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Tonal vs. "atonal": What is the difference?


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#1 Frosty

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Posted 09 December 2002 - 11:08 PM

From reading posts from all over this board, I think that some people aren't quite sure what the difference is between "tonal" music, "Dissonant" music (for lack of a better term) and "atonal" music.

Tonal music is just that: Music with a strong push or pull to a specific key center or structure.

Let us clear up a misnomer right now: There is a huge difference between "dissonant" music and "atonal" music. Even the term "atonal" is misleading. It's meaning is "without tone" wich is hardly how you would describe the style of music.

"The Rite of Spring" is NOT an atonal piece as some people believe. The majority of Williams concert works are NOT atonal.

In order to understand atonal, you must listen to the music of the following: Webern, late works of Schoenberg, Stockhausen, later works of Elliot Carter, Ligeti (mostly), Charles Wuorinen, certain works of Stravinsky and Copland, Oliver Messiean, Milton Babbitt, George Crumb, Harrison Birtwistle, even Jerry Goldsmith has written purely atonal concert works.

Listen to these and compare to Williams.

Although I haven't given you an expanation, try some of the above composers and compare. You hear what I mean



Frosty
I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sound hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. I am bored with mechanically constructed music and I am also bored with the mechanical revolution against such music. I have found no joy in either and have found freedom only within the sublime disciplines of the East.

Hovhaness

#2 ocelot

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Posted 09 December 2002 - 11:12 PM

Bingo !!! :P

#3 king mark

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Posted 09 December 2002 - 11:13 PM

Thanks,maybe you can point out some of Goldsmith's atonal cues,since I have a lot of his c.d.'s,and I have no clue about the others you mention.
How about Williams,did he write anything atonal?Or close to it,may it just be a some cue fron a certain score.

K.M.

#4 Marian Schedenig

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 12:27 AM

Thanks for the clarification, Frosty. My problem is a bit different though - I did know the difference, however I don't really hear it normally. Hence my using the term "atonal" too easily. :P

Is Images atonal? It's been a long time since I listened to it, but I believe I read somewhere that it is.

#5 jsawruk

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 03:03 AM

The difference between tonal and atonal is that atonal music lacks harmonic direction. The term has changed slightly over the years. Wagner's music was once concerned atonal, and now it is considered tonal.

People confuse atonality with dissonance. There are tonal pieces that are consonant (Mozart Symphony No. 40), tonal pieces that are dissonant (Crumb Black Angels), atonal pieces that are consonant (Schoenberg Verklaerte Nacht), and atonal pieces that are dissonant (Boulez Structures I). I think that is the misunderstanding.

And there there's serialism, which is a specific type of atonality. It too can be consonant (Berg Wozzeck) or dissonant (Schoenberg Klavierstücke).

Then there is modalism (tonal center around a scale that is neither major nor minor: Gregorian Chant, Debussy Voiles, Stravinsky Petrushka and Davis Kind of Blue are all modal) and polytonality (Bartok Violin Duos), but thats a whole seperate discussion.

I would include Rite of Spring as modal, although the Augurs of Spring is definately polytonal. There are also some tonal and atonal moments as well, but overall it is still octatonic (the melodies based on minor tetrachords in the octatonic scale).

Hope this clears everything up!

#6 king mark

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 03:09 AM

:?

what's John Williams?

K.M.Very confused.

#7 Hlao-roo

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 03:13 AM

Beats me. I'm tone deaf.

Right, Morn? :D

#8 Stefancos

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 05:15 AM

Morn is tonedeaf, which explains his love for Alex North's music.

Stefancos- :P

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#9 Stefancos

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 05:16 AM

Morn is tonedeaf, which explains his love for Alex North's music.

Stefancos- :P

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#10 Frosty

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 07:24 AM

The difference between tonal and atonal is that atonal music lacks harmonic direction. The term has changed slightly over the years. Wagner's music was once concerned atonal, and now it is considered tonal.  

People confuse atonality with dissonance. There are tonal pieces that are consonant (Mozart Symphony No. 40), tonal pieces that are dissonant (Crumb Black Angels), atonal pieces that are consonant (Schoenberg Verklaerte Nacht), and atonal pieces that are dissonant (Boulez Structures I). I think that is the misunderstanding.  

And there there's serialism, which is a specific type of atonality. It too can be consonant (Berg Wozzeck) or dissonant (Schoenberg Klavierstücke).

