Author Topic: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music  (Read 7360 times)

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Patrick O'Keefe

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Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« on: July 19, 2011, 10:52:21 AM »
On another forum the following comment was recently made
Quote
... atonal music is utterly incapable of conveying an important range of emotions of a more "positive" kind.  Even if you animate it in a rhythmically "playful" manner (which also requires the use of certain emotionally intelligible conventions), atonal music won't come across as happy or optimistic or upbeat.  Tonal music, on the other hand, can communicate a far wider range of affective content. 

That sure sounds like a challenge to me.   :)  Any takers?

Michel.R.E

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2011, 10:56:30 AM »
the problem with the quote you present us is that the original poster's bias is showing.
regardless if someone actually presented "upbeat" or "happy" non-tonal work, he would expect it to conform to his expectations and his application of "conventions" regarding what is acceptable as "upbeat, happy" music.
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Ron

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #2 on: July 19, 2011, 11:11:18 AM »
I have always found it extremely difficult to write purely atonal music. I suspect that the word is often misused by people who don't understand how the concept of tonality has changed and evolved since...well, ever since we started making music.

Anyhow, I'm always up for a challenge, but give me some time.
Ron
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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #3 on: July 19, 2011, 03:18:50 PM »
the problem with the quote you present us is that the original poster's bias is showing.
regardless if someone actually presented "upbeat" or "happy" non-tonal work, he would expect it to conform to his expectations and his application of "conventions" regarding what is acceptable as "upbeat, happy" music.
That is very possible.   He might very well decide that an upbeat piece presented is actually tonal - tonal but full of "wrong" notes.  Or he might deny it is upbeat. 

I have always found it extremely difficult to write purely atonal music. I suspect that the word is often misused by people who don't understand how the concept of tonality has changed and evolved since...well, ever since we started making music.

The person I quoted seems to understand that the definition of "tonal" has changed.  In fact he uses a definition of "tonality" that is broad enough to cover some I would think of as atonal - anything with a tonal center (if I understand what he said).  That might eliminate just about everything except true tone-rows or truly random strings of notes.    Nevertheless, he didn't contradict me when I claimed that Berg's violin concerto is both atonal and beautiful, so he isn't consistently unreasonable.  :)

Michel.R.E

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2011, 03:23:57 PM »
except Berg's violin concerto ISN'T entirely atonal. That's the whole beauty of that concerto: Berg's usage of tone-rows in such a manner as to consistently imply and highlight tonal centers.
I will grant you that it is stunningly beautiful. It's one of my all-time favourite pieces of music.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

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Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2011, 06:47:04 PM »
except Berg's violin concerto ISN'T entirely atonal. That's the whole beauty of that concerto: Berg's usage of tone-rows in such a manner as to consistently imply and highlight tonal centers.
I will grant you that it is stunningly beautiful. It's one of my all-time favourite pieces of music.
I simplified my characterization of the violin concerto, and actually don't remember exactly what I said - something about it slipping in and out of tonality I think.  But the guy (and I suspect you know who I'm referring to) accepted my calling it atonal.   

RJB54

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #6 on: July 19, 2011, 06:52:42 PM »
except Berg's violin concerto ISN'T entirely atonal. That's the whole beauty of that concerto: Berg's usage of tone-rows in such a manner as to consistently imply and highlight tonal centers.
I will grant you that it is stunningly beautiful. It's one of my all-time favourite pieces of music.

I agree, this piece is one of my #4 fav after Beethoven's 3rd, 5th, and 9th Symphonies.

As I've said elsewhere, one of the reasons I love Berg's music is that he almost always keeps a connection to what has gone before.

