Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What a difference a typo can make!

From Chapter XII of Arnold Schoenberg's Structural Foundations of Harmony:
"My school, including such men as Alban Berg, Anton Webern and others, does not aim at the establishment of a tonality, yet does not exclude it entirely."

Huh? Shouldn't it be atonality? If it isn't a typo, I don't understand what he is trying to say.


David Guion said...

It certainly is cryptic as is, but didn't he dislike the term atonality? If what's printed is what he meant, is it really any clearer?

David Guion said...

Um, that last question makes no sense, does it. I changed my mind about how to write it and didn't edit it thoroughly enough. Does "atonality" really have a clearer meaning than "a tonality"?

Anonymous said...

"Structural Functions of Harmony" was intended as a text on tonal harmony and its tonal relationships, and therefore the comment by Schoenberg is most assuredly not a mistake. The "school" neither established nor destroyed tonality, something most easily seen in Berg's work especially. Given the publication dates of the early "Second Viennese School" works as compared to the much later "Structural Functions and "Style and Idea," I venture Schoenberg said exactly what he meant. While the modern age wants to make historically significiant individuals into rigid ideologues, "Structural Functions" as a late text proves Schoenberg a master of tonality as well as other things.

Elaine Fine said...

Then what is "a tonality?" Which tonality would he be talking about?

Anonymous said...

"Which tonality would he be talking about?" I suspect there is only "tonality" in the remarks, as codified in a fine way in "Structural Functions." I suspect further that he is implying by the use of this term that there is no real, official and true "atonality," a word shoved onto his work by others to justify many 'advances' down musical dead ends which the classical world has generally greeted with yawn after yawn. Schoenberg's text brings together centuries of musical practices into a clear summary of the structures of tonality's many relationships, of which functions of harmony is one view. Atonality is the word which is quizzical, undefined and amorphous.

Nick said...

Perhaps it's something more like they were not trying to establish "a tonality," i.e., a separate but distinct system from tonality, or rather, a new kind of tonality. Rather they were establishing a method of composing that left no center, no tonality. They were not establishing "a tonality."

Anonymous said...

I suggested only that "Structural Functions" is essentially a finely crafted tonal harmony text; were I teaching tonal harmony, I would use this over others.

The notion that the Second Viennese School was trying to create a "method" of composition seems strange, given what I have read from the and performed of the "big three." Rather, in many ways, there are three distinct aesthetic postures among them, Berg's being the most tonal excepting Schoenberg's early works.

But the follow on atonalists jumped on the bandwagon of "liberating tones" from functional tonal center with about as much success as mid-20th century poets "liberating" words from grammmar, ending in refridgerator magnets and everyone thinking they are poets by manipulating bits and pieces.

A "method of composition that left no center" has proven an enormous blind alley and filled music libraries with works gathering dust, all the while popular music and the resurgence of tonality among younger classic composers has left the stance of "liberation" aesthetics to become old-fashioned and downright sclerotic.

And that is something from which Schoenberg's, Berg's and Webern's music have not suffered. I conclude therefore that the so-called "method of composition that left no center" has made still born much work by many earnest folks for whom the word, tonality, became simply a bugaboo. And meanwhile, the public still likes a tune.

Schoenberg's "Structural Functions" remains a gold mine for those who would explore its rigor and clarity.

Elaine Fine said...

Thanks Nick. A different choice of words would have cleared up the ambiguity. Schoenberg did write this book in English, so I guess we should cut him a bit of slack. I think that "Structural Functions of Harmony" is a terrific book, by the way.