Friday, December 26, 2008

Speaking of Tonality………………..

"I hate that stuff-its not music----why can't composers write some good, tonal, music?"

First things first its OK to like or dislike any music. That said, it seems that a personal statement of displeasure for some is not enough-- composers hear these complaints all the time. Your music is; ugly, its unnatural to listen to that I don't think that's music It's not tonal." "Why don't you listen to the radio it proves that tonality is the natural state for humans-so get with it."

Though some criticize non tonal/experimental music as too "intellectual" many will speak of the necessity of tonal logic. Further many non western cultures have a long tradition non tonal , non equal tempered music and they do just fine .I don't feel that music has to be tonal to be coherent nor do I feel that a tonal approach guarantees a compositions success, plenty of bad tonal music out there.

What is meant by tonal anyway? Is it a living concept that grows and changes or is it an El Derado where all music is equal tempered, diatonic, and in 4/4 time? Well the problem is-there isn't any music like that. Besides the fact that all great music is made up of exceptions to the rules consider: All symphonies and operas and many concertos, chamber music etc. would have to be discarded, as only keyboards and fretted instruments use equal temperament in actual performance. It was Famed chamber musician Julius Levine who told me that "the piano is always out of tune!"

Questions about tonality are difficult because who's tonality are we to refer to? Beethoven, Mozart Benjamin Britten Berg, Busoni, Gershwin Guido ArrezzoVarese Brahms Strauss, Wagner? The Talking Heads Sonic Youth, Pete Fountain, or John Coltrain, The Kingsman-(Louie Louie for example has a minor V?)

Theres a lot of tonality out there. The question of how our own works as composers are related to tonality, if at all is an interesting one. I don't intend to tread on the toes of a music theorist, I would like to take a more conversational tack.

This brings us back to the problem that tonality and diatonicism is not the same. The diatonicism that I think that critics refer to is recent in nature

Music can delight and upset it can enlighten and confound, it can entertain and ennoble. Music is also many things to many people --not so much a political party but as a faith. And we humans feel strongly about our faiths. The point I am trying to make is that--- like or dislike always proceeds the question of a challenging works tonality. To those who say that experimental (but what composition isn't an experiment)Common practice Tonality has not existed for some time (if ever)and it may surprise many readers that their favorite 20th century works are at best only partially tonal.

It should point out that many leading scholars disagree about the nature of tonality, and the extent of tonalities reach into other musics pre tonal and post tonal , We live in a time where we believe that our own personal experiences, that is our own world as the most important . Today we look for tonality everywhere in older music rather then find renaissance and Medieval functions lurking behind todays tonalities.

Tonality as we know it has not been around very long-it mutates from generation to generation. Even today "tonal" music genres can sound very different and use tonality in completely different ways new age which emphasizes stasis and Minamalism which emphasizes motion.

Today many different musical styles have there own musical feature which are unique,

intro Schoenberg

Oddly enough for every theorist who criticized Schoenberg for his non-tonal works for being non tonal and therefore incoherent, he had defenders who said these works were in fact tonal, and coherent and produced tonal analysis to prove it. Again in this argument tonality was seen as a given. The question was not whether Schoenberg was tonal at all but whether the theorist likes the music. It is understood but nowhere stated that a work could not be coherent without tonality. Of course this was separate from Schoenberg's own ideas. Schoenberg described his music as pantonal not atonal. Again this brings me back to an important point that the like or dislike of a composition precedes questions of tonality. (Can you imagine a scientific theory that decided it didn't like the concept of say for example Black Holes and left them out)?

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