Then there is modalism (tonal center around a scale that is neither major nor minor: Gregorian Chant, Debussy Voiles, Stravinsky Petrushka and Davis Kind of Blue are all modal) and polytonality (Bartok Violin Duos), but thats a whole seperate discussion.

I would include Rite of Spring as modal, although the Augurs of Spring is definately polytonal. There are also some tonal and atonal moments as well, but overall it is still octatonic (the melodies based on minor tetrachords in the octatonic scale).

Hope this clears everything up!








Brilliant!!!!

Very well put.

Composers of "dissonant" music are not straying far from tonal influences, that is a key or pitch center. A thing to remeber is that the key relationships might be very close together, or very far apart depending on the composers intentions, but they still have a pull or a "place to sit down" (as one of my composition teachers put it). Composers like Bartok, or Stravinsky or even Debussy have taken cadential (musical phrases that resolve) and have turned them around so as not to indicate a Dominant/tonic resolution (cadence). Even late romantic composers such as Wagner (mentioned above) and Mahler and Richard Strauss have done away with a dominant/tonic relationship. By definition alone, a tonal piece can only be termed "tonal" if there is a cadence (resolution). Mahler and Wagner were brilliant at stretching out a dominant sound, but never quite resolving (cadencing) to the expected chord until the very end of the piece. Yet we regard them as tonal because of the use of "traditional" harmony.

The "atonal" composers were doing everything in their power to avoid any type of "traditional" harmonic treatments. In other words, every note of the chromatic scale was in and of itself as powerful as any other note of the scale. The 12-tone system created by Schoenberg is a rigorous system of composition where no note can be repeated until the other 11 notes of the chromatic scale was used. This system was used by Goldsmith in his "Christus Apollo" and "Music for Orchestra" concert works. Webern and Berg were the chief proponents of this system with radically different results. Next is the "serialists" who used extremely rigorous and mathmatical ways of compostion. An example of this is a composer might have a collection of 3 or 4 notes called a cell. Instead of drawing any tonal implications from these notes, he might use just the intervalic relationships between notes, i.e C-G-Bb-D. A perfect fifth exsists between the C and G, a minor third between G and Bb, a major third between Bb and D. The composer can then take these intravals (and their inversion) and devise a system that takes into account harmonic structure, rhythm, intervals, etc.


Without going into a doctral thesis here, tonal composers might be dissonant, but still have strong ties to traditional "triadic" harmonies.
"Atonal" composers try to break all "triadic" or "traditional" and eleminate any "tonal" relationships between notes, using very rigorous and mathmatical approaches to note relationships. Hell, even people are applying fratcals to the 12-note chromatic scale with some very interesting results, although, to me, it is a novelty.

If anyone has any questions, post and we will try to resolve them without turning this into a text book.



Thanks all


Frosty
:roll:
I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sound hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. I am bored with mechanically constructed music and I am also bored with the mechanical revolution against such music. I have found no joy in either and have found freedom only within the sublime disciplines of the East.

Hovhaness

#11 Morn

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 08:21 AM

Morn is tonedeaf, which explains his love for Alex North's music.

Stefancos-  :)

:P He's as atonal as Stravinsky.
No, you are tonedeaf, which explains your love for David Arnold. :roll:

And Frosty, what about free atonalism?
"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." - Winston Churchill

#12 jsawruk

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 01:25 PM

Composers of "dissonant" music are not straying far from tonal influences, that is a key or pitch center.  


But they can if they want to, such as in Boulez's Structures, and some Stockhausen.

Mahler and Wagner were brilliant at stretching out a dominant sound, but never quite resolving (cadencing) to the expected chord until the very end of the piece. Yet we regard them as tonal because of the use of "traditional" harmony.


Because there is still as sense of key and the distribution of tones is not even, we consider Wagner, Mahler, R. Strauss, and early Schoenberg to be using extended tonality, because it is not quite yet atonal.

The 12-tone system created by Schoenberg is a rigorous system of composition where no note can be repeated until the other 11 notes of the chromatic scale was used.


Actually, this well known "fact" is in reality a myth. Schoenberg's system never set 12-tone music so rigourously, but some how that has come to be viewed as fundamental to 12-tone. If you look at works by Schoenberg, Berg, and even some Webern, you will see them repeat notes over and over again, and use them out of order. Some other composer, especially during the 50s may have used this technique, but it was not Schoenberg's intention.

