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structural elements in atonal music

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#1
jrcramer

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So, I have recently started to write twelve tone pieces. The old elements of melody, rhythm and harmony, which were clear indicators of the structure, are now less obvious. The tonerow is the source for both melody and harmony. Formally speaking any permutation is a sort of A'. So how do you structure those elements? The way I'm working now seems random to me. It's like I do not know what to do with the newly discovered freedom :D

Sofar I use recurring harmonies and combinations of rows, melodies, rhythms as a sort of structure, but feels not satisfiying since the possibilities are endless. This vast overwhelming choice of options gives the impression that a piece is directionless and can be ended at any given moment, knowing that not all the possible options can be explored...

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#2
AntiA

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There are several ways to accomplish what you're trying to do. Remember that in addition to the traditional elements of music (melody, harmony, rhythm, etc) you now have some additional "elements" to consider here in crafting your work. Some of these factors are dynamics, pitch duration, rhythmic pattern (in the modern sense, I'll explain below), simple and advanced articulations, etc. So, your freedom to express your overall idea is largely based in more than the traditional elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm.

Think about rhythm. In Classicism, rhythm was often used to enhance the overall dissonance. Syncopation is a good example, as it is so often seen in moments of tension in a classic work (i.e. the 1st Movement of Beethoven's Eroica). In modern styles, rhythm has become more of an abstract, independent element. So, where you could say that rhythm in Classicism could assist in clarifying the form of a piece through enhancing a cadential figure, we could say that a rhythmic pattern could establish an entire section of a 12-tone work (which could be said of Classicism as well, except that in most cases, the classic treatment of rhythm may have occurred in opposition to the metrically consonant rhythm of another section). So, it's important to see the difference that a rhythmic pattern is generally not as dependent on other rhythmic patterns in modern styles of 12-tone writing.

Consider also that without the dichotomy of consonance and dissonance (or at least the dependence upon it) the connective tissue that unites ideas in a 12-tone work are far less formulaic. In Classicism, the functional relationship between key areas is fairly predictable - a major tonic key area will usually be followed by a dominant key area in another section, and so on. In modern writing, that connective tissue is up to you to generate. Your task as the composer is to aurally convince your listener that a particular element or set of elements connect and unite the work. There is no one single method or formula that does this in the way a Sonata predictably prepares the expectation of a dominant/tonic relationship, at least from the Classical repertoire pre-1900.

My best advice is to start small. Take a granular idea, work with all the elements you have available to you to convince yourself and others that the idea -is- a musically inspired idea, and build out from there. I think of music in the 20th Century as "aurally dimensional" in that so many elements, from the timbre of the instrument to the loudness/softness of the notes in the idea, create a kind of 3-D germ of musical thought. You can think of it as sculpting, bringing purpose or meaning or some kind of expression to the surface in the total space of sound where we work. Once you reach this point, structure won't be a problem. I'm really only scratching the surface here, but this should be enough to springboard you forward.

EDIT: Also, can we please stop calling it "atonal" music? 12-tone music uses tones... freely. Why don't we call it "free-tone" music or something... just a thought.

#3
jrcramer

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Thanks for this post. I am not sure whether I do not totaly understand what you say, or you just have another vocabulary. In either case it can be helpful, so thanks :D
The reason I started this topic was that I was thinking about it while writing on http://forum.youngco...27386/miniature
In ms 7-10 (cla. + pizz.) the prime is stated. Accents are on the odd notes. In ms 11-13 (trp) the prime is stated again, now with the even notes on the heavier beats of the measure.
In ms 14/5 the prime is stated a 3rd time, now with accents on the first of a group of three notes. (1, 4, 7, 10th), thus revealing the circle of fiths, an important element of the functional harmony I used.

I after the introduction I start with a kind of exposition, exploiting all kinds of properties of the row, each exposition has a different rhythm/texture/orchestration. I explore these ideas horizontally and vertically.
But then... I am overwhelmed by the possibilities I created.

In case the files are not found: http://mydisk.se/jrc...page/music.html


#4
jookyle

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EDIT: Also, can we please stop calling it "atonal" music? 12-tone music uses tones... freely. Why don't we call it "free-tone" music or something... just a thought.


THANK YOU

As some who has been called an Atonal Composer in most cases(having written diatonic/tonal music in a minority) and dabbled in serielism, the only structure there is the one you create. Just make it sound like something you like. IMO you're overcomplicating it simply because it's a new territory you haven't played with it.

