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#2081264 - 05/12/13 09:03 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7980
Since some people are talking about how it worked for them...

When I was a teenager, in spite of living in rural America far from any centers of culture, there were several things that opened up my musical sensibilities to all sorts of music beyond the Classical and Romantic (plus a little bit of Bach) that was thought to be "normal" for anyone interested in classical music (not that being interested in classical music was at all normal).

One thing was radio. At that time (it was before FM, even), radio was my window onto a MUCH larger musical world than my immediate surroundings, and I loved it. In particular, I loved the regular broadcasts of orchestral concerts (there were many more of those than of solo recitals). Since I was eager to learn all that I could, I was exposed to lots of new music that way. I didn't "get" a lot of it (I particularly remember being utterly clueless during the broadcast of the world premiere of the Elliott Carter piano concerto, and being angry with myself for being so clueless, and being angry at Elliott Carter for making me feel that way), but at least I understood that was most likely a result of my lack of exposure and education.

Another thing was television, and in particular, the Lenny Bernstein concerts. I still remember how a performance he did of Ives' "The Unanswered Question" just blew me away. It was so gripping that it never occurred to me to even think about "is this atonal music?"

Then I got a recording of Varese's Arcana and Martin's Concerto for 7 Wind Instruments, by Martinon and the Chicago orchestra. It ended up being one of my favorite recordings for many years. The Varese is mostly atonal (but there are tonal references) and it is extremely dissonant. And it is also incredibly exciting, which counted for a great deal to me then (actually, it still does). I have no idea of why it made sense to me on first hearing, but it did. It definitely opened my ears. I also loved the Martin Concerto on that recording - the performance was so intense that no others I've ever heard even come close. An interesting side-light is that Martin is said to have come up with his own version of 12-tone writing - I don't know exactly what that was, but it doesn't sound "atonal" to me.

Then I got a recording that had Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima on it, and that hair-raising piece taught me that intensely expressive music didn't even have to be based on any Western pitch-based systems at all, which makes the whole idea of "atonal" kind of irrelevant. Heady stuff for a kid out in the boondocks half a century ago, I have to say - I loved it. There was a distinct sense of adventure in it for me - the adventure might have been an entirely internal intellectual adventure, but was still quite real. I don't know where kids these days who are interested in classical music would turn for that enlivening sense of adventure.

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#2081332 - 05/12/13 11:21 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5367
Loc: Europe
I was brought up with Bach (ok) and Czerny, as a pianist with several bad teachers. I started composing pretty much through my effort to play something "nice" (that must've been around the age of 11 or so)...

Very soon I realised that, since I wasn't the studying type (I hated studying Czerny), I would never become good at piano playing (fooled myself then), so my only option would have to be being original then. And that was that. I was never bothered by anything 'wrong', or 'bad sounding' or anything like that. I just took in what I liked. Prokofiev at 15 (the Cantata for the 20th commemoration of the anniversary of the October Revolution), some Shostakovich (the 7th "Lenningrad" symphony, and the 10th string quartet), Stravinsky and then Bartok, Webbern, and move my way to more dissonant stuff...

When I was introduced at the 2nd Ligeti quartet, I was kinda stunned. It took me several years to like it (the "drama" was gone), but after that I was fine for anything I guess...
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#2081554 - 05/12/13 07:49 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: wr]
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5964
Loc: Down Under
My experience was so like wr's, even to the Bernstein concerts (the young people's concerts were televised here in the 1960s and opened up a whole new and exciting musical world for me), but also the radio. There was a young generation of Australian composers writing stuff which occasionally was broadcast - I recall Richard Meale's Homage to Garcia Lorca, as well as the Sculthorpe Sun Music series. I then joined a record library and was able to listen to music I'd only read about - the very first record I borrowed was the Berg violin concerto, which I'd read about in the little paperback The Concerto edited by Ralph Hill. I'd been reading and imagining what it must sound like, but the first actual hearing was overwhelming. If you'd told me then that in 50 years' time if you wanted to hear a certain piece all you would have to do would be to press a button (or "click on an arrow" - whatever that could possibly mean) I simply wouldn't have believed it. smile
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#2081599 - 05/12/13 09:49 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Kuanpiano]
Brad Hoehne Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/22/11
Posts: 374
Loc: Ohio
Originally Posted By: Kuanpiano
Look for colour rather than melody.


