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That's a good question and there are plenty of different answers.  If we liberate our minds from the ideal of beauty and ugliness--

Thus, Western musical history can be seen as starting with a quite limited definition of consonance and progressing towards an ever wider definition of consonance. Early in history, only intervals low in the overtone series were considered consonant. As time progressed, intervals ever higher on the overtone series were considered consonant. The final result of this was the so-called "emancipation of the dissonance" (the words of Arnold Schoenberg) by some 20th-century composers. Early 20th-century American composer Henry Cowell viewed tone clusters as the use of higher and higher overtones.


(Debussy & Stravinsky are about as liberated as I get...)

So--the most naturally dissonant intervals--where the frequencies are all clashing (and this can be effected by pitch, too--so that two notes played far apart on the keyboard have different vibrational relationships, and if you swap notes over you get different effects (e.g. play a low A and a high C, then play a low C and a high A)--would not be called ugly--(but I might hear them as ugly because the lack of resolution would disturb my ears, say)--it would be called "sound"--and "organised sound" is one way of starting to think about defining music (etc!)

Schoenberg is famous for developing the twelve tone series, where each of the twelve semitones in a standard western octave are played in succession, no repetitions of notes until the series (all twelve notes) has been played.

Schoenberg is okay (I'm at work so I can't go searching); Webern is the name I would most associate with "most or all intervals pretty ugly".  

I'll tell you my theory; but have a listen, it's certainly music that is attempting to do specific things--maybe post up what you found?

So: serialism, twelve tone, Schoenberg, Webern, Cage...

Atonality in its broadest sense describes music that lacks a tonal center, or key. Atonality in this sense usually describes compositions written from about 1907 to the present day where a hierarchy of pitches focusing on a single, central tone is not used as a primary foundation for the work. More narrowly, the term describes music that does not conform to the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized classical European music between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

More narrowly still, the term is used to describe music that is neither tonal nor serial, especially the pre-twelve-tone music of the Second Viennese School, principally Alban Berg, Arnold Schoenberg, and Anton Webern.

Composers such as Alexander Scriabin, Béla Bartók, Paul Hindemith, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Edgard Varèse, however, have written music that has been described, in full or in part, as atonal.


(As I wrote, for me Stravinsky and Debussy are both everything tonal and most things beyond, whereas some of the other names never did anything tonal--or very little.)

Right, my theory:  you see, the a-tonal serialism was (let's say) developed before, during, and after WWI--so there was a technical element (developing Debussy et al's developments, natural movements in the western musical tradition); but I think there was also a moral element--

--well, my theory is that with serialism etc they (in their own words) wished to pare music back to its bare bones, lose all the superfluous sounds--

--but as you wrote above, the harmonics are already creating definite patterns within a single note--specific resonances, so (for me) music that refuses to enter tonality (there are rules about how many major intervals you can have together etc...so it's not just "choose, mix and match"--there's an element of "you must not be tuneful")--

Anyways, Webern--and Berg; I have a friend who enjoys Berg, can't tell you which pieces--a piano concerto?  I'll find out this evening, let you know.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Wed May 14th, 2008 at 05:11:30 AM EST
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