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Topic: How to listen to atonality?

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  1. #31

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by jesshmusic
    As a matter of fact, speaking of Shostakovich, Bartok composed the monumental Concerto for Orchestra (his last major work) as a response to how miffed he was that Shostakovich was so critically successful while he was not. Hehe.
    actually, the middle section of the Intermezzo Interrotto (the 4th movement of Concerto for orchestra) is the Schostakowitch reference. If you listen carefully, it is part of the theme of the great passacaglia of DSCH's 7th symphony ("Leningrad"), played sarcastically. Bartok did not resent Schostakowitch's success (god only knows DSCH was NOT particularly well respected in critical circles - his non-avant-garde music was considered a throw-back!), he hated that particular piece, finding the imagery "trite". The rest of Concerto for orchestra owes nothing to DSCH, it's pure Bartok.

    I'll differ on the "last major work" opinion... his 3rd piano concerto (of the following year) is his final work, and in my opinion as worthy of the appelation "major", if not more so.

    Another example of this sort of musical "sarcasm" is the final movement of Fauré's Piano Trio - it quotes Pagliacci's aria, which Fauré particularly disliked.

  2. #32

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by jesshmusic
    Atonal music as a whole is a very old style and not at all the modern style. It was around for its heyday in the 1920s-30s. After that it was realized that the ear will find a pitch center.
    I disagree with this as well. The biggest problem with this statement is that atonality is not a "style." After all, very few listeners would think Schoenberg was Stockhausen, or Ligeti, or Boulez, or Varese... And just so we cover all the inevitable blurry bases here: Dissonance is not a style; serialism is not a style; micro-tonalism is not a style; chance music is not a style, etc.

    And if what you meant is that atonal music is no longer being written, or that all of the musical territory it covers has been played out, you couldn't be further from the truth.
    - Jamie Kowalski

    All Hands Music - Kowalski on the web
    The Ear Is Always Correct - Writings on composition

  3. #33

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    I go to several Music conferences every year ranging from the SouthEastern Composer's League all the way up to College Music Society, and I can say without a doubt that atonal music is few and far between among most composers of serious (non commercial) music. I never said no one writes it, but most composers prefer would be offended if you called their music atonal.
    Jess Hendricks
    DMA Student and Teaching Asst in Music Theory/ Composition at the University of Miami
    Personal Website

  4. #34

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Smiley
    So when you come to a point where dissonance becomes normal, or even enjoyable, how does music accomplish tension/resolution? Seems like that now becomes much more challenging. Does it come to depend more heavily on other musical aspects like rhythm? Or I suppose even harsher dissonances?
    Assuming my purpose in creating a particular piece of music is to accomplish tension/resolution (it's not always) then I'm not sure that my thinking in terms of contrasting texture density rather than contrasting "harshness quotient" has any particular practical consequences on the process of composing. I make my decisions about density on a situation-by-situation basis. If I like the way it sounds, I like the way it sounds. Frankly, I don't even consider for a moment if anyone else might consider my choices "easy on the ears" or "harsh." There's only one pair of ears I try to satisfy. Three guesses which pair.
    And Tom, does that mean that you'd now consider something like Dvorak or Beethoven to be trite or quaint? I guess that makes perfect sense. I mean, after all, they're centuries old. Why shouldn't they be quaint?
    Instead of the terms "trite" or "quaint" I would probably choose "familiar" and "predictable." I admit that my interest goes up as familiarity and predictability go down. I tend to draw an approximate line in the musical Sands of Time at 1894 - the year of Debussy's Prelude to an Afternoon of a Fawn. In general, most of the music produced from there forward is closer to my heart - moves me more both emotionally and intellectually (and yes, the intellectual component is extremely important) than music written before that. There are exceptions, but relatively few.
    I was reading today about how in 1800 or so, it was not at all customary for orchestras to play old pieces all the time. But they continually do today, and now the layman's ears (mine included) are stuck about 150 years in the past. Kinda weird.
    Weird perhaps, but understandable. I think that exposing people to the breadth of music of the past is a good thing, so long as the present is represented and people get the chance to be exposed to and become familiar with the developments of the last 100 years or so. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case. There's a kind of (natural?) inertia that makes most people prefer to remain seated in a comfortable musical "easy chair" to venturing out into the wilds. Somehow I missed inheriting that particular "easy chair" gene and I find myself drawn strongly to the safari. When you are in a creative activity that helps.