I agree with this way of approaching actual, atonal music- that is, music that doesn't center around a key signature and actively avoids the techniques of tonality (cadences). It's all about the mood and texture and motif.



I have a few favorite pieces that are, for the most part, completely atonal. All of these require immersion in the sound (so turn up the volume). When I hear them, I like to think about what sort of movie they would accompany. That helps me get a "lock" on the piece:

"Farben" from Arnold Shoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra: quiet and eerie, like a lonely pond waking up:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmEB8LgWTEw

Atmospheres, by Gyorgi Ligeti: a "wall of sound" (crank it up):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aI0P1NnUFxc

Varese, Integrales: Quirky in the use of tone and timbre. Listen to the weird "instruments" he uses (a siren, for instance). Similar is "Ameriques":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBS_Yzb7JCc

Webern's Passacaglia op 1: Not really 100% atonal, but close. Like Debussy, it is still somewhat grounded in tonal techniques, but eschews many of them as well. While it is ostensively in d minor, it never really feels like it settles in that key and there's no "cadence" at the end. Listen to how the "theme" at the beginning is elaborated on and how the variations accelerate in complexity before exhausting themselves and starting and ramping up again. I love wildly out of control it gets- as if the music can't wait to throw caution to the wind. I love this piece

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZelEcPZU8A





Edited by Brad Hoehne (05/12/13 10:40 PM)
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#2081631 - 05/12/13 11:50 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5367
Loc: Europe
Since we're talking and since Joel created this, can I share something (unfairly gaining traffic, blah blah), and check with you guys:

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/2081565/1.html

Is this 'atonal'? Cause while it moves around all over, and the 'episodes' do lose the tonal centres, on the other hands the repeated notes, and the sense of tonality in the theme makes is... un-atonal. No? (Of course I should note that the theme covers all pitches from C to F (in the first instance), and this wasn't random either, but it IS a tonal theme, isn't it? (A modal theme)? (referring to the first video).

This is what keeps getting me more and more confused (especially as I saw that plenty of members here interchange atonal for twelve tone, so I must really be strict with my labelling! grin)
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#2081636 - 05/13/13 12:23 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Nikolas]
Mark_C Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19845
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Is this 'atonal'?....

Just listened to the opening (about half a minute's worth), and didn't read any of your explanation up there because it just would have confused me. grin

YES -- atonal.
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#2081648 - 05/13/13 12:57 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Mark_C]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5367
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
YES -- atonal.
Darn you Mark! grin (kidding of course)...
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#2081651 - 05/13/13 01:03 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Nikolas]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4892
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Nikolas
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
YES -- atonal.
Darn you Mark! grin (kidding of course)...


I know you were kidding, but is there a part of you that is actually WANTING it to be tonal? As if it isn't a good thing to be atonal? Your piece is 12-tone right?

I've also been wondering, what makes 12-tone tonal anyway? How is there any kind of mode?

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#2081656 - 05/13/13 01:48 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5367
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: JoelW
I know you were kidding, but is there a part of you that is actually WANTING it to be tonal? As if it isn't a good thing to be atonal? Your piece is 12-tone right?

I've also been wondering, what makes 12-tone tonal anyway? How is there any kind of mode?
The composing consciously part, yes... wink

The theme (first heard on the first violin, in the first bar), is pretty much on the edge of tonal. There's a very strict repetition of D, along with a figure of EDC#D in the end (which is a pretty tonal cadence). So, yes, I consider the theme to be tonal (modal?), even if I'm using all 5 pitches between a perfect 4th. Second and third appearance of this theme (bar 1) goes to C# and then Eb (semitones, which is one of the main building materials of this movement).

BUT, once the quirky 5/16 episode is over the theme (and it's following appearances) appears from A (and G# and Bb) (so what a normal fugue would be getting as a 'reply')...

