one would imagine that this would be too restrictive, and one would be right, except he made the following concessions:

A.   You could use each note in any register (octave) you wanted.
B.   You could turn it around (retrograde).
C.   You could turn it upside down (inversion).
D.   You could turn it around and upside down (retrograde & inversion).
E.   You could transpose your sequence of notes so that it could start on another of the 11 available notes, therefore supplying 47 other versions of the tone row that you started with.
F.    You could only use part of any of the 48 tone rows if you wished.

Now we all know that this system of composition caught on quite dramatically and is still used to this day of after all these years.  Even Stravinsky, who was always usually at loggerheads with Schoenberg (although deep down, they probably had a begrudging mutual respect for each other) was composing in this manner towards the end of his life.  However, Schoenberg gave it up as dramatically as he had embraced it.  Before he died, he admitted that atonality in music was really a non-starter because it did not adhere to the natural harmonic series (which is what the major key is derived from, which is why listeners feel more at home with tonal music because the material has a 'home' to go to, which is the tonic of the key in which the music is).

When I was at university, it was assumed that all composition students would not necessarily compose using the 12-tone method, but they were expected to be very economical with the use of tonality.  This saddened me, because I have always preferred tonal (and modal) music for the reasons I've stated above.

However, now and again, I have attempted to try and see a way around the rules and tried to compose music of this fashion and make it as accessible to the listener.  This is my most recent attempt, and, as it happens, my first attempt with a full orchestra.

Suffice to say, I failed miserably.

Serial No 1.mp3

You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –

Replies

  • I actually agree with both of you. Tonality is and isn't overused. Tonality isn't just "Doh a deer, a female deer. Ray, a drop of golden sun". Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" (The Rite of Spring) is tonal (although I suppose the correct assumption would be 'modal'). However, it does apply to modes of natural evolution from the harmonic series, even if it isn't strictly diatonic. Therefore, as Prokoviev said, "There are still plenty of things to say in C Major". However, there are infinitely more things to say without being handcuffed to tonal procedures.

    By the way. Glad you both liked the piece, even if I didn't. Actually, that's not true. I do like the piece, but that is because my familiarity with it is so much present because I wrote it. But generally, as a composer, I prefer to seek new boundaries with the tonal/modal handcuffs tightly upon my wrists.

    Andrew Gleibman said:
    You are right Joe, "randomly invented" is not a correct term here. For our European ear the resonances, based on common harmonics, are fundamental. Not sure about other music cultures.
  • Yes, I reckon there's still a bit of mileage in second inversions. ;-)
  • Yeah, and third..... or even fourth if you're using 9ths...lol

    Joe Evans said:
    Yes, I reckon there's still a bit of mileage in second inversions. ;-)
    Serial No.1
    Schoenberg, eh?  What a lad!  You see, when he devised his system of 12 different notes all in a row, he made sure that no-one could possibly use it…
  • A system of thought which seeks to liberate the composer from the shackles of tonal meaning has all of the sensibility of a system of painting liberating the painter from the prison of colour, or the sculptor from the tethers of shape.

    Totally disagree. It's quite the opposite: atonal systems expand the artist's arsenale and not necessarily deny tonality, Did you ever listem to music of Scriabin, Debussi, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Penderecki? Has their art failed?
  • Most of those composers wrote essentially tonal music, all be it an expansion of classical theory. I'm coming to the conclusion that 12 tone music is really just another expression of tonality and I'm not sure even the radical "irratioanal number" scheme would truly rid music of tonal centres.

    Andrew Gleibman said:
    A system of thought which seeks to liberate the composer from the shackles of tonal meaning has all of the sensibility of a system of painting liberating the painter from the prison of colour, or the sculptor from the tethers of shape.

    Totally disagree. It's quite the opposite: atonal systems expand the artist's arsenale and not necessarily deny tonality, Did you ever listem to music of Scriabin, Debussi, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Penderecki? Has their art failed?
    Serial No.1
    Schoenberg, eh?  What a lad!  You see, when he devised his system of 12 different notes all in a row, he made sure that no-one could possibly use it…
  • I might be wrong, but any music I've heard of Lutoslawski and Penderecki has been non-tonal. However, whilst a lot of atonal music may come under the heading of 'free tonality' (basically meaning atonal music with an eventual home note to go to), strict adherence to the 12-tone row system espoused (note Andrew that I didn't write 'invented' thanks to your statement about Hauer) by Schoenberg is definitely the furthest any composer can be from the realm of tonality in that all notes ARE treated equally by their restricted presence within the tone row.

    However, if you listen to the piece I wrote, you'll discover that I took a big advantage of point F (of the discussion) in that I often used only part of the tone row in certain places, giving me the opportunity to emphasise the presence of certain notes. This can also be done with longer note values, AND tonal purists may even regard the last note of a work (in the bass) to be the key in which the composer was in fact writing whilst engaged in 'free tonality'.

    Therefore, depending on individual and subjective translation of the 12 tone system, Joe, you could well be right!!

