Musics with and after Tonality
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Musics with and after Tonality

Mining the Gap

Paul Fleet, Paul Fleet

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📖 eBook - ePub

Musics with and after Tonality

Mining the Gap

Paul Fleet, Paul Fleet

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About This Book

This volume is a journey through musics that emerged at the turn of the 20th Century and were neither exclusively tonal nor serial. They fall between these labels as they are metatonal, being both with and after tonality, in their reconstruction of external codes and gestures of Common Practice music in new and idiosyncratic ways. The composers and works considered are approached from analytic, cultural, creative, and performance angles by musicologists, performers and composers to enable a deeper reading of these musics by scholars and students alike. Works include those by Frank Bridge, Ferruccio Busoni, Mikalojus Konstantinas ?iurlionis, Rebecca Clarke, John Foulds, Percy Grainger, Mary Howe, Carl Nielsen, Franz Schreker, Erwin Schulhoff, Cyril Scott and Alexander Scriabin. In the process of engaging with this book the reader, will find an enrichment to their own understanding of music at the turn of the 20th Century.

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1 Mining the gap of musics with and after tonality

Paul Fleet
There are three questions we need to ask: (1) what are the musics that are with and after tonality, (2) do we need yet another term for music at the turn of the twentieth century, and (3) what is the gap that can be mined? We need to address these questions not only because they help explore the central themes of the following chapters but also because they are the most likely questions a reader may have on picking up such a book. This chapter and the next are designed to create a virtual parlour before the narrative corridor that leads to the rooms which embody Chapters 3–11. From its first usage, the ‘parlour was a space removed from daily work and reserved for social interaction’ (Logan, 2001, p. 13) and it is in this sense that we use the term here; as a place for speaking and for social and cultural debate. So, if you would care to, please join us, take a seat on the rather plush red-velvet armchair and enjoy the conversation…

Question: what are the musics that are with and after tonality?

At the turn of the twentieth century Berlin, Paris, Munich, and Vienna were capitals of modernity. In the visual, literary, and performing arts as well as in political and social thought these Central European cities contained the people and movements that helped define what can be understood as guiding principles of a movement which, as Christopher Butler (2010) summarizes, saw…
the loss of belief in religion, the rise of our dependence on science and technology, the expansion of markets and the commodification brought about by capitalism, the growth of mass culture and its influence, the invasion of bureaucracy into private life, and changing beliefs about relationships between the sexes.
This was a radical moment not only in social and cultural history but also in music history, which includes its own reading of social and cultural history. Composers in this time period were not suddenly set free from the chains of music for purpose or pleasure but they were more easily able to move around, express, and include the aesthetic and philosophic beliefs that informed their compositions. Within this freedom to move around previously constructed ideals, many composers embraced such openness in their music, and between 1880 and 1930 a wealth of music was composed and performed that reconstructed the external codes and gestures of Common Practice tonality in reconsidered and idiosyncratic ways.
To help put this into context, one of the most typical extroversive codes in a piece of tonally driven music is the perfect cadence. In its most simple form, the movement from the secondary-dominant chord to the dominant chord then onto the tonic chord signals closure by the progression from secondary-dominant to dominant acting as a preparatory step before resolution in movement from the dominant chord to the tonic chord. It does this by utilizing the harmonic energy of a tonally driven cycle of fifths whose Pythagorean energy and culturally coded movement from harmonic tension to resolution (leading notes ‘wanting’ to resolve to the tonic of the consequent chord) informs the progression towards closure (see Example 1.1).
Example 1.1A simple Common Practice three-chord perfect cadence in a generic orchestration of voices.
Source: Author.
It is its externality that matters, not what particular key the piece of music is in nor where the individual orchestration of voices/instruments are during the sounding. The movement from V to I is enough to carry with it the signals of closure. To further illuminate this point outside of musical pieces, such is the external ubiquity of a perfect cadence (and its partner the imperfect cadence) that these sounds when reduced to two single notes (dominant root-note to tonic root-note) were adopted by Microsoft in the late 1990s and have since remained as the auditory notifications for the plugging-in (opening) and unplugging (closing) of a USB device.
Music that is with and after tonality is not bound to follow an external code to generate a sense of closure. Rather the idea of closure is introversive; the codes and gestures that signal tension and resolution throughout the music are reinforced through their repetition-in-context and therefore become themselves the signals of closure. Kofi Agawu (1991) discusses the coding of tonal music and it is worth adapting his sense of play between the extroversive and the introversive for the purposes of understanding music that is both with and after tonality. Musical signs (topics) that consist of a signifier (in this example the form of a cadence to generate closure) and the signified (the conventional function of a cadence to generate closure) move beyond ‘Classical music [which]… is conceptually laden with topical signification’ (p. 49) to become music that is introversively structured with idiosyncratic signification. The following example is deliberately simple in its construction to show how such idiosyncratic signification can be created by a composer.
Example 1.2A simple metatonal three-chord closure in a generic orchestration of voices.
Source: Author.
This closure does not use chord V or I in the key area nor a secondary-dominant connection, and the use of a secondary triad in first inversion has been deliberately constructed to avoid any sense of Common Practice extroversion. Instead, the sense of closure is created through a narrative declaration on a repeated chord that remains within the key area that does not seek to serve as a tonic. The movement from tension to resolution is still with three chords but it is done with the restatement and then prolongation of the harmony marked against the constant duration units (Parks, 2003, p. 199). We might imagine that the time signature and the presentation of harmony in the bars preceding this closure represent events on and across four-beats in every bar. At the close of this imagined section a secondary triad is heard for two beats. It is then repeated to restate its position as a structural marker, and the two soundings of the same chord create tension by stasis which is in contrast to the flow of harmony heard beforehand. The chord is repeated again but this time it is heard for four beats, and this releases the tension of the stasis by creating a familiar space inclusive of the harmony we have just heard but over a longer period of time that includes a natural decay even if it is not orchestrated as such. The rule of three in defining the sense of connected events (Carlson & Shu, 2007) is the only common element between the Common Practice cadence (Example 1.1) and the Metatonal Closure (Example 1.2) and it is hoped that these two musical examples will help in providing an aural understanding of the extroversive nature of the former as a phrase in Common Practice music and the introversive nature of the latter as a simple exemplar of metatonal musics.
The above is true not just for harmonic elements but also for all the elements of music including pitch, duration, loudness, timbre, texture, and spatial location (Burton, 2015). If we simply take the first on this list then a composer’s selection of major and minor seconds and thirds are controlled in tonal music by the scale of the current key area. For example, if a Common Practice composer is in the key area of C major then they will preference the movement from C to D (being a major second) and the movement from C to E (being a major third) over the movement from C to D flat (minor second) and C to E flat (minor third). These latter minor intervals are still in play but they would likely be used by the composer to challenge the authority of C major and potentially signal a new key area. Within music that is with and after tonality the major seconds and thirds hold reference to a recognized key area but crucially the inclusion of the minor seconds and thirds do not disrupt but rather work alongside the major intervals to create a sense of third-space (Bhabha, 2006). Their function sits after their role as the other to an incumbent scale, outside any signalling of a new key area, but before their full inclusion into the equality of a chromatic scale. In essence, if we locate the tonality borne of Species Counterpoint (Fux, 1965) in one corner with its rules of consonance and dissonance clearly in place and serialism/atonality in the other corner with its emancipation of dissonance (Schoenberg, 1975) in full throw then the music being discussed in this volume moves to just over the centre position where dissonance is accepted within a sense of tonality but is more than a chromatic inflection moving back to the preferred interval. We might recognize this as the same space that Dmitri Tymoczko (2011) places in between ‘the chromatic tradition, which rejects five- to eight-note macroharmonies in favour of the chromatic scale; and the scalar tradition, in which limited macroharmonies continue to play a significant role’ and an environment where there are ‘new possibilities lying between these two extremes’ (p. 181). However, such descriptions are difficult to unpack further without the context of the music in question. This book does not seek to categorize all variables in this third space, but it does hope to represent the commonalities of the interplay of musical elements between a scalar and chromatic tradition as each author, in their respective chapters, explores the musical rethinking within the context the composer’s pieces. Therefore, it is perhaps worth leaving this description for the moment as having just enough detail to answer the question of ‘what are the musics that are with and after tonality’ with the answer that they are musics that consciously refamiliarize the codes and gestures of tonality in idiosyncratic ways.