So I do consider that there are rather strong "somewhat tonal" roots in there.

It's not a twelve tone work, by far! Not even close! It's got some strict organization, but not what 12-toners use!
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#2081699 - 05/13/13 03:41 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: currawong]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7980
Originally Posted By: currawong
My experience was so like wr's, even to the Bernstein concerts (the young people's concerts were televised here in the 1960s and opened up a whole new and exciting musical world for me), but also the radio. There was a young generation of Australian composers writing stuff which occasionally was broadcast - I recall Richard Meale's Homage to Garcia Lorca, as well as the Sculthorpe Sun Music series. I then joined a record library and was able to listen to music I'd only read about - the very first record I borrowed was the Berg violin concerto, which I'd read about in the little paperback The Concerto edited by Ralph Hill. I'd been reading and imagining what it must sound like, but the first actual hearing was overwhelming. If you'd told me then that in 50 years' time if you wanted to hear a certain piece all you would have to do would be to press a button (or "click on an arrow" - whatever that could possibly mean) I simply wouldn't have believed it. smile


Speaking of clicking on the arrow -

I am familiar with Sculthorpe (and even have his autograph on a cassette tape of his String Quartet No. 8), but didn't know about Meale. So off to YouTube, and although the Homage to Garcia Lorca wasn't there, some of his other pieces were. One was this intriguing and substantial "hardcore" atonal piano piece called Coruscations. The pianist seems to play it very well indeed, and amazingly to me, has it memorized.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTr8rqk9DBA

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#2081780 - 05/13/13 09:24 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Nikolas]
Tim Adrianson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/10
Posts: 1102
Nikolas, I hear this as being solidly tonal, much in the manner of Prokofiev -- the tonal centers shift, but I'm never get the sense of "going nowhere" for an unspecified length of time. I would agree that the last section is irresolute, similar to passages that Prokofiev wrote when he specifically wanted to project confusion and loss of equilibrium -- but that's all within the context of a tonal centeredness. For me, the effect is not like serial music, where one is hurled into perpetual and unending irresolution.

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#2081871 - 05/13/13 12:01 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Tim Adrianson]
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5367
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: Tim Adrianson
Nikolas, I hear this as being solidly tonal, much in the manner of Prokofiev -- the tonal centers shift, but I'm never get the sense of "going nowhere" for an unspecified length of time. I would agree that the last section is irresolute, similar to passages that Prokofiev wrote when he specifically wanted to project confusion and loss of equilibrium -- but that's all within the context of a tonal centeredness. For me, the effect is not like serial music, where one is hurled into perpetual and unending irresolution.
THANK YOU!

That's exactly what I mean with all my comments about 'atonal', etc... The first movement has strong tonal tendencies (even if it goes around a lot) so it's difficult to show that it's going 'nowhere' as Tim says!

Thank you Tim (for the time listening, commenting, posting, supporting, etc! :))
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#2086936 - 05/22/13 05:06 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2472
Loc: France
I heard this composer Lorenzo Romano on the radio this afternoon, loved his music. Surely right up Joel's alley !

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#2086947 - 05/22/13 05:21 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: landorrano]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4892
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: landorrano
I heard this composer Lorenzo Romano on the radio this afternoon, loved his music. Surely right up Joel's alley !


I'm listening to Chi ha paura delle maree. This is not music.

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#2086994 - 05/22/13 07:13 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: landorrano]
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8926
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: landorrano
I heard this composer Lorenzo Romano on the radio this afternoon, loved his music.

Wow. Didn't like it at first, but I must say, it grew on me.

Very interesting, thanks for introducing me to it!
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#2087022 - 05/22/13 08:17 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
Damon Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/22/06
Posts: 6224
Loc: St. Louis area
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Originally Posted By: landorrano
I heard this composer Lorenzo Romano on the radio this afternoon, loved his music. Surely right up Joel's alley !


I'm listening to Chi ha paura delle maree. This is not music.