    Joe Evans said:
    Most of those composers wrote essentially tonal music, all be it an expansion of classical theory. I'm coming to the conclusion that 12 tone music is really just another expression of tonality and I'm not sure even the radical "irratioanal number" scheme would truly rid music of tonal centres.
    Andrew Gleibman said:
    A system of thought which seeks to liberate the composer from the shackles of tonal meaning has all of the sensibility of a system of painting liberating the painter from the prison of colour, or the sculptor from the tethers of shape.

    Totally disagree. It's quite the opposite: atonal systems expand the artist's arsenale and not necessarily deny tonality, Did you ever listem to music of Scriabin, Debussi, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Penderecki? Has their art failed?
    Serial No.1
    Schoenberg, eh?  What a lad!  You see, when he devised his system of 12 different notes all in a row, he made sure that no-one could possibly use it…
  • Recent research has found that depending on differences in human DNA, some people find Brussel Sprouts to be more ‘bitter’ (understatement!) than others do, Personally, I loathe them. I cannot fathom what all the fuss is about, I think they’re hideous. But I’m bombarded by pity from those happily munching and exclaiming how glorious they are at Christmas. It took me years to take to other green vegetables, first Broccoli, then I conquered Cauliflower, and finally Green Cabbage. But no further can I venture.

    I have a similar feeling about Atonal music, I enjoy the less extreme hybrids, my ear has gradually grown into them, but loathe the serious stuff. Try as I might I cannot find anything to enjoy. It seems utterly pointless to me, and is devoid of any beauty that I can recognise. I can understand how it’s useful to illustrate terror and horror, but there you go. Both do, however seem to share the capacity to generate a lot of hot air…

    As far as I’m concerned, Atonal music = Brussell Sprouts and I beg for someone to please discover a genetic cop out for me on this one too.
  • Lincolnshire is full of them Kris, and you're very welcome to the lot. Butter and salt Yum, but you can keep nasty Brussels.

    Kristofer Emerig said:
    Russel, well put my friend. I have to disagree mildly though. I do loves me some brussel sprouts, and one does not have to be a professed lofty genius to enjoy them, just proper butter and salt is all.

    Russell Jalland said:
    Recent research has found that depending on differences in human DNA, some people find Brussel Sprouts to be more ‘bitter’ (understatement!) than others do, Personally, I loathe them. I cannot fathom what all the fuss is about, I think they’re hideous. But I’m bombarded by pity from those happily munching and exclaiming how glorious they are at Christmas. It took me years to take to other green vegetables, first Broccoli, then I conquered Cauliflower, and finally Green Cabbage. But no further can I venture.

    I have a similar feeling about Atonal music, I enjoy the less extreme hybrids, my ear has gradually grown into them, but loathe the serious stuff. Try as I might I cannot find anything to enjoy. It seems utterly pointless to me, and is devoid of any beauty that I can recognise. I can understand how it’s useful to illustrate terror and horror, but there you go. Both do, however seem to share the capacity to generate a lot of hot air…

    As far as I’m concerned, Atonal music = Brussell Sprouts and I beg for someone to please discover a genetic cop out for me on this one too.
  • I liked the fact that you used the serial methods expressively. Also there was a strong rhythm to bind it all together.

    What I really don't like is the sort of disorder experienced in pieces with absolutely no rhythmic or melodic cement; ie. the sort of random noise that often passes for "contemporary" music.

    You have put your fingerprint on this music despite working to a method - well done.
  • A system of thought which seeks to liberate the composer from the shackles of tonal meaning has all of the sensibility of a system of painting liberating the painter from the prison of colour, or the sculptor from the tethers of shape.

    Totally disagree. It's quite the opposite: atonal systems expand the artist's arsenale and not necessarily deny tonality, Did you ever listem to music of Scriabin, Debussi, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Penderecki? Has their art failed?



    Disagree as well, but slightly different argument - tonality is not 'color' to a musician. Tonality would be a color SCHEME, that centers upon ONE color but may vary and shift accordingly. I would argue that music and art have done just about the same thing side-by-side in this respect - one hasn't 'leaped ahead' of the other. Van Gogh and Debussy were contemporaries, and both started using color in ways it hadn't been used before.

    Today, we use colors that contrast in interesting ways but still seem to work to our sensibilites, that create a mood and a center, so to speak... and you can always tell the difference between music and art that strives to 'work with itself' and music and art that captures interest even without a central meaning. I don't know... one seems to be saying something and one is limitless expression - what the artist wants to say but that we might not be able to understand.

    What do I think? I think if we got into somebody's head deep enough, we'd be able to understand anything they wrote JUST FINE. Understanding is the key, but then there are people who just don't want to go to those lengths to do it. You've heard me say that music is never anything that exists with permanence - Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 is music for MOST people when they hear it, but it just isn't the rest of the time. You can't say 'we're going to play this music'... only, simply, 'we're going to make music'.

    Everything, then, has an equal chance to become music - it just has to be done in a way that is understood. If a cellist plays an atonal passage with vigor and intensity and almost tears apart the bow in his or her rage, don't you know what that means musically?



    Anyway, I'll give a listen and let you know what impressions I get...
This reply was deleted.