Atonal music for violin
What are some important atonal works for violin and orchestra/piano accompaniment?
How does a violinist approach an atonal work as opposed to a tonal composition? Is it more about bringing out a certain feeling rather then stating a melody?
Well you have the Berg violin concerto. Thats the only thing I can of at the moment
Me improvising at home, with the occasional quarter-tone thrown in ;)
Schonberg, Max Davies, Rautavaara, Ligeti, Gerhard concertos? It's a while since I listened to any of them so I can't remember how atonal they are.
As Heifetz said, the most important thing about atonal violin music is that it reminds us how thankful we should be for Beethoven and Mozart.
What Cotton said.
The advice I remember from a long-deceased conductor is not to play it like it's "new" music; it all derives from the classical tradition and the same classical values apply. Yfrah Neaman's recording of the Gerhard concerto (I've currently got it playing on youtube) is a perfect example of how to extract lyricism from seemingly gritty material - I'm really pleased to be making its acquaintance so thank-you Peter
Schoenberg's Fantasy for violin and piano.
"Some of Gesualdo's madrigals verge on the atonal"
The first atonal work that I was taught was Webern's Four Pieces, which is a 12 tone work. I found it to be incomprehensibly weird.
I wonder if we shouldn't re-tune the violin in diminished fifths, to remove those stifling tonal resonances?
Lydia - I agree. I can recall many years ago in college playing one of the Webern pieces in chamber orch. It was almost impossible to count correctly and figure out where to come in. As frustrated as I was, I eventually concluded that whether I came in precisely at the right time or not hardly mattered. The thing sounded awful regardless. As Blair Tindall pointed out in her book Mozart in the Jungle, Webern was accidentally shot and killed at the end of WWII by an American soldier, although some people may have wondered if the soldier did it on purpose to forestall more of his awful compositions.
"But, I wailed, good broadcasting and great art offer a kind of serendipity that expands your horizons rather than keeping you in an eternal feedback loop." ~Stuart Jeffries
Jeewon - if you go to the Musee de l'Homme in Paris, you can see the mummy that was apparently the inspiration for the Munch when he did the Scream. Poor fellow probably died suddenly in the middle of some atonal or twelve tone concert.
The biggest problem is in interpretation. The second biggest problem is if you don’t have absolute pitch, it can get quite dicey. The third biggest problem is that the rhythms these 20th cemtury composers used are often challenging.
Lots of the late classical and romantic music experiments with some very out-there sounds, just like atonal music and all the other postmodern junk. The difference is that that music still had some sort of emotional centre, and energy, and spontaneity to it.
With all due respect (to the commenters, not the OP), the reason classical music is supposedly 'dying' is because pretentious wealthy old people refuse to program anything later and more innovative than Mahler in the concert hall, thus propagating the belief that western art music is exclusively for the upper-class.
Everything I play is atonal. Or maybe I just have bad intonation :p
Thanks everyone for your responses. I actually got interested in atonal music by learning an atonal piece, L'Antienne (chant) composed by Georges Delerue, circa 1983. It's a short piece - 3 minutes long - and intermediate in difficulty, which is perhaps rare for an atonal work. I'm curious what others think of this piece. Personally, I think it very accessible and uses the violin effectively. I've appended a link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnApTEmj_cI
While I don't love atonal music, its hate for its own sake is unwarranted, in my view. I most certainly do not listen to much of it-its puzzle-like theory is painful to my mind-but undoubtedly there must be many who find joy in listening and performing at least some of it.
So Tom, if you had to represent The Scream, or the horror of Hiroshima, or the absurdity of an accidental death, or
Jeewon, there is much tonal, (or non-atonal!) music which expresses the world you describe, using the expressive character of the various intervals to greater effect than putting all intervals rigorously on an equal footing.
Jeewon - good question. I'll give it some thought.
I can add to Adrian's comment by mentioning that in some Irish fiddle music, especially from the West coast of Ireland, there are a few tunes that have a quarter-tone between C-nat and C-sharp on the A string, for expressive purposes. These don't necessarily appear as such in some tune collection editions because the transcriber assumed, wrongly, that what he heard was a C-nat or C-sharp played out of tune, and notated his best guess accordingly. However, there are other editions which draw attention to the quarter-tones.