It's better when he doesn't take the repeat.
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#2087025 - 05/22/13 08:25 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: Damon]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4892
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: Damon
Originally Posted By: JoelW
Originally Posted By: landorrano
I heard this composer Lorenzo Romano on the radio this afternoon, loved his music. Surely right up Joel's alley !


I'm listening to Chi ha paura delle maree. This is not music.


It's better when he doesn't take the repeat.


lol

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#2087192 - 05/23/13 07:18 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
The Hound Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/11
Posts: 124
Interesting thread. I'm going to my first recital involving atonal music next month - Marc-Andre Hamelin playing Ives's Concord Sonata (he's also doing Brahms Op. 5, so it should be a nice mix). I'm still learning how to approach atonal music in some ways. I certainly think that the notion of looking for colour as opposed to melody is a very good way to start, though. I think I will check out that Bernstein lecture when I have the time, especially given the apparent focus on Ives. I'm going as much to marvel at Hamelin's technique as anything, but I'd like to have as full an appreciation of the Concord Sonata as possible.

Probably one of the first people to pique my interest in this kind of music was Frank Zappa, one of my very favourite musical artists. I know he was hugely into Varese and took great inspiration from him. Interestingly, when Zappa wrote atonal music he would often (but not always) eventually "resolve" it into tonality, heightening the pleasing effect of the latter by means of contrast.


Edited by The Hound (05/23/13 07:25 AM)

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#2087286 - 05/23/13 10:39 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: The Hound]
beet31425 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/12/09
Posts: 3832
Loc: Bay Area, CA
Originally Posted By: The Hound
Interesting thread. I'm going to my first recital involving atonal music next month - Marc-Andre Hamelin playing Ives's Concord Sonata (he's also doing Brahms Op. 5, so it should be a nice mix).

I've heard Hamelin in concert perform the Concord. It was one of the best musical experiences of my life.

My advice for a "full appreciation" of the Concord is to listen to a recording, actively, many times. This sonata actually only plays with atonality; as is often the case with Ives, traditional folk tunes and hymns are always poking their heads in. As well as the opening motif to Beethoven's fifth symphony.

Start with the third movement, which is 95% tonal and 100% accessible. Go on to the second and fourth movements, which are harder to conceptualize, but wild and serene, respectively. The first movement is by far the most imposing and austere. But even that movement has some moments of lonely beauty appreciable even on a first listening, as well as sheer rugged greatness that makes itself felt after some familiarity.

-J
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#2087353 - 05/23/13 11:51 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: beet31425]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5425
If you're looking for a well-known piano sonata that use serial techniques and atonality, Barber's Sonata is one of the best. (Horowitz and Browning are notable exponents of it).

Like all the best atonal music, Barber never lets atonalism get in the way of the emotion and the message he wants to convey.
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#2087429 - 05/23/13 01:48 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: bennevis]
landorrano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/26/06
Posts: 2472
Loc: France
Originally Posted By: bennevis

Like all the best atonal music, Barber never lets atonalism get in the way of the emotion and the message he wants to convey.


I you will permit me, one could say the same for all music.

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#2087490 - 05/23/13 03:09 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: bennevis]
jeffreyjones Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/31/10
Posts: 2385
Loc: San Jose, CA
Originally Posted By: bennevis
If you're looking for a well-known piano sonata that use serial techniques and atonality, Barber's Sonata is one of the best. (Horowitz and Browning are notable exponents of it).

Like all the best atonal music, Barber never lets atonalism get in the way of the emotion and the message he wants to convey.


Barber is never atonal for a second. The whole piece has constant pedal points to remind you of exactly where you are.

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#2087581 - 05/23/13 06:08 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: beet31425]
The Hound Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/17/11
Posts: 124
Originally Posted By: beet31425
Originally Posted By: The Hound
Interesting thread. I'm going to my first recital involving atonal music next month - Marc-Andre Hamelin playing Ives's Concord Sonata (he's also doing Brahms Op. 5, so it should be a nice mix).

I've heard Hamelin in concert perform the Concord. It was one of the best musical experiences of my life.