#5
jrcramer

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Jookyle, thanks for your remark. That might be true ;)

The naming issue, I think it is a difference in convention between Europeans and Americans, just like the word "serial" means different things depending on continent on which it is said. I remember Gardener had an insightful post about this, some time ago. I know Schoenberg was opposed to this naming, but there is no alternative, that is, there are too many alternativeS ("pan-tonal" "non-tonal" "multi-tonal" "free-tonal" "without tonal center"), from which none is really broadly accepted

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#6
Peter_W.

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I don't think the term "atonal" is going away. :P Many people I've talked with don't really call that many pieces "atonal," because many modern/contemporary works which some might call atonal actually have tonal implications throughout. That makes it neither atonal nor tonal.
I'm finding more and more that it's not that accurate a term, but we have to deal with it.

+1 on AA.

I'd suggest, JRC, not to allow your row to become a sort of "A", because IMO tone rows are not characteristic enough in and of themselves to be identifiable as connective musical glue. Perhaps I am betraying my ignorance, but they all sound so similar once they get going that the individual rows get lost on me and I'm just paying attention to the motion and textures.
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#7
jrcramer

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I'd suggest, JRC, not to allow your row to become a sort of "A", because IMO tone rows are not characteristic enough in and of themselves to be identifiable as connective musical glue. Perhaps I am betraying my ignorance, but they all sound so similar once they get going that the individual rows get lost on me and I'm just paying attention to the motion and textures.


This is helpful peter. Thanks, but I'd like to put your theory in practice. When you look at the twin-topic http://www.youngcomp...ion?entry=52245, there is one tonerow, and 3 different ways of using it, say 'textures' (not entirely sure wheter it applies here or not), say:
A ms 7-10
B ms 11-13
C ms 14-15

Do you think they are different enough, or can you hear all 3 are based on the same row and considder them variations on that single row?

In case the files are not found: http://mydisk.se/jrc...page/music.html


#8
Peter_W.

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This is helpful peter. Thanks, but I'd like to put your theory in practice. When you look at the twin-topic http://www.youngcomp...ion?entry=52245, there is one tonerow, and 3 different ways of using it, say 'textures' (not entirely sure wheter it applies here or not), say:
A ms 7-10
B ms 11-13
C ms 14-15

Do you think they are different enough, or can you hear all 3 are based on the same row and considder them variations on that single row?

...
this doesn't sound atonal to me. :lol: I hear definite tonal implications. I'm not an expert, please someone more knowledgeable correct me if I'm wrong:
one of the fundamental facets of atonality is confounding the sense of a tonal center. I think your tone row itself has a two definite implied tonalities built into it (so-called D Jewish and E Jewish scales, one then the other). So I'm not sure how representative this example is, because for me your harmonies, such as they are, are actually providing cohesion and direction even though the harmonies are pretty dissonant a la serial treatment.

I think the piece is reaaaally cool, though.
Do you have another example of what you're talking about? :veryunsure:
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#9
jrcramer

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haha, thanks.
atonal meant in my case, making use of 12 tone technique. And the I referred to is almost entirely to be understood as a 12tone piece. I am really trying to incorporate the idea of tonal music withing 12tone techniques, but therefore I have little material to refer to, sorry. I should write more, I guess :D
For me this results in pieces I do not considder really tonal. Granted this piece starts and ends on D, but it did not have to. It is at most an anchor, but so is G C F Bb Eb Ab, and later F# There is little to no functional (as in common practice) harmony. Glad you liked it!

If you are looking for other works, I got this idea from Barber I guess (for example piano sonata 3rd movement, go check it out, its awesome!). He uses sometimes snippets of tonerows as a means of developing his material. (in the case of the barber sonata he uses in fact two rows; a breach of protocol so to say) Also famous is Alban Bergs violin concerto. Well. I think you get the idea

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#10
jawoodruff

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I don't think the term "atonal" is going away. :P Many people I've talked with don't really call that many pieces "atonal," because many modern/contemporary works which some might call atonal actually have tonal implications throughout. That makes it neither atonal nor tonal.
I'm finding more and more that it's not that accurate a term, but we have to deal with it.

+1 on AA.

I'd suggest, JRC, not to allow your row to become a sort of "A", because IMO tone rows are not characteristic enough in and of themselves to be identifiable as connective musical glue. Perhaps I am betraying my ignorance, but they all sound so similar once they get going that the individual rows get lost on me and I'm just paying attention to the motion and textures.


I disagree, really. I think it all comes down to how each individual composer utilizes his/her tone row. If done properly it can definitely be as connective musical glue. It all comes down to what you do to accentuate what it is you want your listeners to pick up on.


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