Tonality Within Twelve Tone Music: with Mark Gould 8/2/07

Journal entries by composer and pianist Laurie Conrad

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Tonality Within Twelve Tone Music: with Mark Gould 8/2/07

Post by figaro » Sat Nov 03, 2007 9:10 pm

Tonality Within Twelve Tone Music - the Discussions with Mark Gould Continue: A Composer’s Journal Entry October 2, 2007

Tuesday, October 2

Received this message from Mark today. As usual, I have added my comments and questions to further the discussion. I found Mark’s comments as insightful, valuable and poetic as always.

Hello Dear Laurie!

I am still at this 'address', and will continue to be. I have received confirmation that my broadband move will be active as from the 9th of October, so what I will do is think about these last few conversation points and hopefully explain myself better.

One passing comment - Schoenberg was always stressing the equality of the twelve notes, but, so far as I can tell, no theorist has been able to prove that such an equality exists.

And one other - these momentary fragments of tonality - they do not occur, one then another, but are all present simultaneously - one part has a fragment of one key, and another a fragment of a different key - so the result is like a patchwork. Often different parts interact, so that a key may suddenly shine out of a complex web of very 'atonal' parts. Even when writing using a row that is strongly atonal - all semitones and augmented fourths - the slightest accumulation of pitches can set off strange effects upon the ear.

Will all kindest regards, and hope the fall brings colour to the greying days of the year.


I responded:

Hello dear Mark!

I need to think further on what you have written. Just a few quick thoughts for now, & I would like to pursue this conversation in the future.

I agree: the row would need to be set up a certain way & the music written a certain way, in order to isolate each tone, each pitch. This would be difficult to do, especially as more lines were added. For one: only one row could be used at a time. This sort of writing can bring an infinity with it ... If done badly, it can also bring complete chaos.

However: Schonberg’s main aim, as I understand it, was to free music from tonality, especially the tyranny of the dominant/tonic, i.e. to free music from a tonal system where the other pitches and chords of the scale are subservient to the relationship of those two tones or chords. This would also include the natural relationships of the other chords and tones within the scale, for instance the leading tone reaching for the tonic, and the established and natural chord progressions tonal composers have used throughout history. In my view, at least all this can be achieved fairly easily - if desired - within the twelve tone system.

I agree that traditional chords can exist within twelve tone music, even fleeting progressions; but for me this is not true tonality.

If you would like to present an argument for a different sort of tonality, a sort of tonality where there seems to exist ephemeral tonal centers - taken on faith - taken on the faith that the rest of that tonal framework somehow exists either within the music, fragmented, spread out over great distances within the music - or that the ear accepts these fragments as implied tonalities - or that even within the changing and overlapping chords and tones of twelve tone music a tonal center does emerge, perhaps the manifestation of the natural laws of this universe and the result of how our human vehicle accepts and organizes sounds within the human mind - that could also be an interesting discussion, and I have had those same thoughts.

Unfortunately I must stop now, but I hope to continue this interesting topic. The leaves have still not all fallen from the trees - a very late and extended autumn this year.

Thank you for these discussions

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