You are on page 1of 6

Concordia University College of Alberta

Atonality and Tonality


A Guide Through A Century of Musical Movements

By
Jensen Evtushevski
April 2015

Contents
PART ONE: Introduction. . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 3
PART TWO: Arnold Schnberg and Expressionism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 3
PART THREE: Nationalism and The Russians. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .p. 9
PART FOUR: Modernism and Isaac Albniz. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p.13
PART FIVE: Minimalism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 16
PART SIX: William Joseph and Chromaticism. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .p.20
PART SEVEN: Popular Music and Broadway. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p. 24
PART EIGHT: Conclusion. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p.27
BIBLIOGRAPHY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . p.29

Illustrations
Fig. 1.0. Sechs Kleine Klavierstcke, Langsam, Measures 1 & 2 written by Arnold Schnberg in
1913. Shows the ostinato of G and B which continues to be articulated throughout the
piece.
Fig. 1.1, Sechs Kleine Klavierstcke, Sehr langsame, Measures 1 & 2 by Arnold Schnberg, 1913.
This depicts the large chords at the beginning of Opus 19, No.2.
Fig. 1.2, Sechs Kleine Klavierstcke, Sehr langsame, Measures 7-9 by Arnold Schnberg, 1913.
This shows the reader how vastly different the song is from beginning (Fig. 1.1) to end
and how the melody dissolves down to one note from many.
Fig. 1.3, Twelve-Tone Matrix,
http://bowery.indabamusic.com/shared/post_images/0000/1692/12_tone_matrix.jpg. This
is a picture of a potential 12-tone matrix.
Fig. 1.4. Variations in A Minor, Op. 40, No.2. Dmitri Kabalevsky, 1944. Beginning of the first
variation. This shows the reader how the melody is switching back and forth
between the left and right hands.
Fig. 1.5, Variations in A Minor, Op. 40, No. 2, by Dmitri Kabalevsky, 1944. Excerpt of the first
few bars of the third variation. Depicting how drastic the changes are between the first
and third variation.

PART ONE
INTRODUCTION
Atonality is . . . first, to describe all music which is not tonal; second, to describe all
music which is neither tonal nor serial; and third, to describe specifically the post-tonal and pre12-note music of Berg, Webern and Schnberg. 1 At first, atonality was a wildly experimental
concept, brought to the forefront of the musical community thanks to Arnold Schnberg and his
passion for expressionism. It occurred in the early 1900s and was a cause for various other
musical movements that followed, such as nationalism, minimalism and chromaticism. It was
also the impetus for various musicians to expand their art, including Dmitri Kabalevsky and
Isaac Albeniz, and to spur on progress in more recent musicians such as Phillip Glass and
William Joseph.
This essay will explain what atonality was and what it meant in the expressionist movement, how
tonality evolved out of that movement, and how it influenced modern and popular music. It will
also discuss the various artists that were involved and how they influenced the world at the time.
PART TWO
SCHNBERG AND EXPRESSIONISM
Arnold Schnberg was born in Vienna in 1874 to a family that had no musical
background. The only person who was artistically inclined in his family was his uncle Fritz
Nachod who was a poet at the time. He first learned the violin and did some light composing for

1 Paul Lansky, et al. "Atonality." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March
31, 2015,http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/47354.

string instruments and learned piano years later2. In his adulthood, he briefly taught harmony,
counterpoint, and orchestration at a girls school founded by Dr. Eugenie Schwarzwald. He soon
left the school to teach specific pupils: Alban Berg and Anton Webern. He nicknamed his trio the
Second Viennese School (after the First Viennese School which comprised Mozart, Haydn and
Beethoven). The nickname stuck and they are still commonly referred to and known by it. By
1912, Schnbergs name was internationally recognized, mostly due to his melodrama Pierrot
lunaire, which was one of his last pieces created in the expressionist movement. It was poetry
spoken against an instrumental background. The work mocked religion the mass specifically
in a way that wasnt taken badly, but instead transfixed and awed the audience3. Schnberg
became highly experimental after 1908 and composed less and less. This is when he truly started
to express himself and began to compose atonally to show the world what could be done and
how. It was during this time that he also found a desire to paint, and reflected on the works of
Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky and Pablo Picasso.
Expressionism led to fauvism and cubism around 1910, which encompassed those three painters,
and included musicians such as Bla Bartk, Richard Strauss and Alexander Scriabin.
Expressionism in music eliminates conventional methods such as form and chord patterns and
uses fragmented structure and clashing dissonant harmonies with great power, or not, to evoke an
emotion or specific mood. It was during this time, before and a little bit after World War I, that
2 Sadie, Stanley ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, No. 22, New York:
Groves Dictionaries, 2001, 577-605.

3 Mostel, Raphael. Arnold Schoenbergs Pierrot Lunaire Marks Century:


Composers confounding 1912 masterwork still has impact. The JewishDaily
Forward. Web. Published October 17, 2012. Accessed March 31, 2015.
http://forward.com/articles/164011/arnold-schoenbergs-pierrot-lunaire-markscentury/?p=all

this expressionist movement flourished. It was known as either being for or against modern
music4. Schnberg used these methods with composing and in painting, where his styles were
strange and imaginary. Closer to the end of his expressionist and experimental period, he
composed six miniature atonal pieces called Sechs Kleine Klavierstcke (Six Small Piano
Pieces) which is commonly referred to as Opus 19. These pieces were composed before his
atonal period, which arose in the 1920s, but there are still noticeable hints that his twelve-tone
theory is evolving. For example, in Op. 19, No. 2, the piece is atonal, and uses all twelve-tones
well; yet to create an air of stability, there is an ostinato of a third (G and B) that sounds

throughout the entire piece.

Fig. 1.0. Sechs Kleine Klavierstcke, Langsam, Measures 1 & 2 by Arnold Schnberg, 1913.

Along with the ostinato, which is in a central region, there are larger, extreme intervals
surrounding it throughout the piece to better define its contrasting nature. These extreme chords
4 David Fanning. "Expressionism." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford
University Press, accessed March 31,
2015,http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/09141

can also be found in Opus 19, No. 3, accompanying large leaps in the right hand, with both hands
starting with large chords and decreasing their size until there is only one note left at the end.