    Tom

  5. #35

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    If we are talking about non-commercial music (music written for purely creative, rather than mercenary, reasons) then the following are utterly irrelevant:
    1. Trends
    2. Critics
    3. Popularity
    It matters not whether one person, twenty, a thousand, or *none* are writing atonal or any other kind of music. It matters not if one, twenty, a thousand, or *none* approve or disapprove of the choices you make. If you, as the composer, decide that atonality (in any guise) is suitable to your particular needs then that is what you should write. If you decide that tonality (in any guise) is suitable to your particular needs then that is what you should write. It's all raw material to be used, applied, mixed, bent, spindled, or mutilated as you, the composer, sees fit. All that matters is that you start with your blank musical canvas, avail yourself of the largest possible palette of colors (through knowledge,) and create your personal musical world your way. There are no right answers and you are the final authority on the subject of your music.

    Now, on the other hand, if money, acceptance, and fashion are part of your musical goals then the rules change. I've done both for decades and (for what it's worth) it's the non-mercenary music that has given me the most satisfaction at the end of the day. At least until I get hungry.

    Tom

  6. #36

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Smiley
    New question!

    Last night I went to a performance of Shostakovich's #5, and I gotta say, I just don't get the whole atonal thing!
    Wait a minute... since when is Shosty's 5th atonal? Are you sure it wasn't one of those PDQ Bach things? I know the piece inside and out... So there are a few modulations here and there... like any long piece.

    Aside from his real early stuff, Shosty is pretty conservative for his era.

  7. #37

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Skysaw
    If Shostakovich's 5th was a little difficult, try Prokofiev's 5th.
    Then try Shosty's 10th... a highly compressed superlative tour-de-force that puts most composers lazy writing to shame. Start with the famous second movement and the incredible finale, since the first and third movements are pretty dense and take longer to sink in. This is top-notch ultimate genius music, don't listen to Shosty detractors, they are merely jealous.

    If you are adventurous, Shosty has written some of the most impressive chamber works ever, many suprisingly tuneful (lets face it, there are a lot of tuneless chamber works out there).

  8. #38

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Smiley
    How atonal would you consider Rite of Spring to be?
    Not at all. Stravinsky constantly reiterates or sustains a pedal tone throughout much of the piece. The dissonance is used more for percussive blasts on top of the per-section unchanging tonal center. If the tonal center moved all about, it wouldn't have nearly the awesome primitive feel.

  9. #39

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Quote Originally Posted by Guy Smiley
    So when you come to a point where dissonance becomes normal, or even enjoyable, how does music accomplish tension/resolution? Seems like that now becomes much more challenging.
    No. Every piece establishes it's own "frame". Like Tom I am completely desensitized to "dissonance" for it's own sake, yet the finale of Mozarts Jupiter is every bit as exciting as it has always been. Remember, music is about the *relationships* between sounds in time/space.

    Many pieces "reframe" at movement or other obvious breaks, for example the violent and wildly modulating first movement followed by the simple bagpipe tune of the second. Some pieces actually "reframe" fairly rapidly... not such a common technique, and hard to pull off without developing a strong "gut sense" of continuity. If you work it out right, you can juxtapose a boogie-woogie with a wash of half tones without sacrifing continuity. Depends on what you are going for.

  10. #40

    Re: How to listen to atonality?

    Well, Guy, my first question would be what other examples of atonal works have you listened to. The Shostakovich 5th is not an example of atonal music. It does have a 'key center' and it does use good principles of harmonic tension and release. It may be a bit 'disturbing' in places by Shostakovich neverf strayed far from the concepts of tonality (for one the Russian government wouldn't let him.)

    Try a listen to: "To the Victims of Hiroshima" by Penderecki and compare what you felt was atonal in the Shostakovich to the Penderecki piece.

    Atonal means no tonal center, it doesn't mean 'ugly' - Maybe our writing 'geniuses' here could write an example of atonal music that is not ugly. I won't cite myself, for that would be prejudicial.

    Good debate question!

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