Next is the "serialists" who used extremely rigorous and mathmatical ways of compostion. An example of this is a composer might have a collection of 3 or 4 notes called a cell. Instead of drawing any tonal implications from these notes, he might use just the intervalic relationships between notes, i.e C-G-Bb-D. A perfect fifth exsists between the C and G, a minor third between G and Bb, a major third between Bb and D. The composer can then take these intravals (and their inversion) and devise a system that takes into account harmonic structure, rhythm, intervals, etc.


Although this is true, we must remember that serialism almost always refers to Schoenberg's method of 12-tone music. Most serialism used at least 8 notes, made of two of these 4-note cells, or 12, from three 4-note cells etc.


If anyone has any questions, post and we will try to resolve them without turning this into a text book.


I can't guarantee that though! :mrgreen:

#13 Frosty

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 08:05 PM

:mrgreen:


Yes, all of the above is true, but I'm trying to make a long story short and not blow out anybody's brain cells and try to give simple answers to big questions. (Although I do disagree about 12-tone because of the fact that the matrices they used they fooled around with. I hate Webern, but Berg at least tried to romanticize 12-tone music. They weren't using a strict form of 12-tone, but the fundmental principle of using all tones before repeating them was rampant. It'd like saying Bach never used parallel 5ths or octaves when he did, if you look at some of his music, does that mean he just threw his own little rules out of the window? No. The ear is the best judge.)

Free atonality? I'm not quite sure what you mean but I assume you mean "aleatoric" music or "chance" music that was John Cage's M.O. A good example of "aleatoric" music can be found in Williams "Close Encounters". more specific: Barry's abduction. Williams wrote out notes (he probably had a system, I haven't looked) but told players to play them as fast as possible, not anybody playing the same tempo as the person next to them. The result is a cacophony of sound, slightly improvised, but given a definite roadmap (Alan Hovhaness does this as well). Another good example of this is Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" where special instructions are given to string players to play their instruments in various ways to produce a sound. All film composers have studied that piece.
John Cage's form of aleatoric music doesn't really define music in a strict sence. Cage wrote a piece called "4:33". In the performance, a piano was suspended above the stage. A person in a tuxedo comes out, takes a bow, put music on the piano and slams the cover down. This marks the beginning of the piece. All ambient noises from the audience then make up the music of the piece, the piano does not play at all. At the end of 4 minutes and 33 seconds, the man slams the cover on the piano again and stands up to receive thunderous applause. A jazz group from (I think) the Carribean invented a form of music called "Free Jazz" (Sun Ra was the leader, who died a few years ago). All they did was improvise, nothing written down, no melody. It was a big hit. Sun Ra yelled at the players to start and stop and that was about it.

Hopefully that clears up somethings.
I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sound hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. I am bored with mechanically constructed music and I am also bored with the mechanical revolution against such music. I have found no joy in either and have found freedom only within the sublime disciplines of the East.

Hovhaness

#14 jsawruk

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Posted 10 December 2002 - 10:59 PM

No, that is not at all what I meant by free atonality. Free atonality simply means non-serial atonality. A good example is Verklaerte Nacht, which is the exact opposite of anything aleatory. The proper name is free chromaticism, and is typical of some of Stravinsky and some Hindemith. Most composers, however, adopted free diatonicism, such the Les Six composers.

#15 Trumpeteer

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 12:31 AM

If anyone has any questions, post and we will try to resolve them without turning this into a text book.

Too late.

I'm trying to make a long story short and not blow out anybody's brain cells and try to give simple answers to big questions.

Way too late.

I'm not trying to make fun of you, Frosty, but you are using terms and language that novice music students (that is, self-taught) like me can't follow quickly, even though you say you're not trying to.

I'm still waiting on the John Williams examples. Those will help me greatly. Spouting off Stravinsky, Holst, and others are of some help, but not much.

Jeff



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#16 jsawruk

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 01:22 AM

There are no atonal JW examples so far as I know, and almost all are tonal (SW Main Theme, Raiders March, ET, etc. etc. etc.) are all tonal. The Forest Battle, The Asteroid Field, Parade of the Ewoks, and Anakin's Theme are extended tonality. The Flag Parade sounds modal to me, although it uses some extended tonality as well.

For some other film composers:

Steiner used extended tonality
Rozsa liked modality (Parade of the Charioteers, Quo Vadis, etc.)
Goldsmith did it all. Planet of the Apes is atonal, if not serial
More pop-ish composers like North, E. Bernstein, and Elfman love tonality
Davis has used polytonality
Shore uses mostly tonality, but LOTR is primarily modal (listen to Concerning Hobbits or Flight to the Ford for really good modality, and it is presented differently each time)

And countless others...