In the case of the Violin Concerto he used a row which consists of alternating major and minor thirds (with the obvious tonal implications) and concludes with an augmented tetrachord.
This material allows him to include an almost tonal Fin de Sicle Landler or to explictly quote one of Bach's chorales (in 4 part tonal harmony) and make use of the full arsenal of Romantic era emotional affect; yet, at the same time its still completely serial, a magnificant acheivment.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
Frank Zappa

Michel.R.E

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #7 on: July 19, 2011, 07:20:18 PM »
hehe, I'e always interpreted that little ländler as a quasi-quote of Brahms lullaby.. it has that rocking feeling to me.
especially when one considers the dramatic subtext of the work ("to the memory of an angel"... Alma Mahler's daughter, who died young, of leukemia).
One can almost look at the concerto, in its two parts, as a musical representation of the child's life: a first part full of fire, innocence, happiness. Then the second half, when the illness strikes, and the sadness overwhelms, and "es ist genug"
Quote from: choral lyrics
It is enough!
Therefore, Lord, take my spirit
from here to the spirits of Zion;
undo the ties , that gradually are tearing me apart;
set free this mind
that yearns for its God,
that daily laments and nightly weeps:
It is enough!
Hitting those first few notes of the Bach choral setting breaks my heart every time.

And of course, the impressionistic final gesture of the concerto: the unadulterated tone-row as it rises through the orchestra, and "disappears into heaven"...
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

RJB54

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #8 on: July 19, 2011, 08:05:59 PM »
Right. I could go on and on about this piece. Every measure is brilliant.
Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST.
Frank Zappa

Michel.R.E

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #9 on: July 20, 2011, 01:39:17 AM »
...But the guy (and I suspect you know who I'm referring to) accepted my calling it atonal.   

afraid I don't know who. I don't know of which forum you speak.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #10 on: July 20, 2011, 07:35:29 AM »
...But the guy (and I suspect you know who I'm referring to) accepted my calling it atonal.   

afraid I don't know who. I don't know of which forum you speak.
A prominent figure in the Delian Society.

Ron

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #11 on: July 20, 2011, 07:41:14 AM »
This should probably get moved to the theory section and we can start a new one for the challenge aspect of it. In fact, I will do it.

I reason I said it is very difficult to write atonal music is because as soon as you have a group of notes, whether vertical or horizontal, relationships develop and a centre of gravity exists, whether explicit or not. Some notes will be pulling away from that centre; others will be attracted to it.  It takes real effort to keep a centre of gravity moving in random directions. Tone rows is one way--or you can notate by painting staves on a fish tank and recording the "notes" as the fish move. I think that musicians, as a whole, don't really understand the concept of randomization.  The mathematics behind it is mind-boggling.

When I said that many don't understand the concept of tonality, what I meant is that they apply the term to anything discordant--or to music that they do not understand. The problem with that approach is that music requires discords, unless it is geared to very small children. Not understanding certain kinds of music is a pedagogical issue.
Ron
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flint

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #12 on: July 20, 2011, 08:11:47 AM »
On another forum the following comment was recently made
Quote
... atonal music is utterly incapable of conveying an important range of emotions of a more "positive" kind.  Even if you animate it in a rhythmically "playful" manner (which also requires the use of certain emotionally intelligible conventions), atonal music won't come across as happy or optimistic or upbeat.  Tonal music, on the other hand, can communicate a far wider range of affective content.  

That sure sounds like a challenge to me.   :)  Any takers?
I have just the piece - written when I was in college; I'll see if I can dig it up. The recording was lost, though.  :(

Unfortunately, it was done in Encore, so I'd have to re-write it, though it's short. It's a nonsense piece for mezzo, countertenor, and harmon muted trombone. Serial rhythm, lyrics (what a pain that was to figure out!), and the main tone row is Bb C F Ab D G B C# F# A Eb E

Definitely "playful," happy, and humorous.
"Music is like wine; the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

Ron

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #13 on: July 20, 2011, 08:26:40 AM »
Hi Flint,
Don't post your challenge response here. Please take it back to the "Challenges" section. Thanks.
Ron
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Michel.R.E

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Re: Challenge: Upbeat atonal music
« Reply #14 on: July 20, 2011, 08:58:30 AM »
...But the guy (and I suspect you know who I'm referring to) accepted my calling it atonal.   

afraid I don't know who. I don't know of which forum you speak.
A prominent figure in the Delian Society.
Ah, this is why I didn't know.. I rarely if ever visit the Delian site.
"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"