Question: do we need yet another term for music at the turn of the twentieth century?

In short, yes we do but I am firmly aware that this answer is more complex than a simple affirmation of need. Speaking for the collective of academics, performers, and composers in this volume who work in this time-period we have often felt conflicted with the not exclusive list of potential synonyms below. To select just four of these: neo-tonal/neoclassical (which we felt embodied the revival of Classical forms and structures (Whittall, 2021) rather than the fundamental re-thinking of tonal possibilities), post-tonal (which we felt uncomfortable with by its close association to serialism and particularly the theory of Allen Forte (1977)), nor pitch-centric (which we could not completely align with as the term we were looking for needed to include elements of music that were beyond the control of pitch-centres and Stanley Kleppinger (2011) has eloquently acknowledged the ‘tangled connotations of the term’ (p. 65)), nor pan-tonal (which was discounted due to its preference by Schoenberg (1980) to represent music that was without tonal centricity) is quite right for the music by the composers listed in this volume who produced works in this time period.
In 2009, I used the term metatonal in reference to the music of Ferruccio Busoni (Fleet, 2009) as the prefix meta holds the etymology of both ‘with and after’ (OED). Busoni was a composer who had a Janus-like character and believed that tonality had yet to be fully explored. He proposed and developed junge Klassizität [young Classicality] in his teachings and compositions, and in a letter to Paul Bekker stated that this idea was ‘the mastery, the sifting and the turning to account of all the gains of previous experiments and their inclusion in strong and beautiful forms’ (Busoni, 1965, p. 20). In the conclusion to the aforementioned book on Busoni, I made reference to Anthony Pople’s ‘Tonalities project’ (Cross & Russ, 2004) where the late author had begun work considering music that sat in between the boundaries of tonality and atonality because it was such a ripe place for musical analysis. I suggested that my work on Busoni contributed to this engaging space but the idea of describing music as being with and after tonality was something that could equally apply to other composers who inhabited the same social and cultural period in music history.
However, this was not the first appearance of the word ‘metatonal’ in published print regarding musical materials. Randy Sandke (1995), in his Hal Leonard publication, introduces Harmony for a New Millennium: An Introduction to Metatonal Music, where, and I quote, ‘scales and tonality are dispensed with’ (p. 6). Sandke’s use of the word metatonal is therefore employing the ‘beyond’ aspect of its construction and is defined in reference to its author’s classification of fo...

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APA 6 Citation
[author missing]. (2021). Musics with and after Tonality (1st ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
[author missing]. (2021) 2021. Musics with and after Tonality. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis.
Harvard Citation
[author missing] (2021) Musics with and after Tonality. 1st edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
[author missing]. Musics with and after Tonality. 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.