For those of us more pop or jazz oriented, atonality has never been used in mainstream music. However, there is a fair amount of modality, whose ranks include Gershwin, Davis, The Beatles, The Beach Boys, virtually any rock group since the Beatles, etc. Plus, most traditional songs in every country are modal (look at the English Greensleeves... it has the same modality as the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations!).

Hope this helps us with examples from other areas of music!

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 08:16 AM

Williams' Flute Concerto is atonal.

#18 Morn

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 03:00 PM

North isn't really popish, although that is one element of his style. And North definately doesn't only use tonality.
"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." - Winston Churchill

#19 charlesk

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 04:07 PM

Barry's Kidnapping in CE3K is totally atonal, but this is more like experimental music. It's a great track to scare people.

#20 Frosty

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Posted 11 December 2002 - 07:35 PM

North isn't really popish, although that is one element of his style. And North definately doesn't only use tonality.



North most definitely does use tonality. He's more tonal than he sounds. Again, the key to the discussion is the difference between "atonal" and "dissonant". Listen to some of the examples of "atonal" composers mentioned above. You will definitely hear a difference.
I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sound hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. I am bored with mechanically constructed music and I am also bored with the mechanical revolution against such music. I have found no joy in either and have found freedom only within the sublime disciplines of the East.

Hovhaness

#21 ymenard

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 03:57 AM

We had a couple of threads talking about this in the past, like a couple of years ago. CEof3K has atonal passages, and it's clearly to make a distinct symbiosis with the heavy tonal and lyrical melodies that are also in his score.

Images is obviously atonal. There are some passages in many of his scores where he's cacophonic and borderline atonal. That unused piece in the Jaws score. Some passages of Artificial Intelligence could fit the mold. Mostly it's very small portions, a couple of bars maximum where he lets loose of his orchestration.


Anyway, if I were a director and I had one movie to score with a big atonal score, I would get Elliot Goldenthal!!! Could anyone imagine some sort of brutal Alien3/Final Fantasy but even more complicated, a symphonical masterpiece that would set him in the big leagues. A large choir, a super large orchestra, a complete 120minute atonal work. Wow!!! He's SO underrated :)
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#22 Morn

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 03:03 PM

North isn't really popish, although that is one element of his style. And North definately doesn't only use tonality.



North most definitely does use tonality. He's more tonal than he sounds. Again, the key to the discussion is the difference between "atonal" and "dissonant". Listen to some of the examples of "atonal" composers mentioned above. You will definitely hear a difference.


I know the difference even though not precisely sure how to tell. I never said he doesn't use tonality a lot, but that post was suggesting Rozsa is less tonal. :)
"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." - Winston Churchill

#23 Frosty

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Posted 12 December 2002 - 08:51 PM

:)


Believe me, you can tell instantly.

There sounds are so radically different that you can easily tell the difference. If your local library has a decent CD collection, find some by the composers mentioned earlier, and it will be made abundantly clear.


Frosty

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I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sound hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. I am bored with mechanically constructed music and I am also bored with the mechanical revolution against such music. I have found no joy in either and have found freedom only within the sublime disciplines of the East.

Hovhaness

#24 Morn

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 02:20 AM

I am familar with Schoenberg, Ligeti and some works of Webern, Berg and Boulez. :angry: It's just... what about things like the atonal parts of rite of spring? :)
"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." - Winston Churchill

#25 king mark

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Posted 13 December 2002 - 03:57 AM

Goldsmith did it all. Planet of the Apes is atonal, if not serial
!

the only part of the thread I need.I don't like atonal music i guess.

K.M.

#26 Frosty

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Posted 16 December 2002 - 05:54 PM

I am familar with Schoenberg, Ligeti and some works of Webern, Berg and Boulez.  :|  It's just... what about things like the atonal parts of rite of spring?  :P





There are no atonal parts in the Rite of Spring.
I am more interested in creating fresh, spontaneous, singing melodic lines than in the factory-made tonal patterns of industrial civilization or the splotches and spots of sound hurled at random on a canvas of imaginary silence. I am bored with mechanically constructed music and I am also bored with the mechanical revolution against such music. I have found no joy in either and have found freedom only within the sublime disciplines of the East.

Hovhaness




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