My advice for a "full appreciation" of the Concord is to listen to a recording, actively, many times. This sonata actually only plays with atonality; as is often the case with Ives, traditional folk tunes and hymns are always poking their heads in. As well as the opening motif to Beethoven's fifth symphony.

Start with the third movement, which is 95% tonal and 100% accessible. Go on to the second and fourth movements, which are harder to conceptualize, but wild and serene, respectively. The first movement is by far the most imposing and austere. But even that movement has some moments of lonely beauty appreciable even on a first listening, as well as sheer rugged greatness that makes itself felt after some familiarity.

-J


Thanks for that. Will definitely give it a few listens before I go.

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#2088451 - 05/25/13 07:26 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: bennevis]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7980
Originally Posted By: bennevis


Like all the best atonal music, Barber never lets atonalism get in the way of the emotion and the message he wants to convey.


As arch-conservative tonal composer Saint-Saens pointed out, using music to convey emotion and a message is not a necessary function of music, although doing that will appeal to the amateurs.

It's never occurred to me that "the best" atonal music was characterized by conveying emotion or any message other than the music itself. Which is not to say that it cannot convey those things - I'm not the kind of purist that denies that music can do that.

But-

Just like finding beauty and interest in the natural world (which could care less about my emotional response to it), I am quite happy when music is simply intriguing or beautiful or catches my interest in almost any way.

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#2088494 - 05/25/13 10:34 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: wr]
JoelW Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/25/12
Posts: 4892
Loc: USA
Originally Posted By: wr
Just like finding beauty and interest in the natural world (which could care less about my emotional response to it)[...]


I couldn't care less about how much you could care less. wink

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#2088509 - 05/25/13 11:11 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2606
Loc: Manchester, UK
Of all Americanisms, that is definitely one of the ones I 'could' care less about.

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#2088520 - 05/25/13 11:43 AM Re: Atonal Music [Re: wr]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5425
Originally Posted By: wr

As arch-conservative tonal composer Saint-Saens pointed out, using music to convey emotion and a message is not a necessary function of music, although doing that will appeal to the amateurs.

It's never occurred to me that "the best" atonal music was characterized by conveying emotion or any message other than the music itself. Which is not to say that it cannot convey those things - I'm not the kind of purist that denies that music can do that.


Just like finding beauty and interest in the natural world (which could care less about my emotional response to it), I am quite happy when music is simply intriguing or beautiful or catches my interest in almost any way.


Personally, I couldn't care less (i.e. I could care more, but don't give a dam*) what composers choose to write. After all, one could throw dice and write 'music' based on the notes they come up with.....er, oops, it's already been done grin.

Plenty of amateurs - me included - write music purely to please themselves. In the natural world, birds sing for a reason, but leaves rustle for none at all....
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"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2088576 - 05/25/13 01:15 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: JoelW]
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2606
Loc: Manchester, UK
The reason leaves rustle is because the wind blows them.

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#2088628 - 05/25/13 03:37 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: debrucey]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5425
Originally Posted By: debrucey
The reason leaves rustle is because the wind blows them.


Touché wink

Here's something to entertain all who love the rustle of leaves in spring (and nice tunes and recognizable harmonies grin) ......
http://youtu.be/lvT2vU-z7kA
_________________________
"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#2088777 - 05/25/13 07:31 PM Re: Atonal Music [Re: bennevis]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7980
Originally Posted By: bennevis
Originally Posted By: wr

As arch-conservative tonal composer Saint-Saens pointed out, using music to convey emotion and a message is not a necessary function of music, although doing that will appeal to the amateurs.

It's never occurred to me that "the best" atonal music was characterized by conveying emotion or any message other than the music itself. Which is not to say that it cannot convey those things - I'm not the kind of purist that denies that music can do that.


Just like finding beauty and interest in the natural world (which could care less about my emotional response to it), I am quite happy when music is simply intriguing or beautiful or catches my interest in almost any way.


Personally, I couldn't care less (i.e. I could care more, but don't give a dam*)


Uh-oh, I don't normally make that mistake. Or at least I think I don't. Aarrgghh!!

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