Author Topic: What's the Difference in Tonality, Chromaticism, and Serialism?  (Read 2823 times)

millions

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What's the Difference in Tonality, Chromaticism, and Serialism? 

To answer the question, we must find out why Western classical music started getting more and more chromatic in the late Romantic era, until it finally reached its breaking point.

Where did serialism came from? It does seem very suggestive, on the face of it, to say that from extreme chromaticism, Schoenberg came up with his 12-tone method, which led to total serialism.

There's a slight glitch in this view: Tonality is based on the 7-note diatonic scale system. Chromatic notes outside of this scale were used when modulating to another 7-note key area. So tonally, these chromatic notes were never anything more than extras, the result of modulation, or mere passing tones.

In late Romanticism, when the modulation and chromaticism became so pervasive that tonal function and analysis was no longer applicable, we had entered a non-tonal world of total chromaticism.

It was Schoenberg who finally accepted the 12-note scale as the starting point, and developed his system. Schoenberg was the first proto-serialist. The term "serial" is derived from "series," which refers to the ordered series of 12 notes of the chromatic scale.

The grey area of total chromaticism is what I see as the biggest stumbling-block in defining and understanding tonality and its gradual diminishment.

Tonal function and tonal thinking, which divided the octave by the fifth, was replaced by "12-note/chromatic thinking," which divided the 12-note scale equally at the tritone, and exploited inherent symmetries. These symmetries were the smaller divisions of 3 and 4, which naturally suspended tonality by diminished seventh, whole-tone, and augmented harmonies and scales.

I see these chromatic ways of thinking, although connected to tonality, as being more of a departure from tonality, and sharing more concerns with modern serial thought than with tonality.

So, to say "serialism came from extreme chromatic tonality " is misleading and incomplete. To say we are now again in an era of "tonality" is also misleading.

We are in a new era of chromatic thinking, which is also "harmonic" in sound. "Harmonic chromaticism" would be a better term, but the term "tonality" has lost its usefulness, except in describing 18th century common practice, and slightly beyond.

Common-practice tonality (with tonal functions based on one root) needs to be separated from music in which the chromatic scale is the starting-point, and there is no "one root" hierarchy.

Here is a simple chart:

1. Common-practice tonality (with tonal functions based on one root), which includes extremely chromatic tonality, such as R. Strauss' Metamorphosen and Schoenberg's Pelleas und Mellisande

2. Chromatic music (non-tonal); music in which the chromatic scale is the starting-point, and there is no "one root" hierarchy

3. Schoenberg and all serialism which followed

In chromatic music (of the non-tonal variety), local tone-centers can be established, the music "sounds" harmonic, but there is no tonal hierarchy of "one root."

In the more accurate view, common tonality, up to late-Romantic chromaticism, gave rise to a totally chromatic approach, which then gave rise to Schoenberg and all serial thought.

The problem most people have in sorting out this is that common tonality and chromatic music are both "harmonic" and based aurally; chromatic music does not have a single root, but is broken-down into localized tone-centric events which follow their own logic.

Schoenberg and serial music is not inherently harmonic, but by using "special case" sets which exhibit symmetry under transformation, harmonic consequences of rows can be controlled, if this is desired.

For those of you who say "Hauer came first:"

Hauer's system of "tropes" differs from Schoenberg's because it is inherently harmonic, and Schoenberg's method was not.

Hauer's tropes are 6-note sets (hexads). They are in complementary pairs, giving the full 12 notes. I think there are 144 of them.

Hauer's system is really a form of set theory. Hauer's tropes are unordered. This makes them similar to scales. When one examines the interval content of a scale, all constituent interval relations are accounted for. For example, if the hexad were A-Bb-Db-Eb-F-B, this set would be analyzed in terms of every possible interval relation in the set: A-Bb/A-Db/A-Eb/A-F/and A-B; then Bb-Db/Bb-Eb/Bb-F/and Bb-b; then Db-Eb/Db-F/and Db-B, etc., finally yielding a table of intervals listing the frequency of occurrence of each interval.

This results in a "harmonic content inventory." The trope is seen in terms of its harmonic effect, as well as its symmetry characteristics.

Schoenberg's tone rows are ordered. The harmonic content the row will possess is limited to these 12 consecutive interval relations.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2013, 08:26:59 AM by millions »
"In Spring! In the creation of art, it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg
"The trouble with New Age music is that there's no evil in it."-Brian Eno

millions

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Serialism Reconciling with Tonality
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2013, 08:13:42 AM »
Serialism Reconciling with Tonality

The grey area between serialism and tonality, if looked at in terms of advanced serial thought, is struggling to reconcile certain aspects of serialism with tonality. Most listeners here who are vehemently anti-serial are probably unaware of this aspect of serialism.

"All-interval tetrachords" and "all-triad hexachords," are certain sets (out of all the possible sets) which exhibit certain symmetries, such as producing the same set of pitch letter-names under inversion. As I have said in my past posts and blogs, pitch names are tied to pitch identity, a tonal concept, rather than being quantities, as in interval distance.

Thus, using these special-case sets, the composer is able to control the vertical, as well as horizontal consequences of several 'stacked' rows, thus producing controlled harmonic effects, yet never straying from serial principles.

Milton Babbitt is responsible for generating interest in these all-interval sets, although his music (excepting his broadway-style songs) does not reflect an interest in "reconciling" 12-tone ideas with tonality. Elliott Carter comes closer to exemplifying this reconciliation; and George Perle, whose music is largely unknown, espouses these same concepts in his book "Twelve-Tone Tonality."

Excerpts paraphased from Arnold Whitall's Serialism:

Steve Reich said "the reality of cadence to a key or modal center is basic in all the music of the world, Western and non-Western. This reality is also related to the primacy of the intervals of the fifth, fourth, and octave in all the world's music as well as in the physical acoustics of sound. Similarly for the regular rhythmic pulse. Any theory of music that eliminates these realities is doomed to a marginal role in the music of the world. The postman will never whistle Schoenberg."

Reich is not putting-down Schoenberg, but is saying that Schoenberg's best works pre-dated his adoption of the 12-tone system. But Reich is trying to maximise the differences between serialism and his music, minimalism.

Reich does not pursue the possibility that even if serialism eliminates such 'realities' as the acoustic primacy of certain intervals, compositional practice can effectively recontextualize these realities in ways which still remain true to serial method. Elliott Carter is a good example of this.

British composer Richard Barrett (b.1959) wrote in 1988 that "As far as I am concerned, the modernist project is still in its early stages...it is far too early to speculate meaningfully on what the implications of this may end up being."
"In Spring! In the creation of art, it must be as it is in Spring!" -Arnold Schoenberg
"The trouble with New Age music is that there's no evil in it."-Brian Eno