Jeewon, I was first thinking of Stravinsky, Bartok, Britten or Shostakovich, with a "stretched" tonality which I find expressive of the 20th century violence and anguish. But also of "non-tonal" works by e.g. Varese or Penderecki.
It is acceptable to play atonal music with poor intonation?
Paul - given my experience playing Webern (see above), it may well be that no one could tell the difference.
Adrian, I think you're making my point for me. When those composers use tonality I think it's in an ironic or nostalgic way, and all the 20th C expression is contained in their "stretched" parts, much closer to Schoenberg than Beethoven, though not disjointed from the revolutionary composer, who himself was considered noisy and incomprehensible by his critics. In any case I think you agree a new language had to be developed to express a new, post-world war, post-holocaust, post-apocalyptic experience of the world.
Interesting how the general public find atonal music difficult to listen to but would feel it makes sense as a soundtrack to a movie at the appropriate dramatic point.
Jeewon - I think a new musical language of sorts was developed, but I am not sure that it expressed anything in a way that conveyed meaning to people, at least not to most people. Partly, this occurred because of the Holocaust. Many of the Jewish composers who were killed by the Nazis and whose sheet music was destroyed were tonal composers. Schoenberg was the most important surviving composer, and his legacy ruled the field, somewhat by default. He did nothing to promote the music of the tonal composers who did not survive. A good example was his brother-in-law, Zemlinsky, a wonderful composer in the Mahler tradition who managed to get to the US but died during the War. Schoenberg did nothing to promote the excellent music Zemlinsky composed.
"It is acceptable to play atonal music with poor intonation?"
First of all, Atonal music is a contradiction in terms.
Boulez did an interesting unaccompanied violin piece. And John Harbison did a suite.
Tom -- that's what I was thinking too. LOL
I disagree it "had to be invented" because of the wars-otherwise, it should be the standard music for our divided, ethnic and religious "war-happy", and often bigoted world.
@Tom - what an amazing slant you give to Schoenberg's career. Surely you know that his music was declared "entartete" by the Nazis. In 1934 he emigrated to the US where he converted to Judaism (about the best thing he ever did).
Steve - how could it not be declared entartete by the Nazis. He was Jewish by their lights and his music was not tonal. So, yes, he emigrated, but the other stuff I said is also true. For those interested in the composers who were obliterated by the Nazis, I recommend the Orel Foundation website, established by Maestro James Conlon who has done more than most to resurrect these composers and their music: orelfoundation.org. When Conlon was Music Director in Cologne, Germany, he was able to get funding from the City to record most of Zemlinsky's oeuvre because Zemlinsky had been born there.
Tom, I'm not sure what you're arguing anymore. The mid-twentieth C musical landscape
I like the terms that are emerging here: extended tonality, post-tonal, atonal, non-tonal. How about "anti-tonal"?
Another of Tom's points that seems a little cockeyed; during his lifetime Schoenberg hardly "ruled the field" in Austria and Germany (where for much of the time his music was banned) or in the rest of Europe where national schools such as the Russian, French and British carried on regardless. Then in the 1950's it was influential figures such as Pierre Boulez and William Glock who decided tonality was dead. I don't think this was ever Schoenberg's ambition so let's accept him for what he was - a somewhat arrogant genius whose influence didn't stifle western music but nourished it. And I can't stand him!
What a lot of people don't realise is that the 1st and 3rd mvts of Bartok's concerto no.2 contain many 12 tone passages. The genius is in the very well thought out intervallic calculation, combined with a slow moving bassline. I can assure you that this is probably the most beautiful 12 tone music you will come across. As for how to approach this kind of music: play with the intervals and try to feel intent behind the relationships. Technically, I guess 12 tone is a subset of atonality... but similar principles apply.
I like atonal music more than tonal music. The latter sounds, in my opinion, simplistic and outdated.
Steve - I think Schoenberg regarded classical tonality as dead before WWII. I suspect it was his ambition to move music beyond tonality, but I agree that his influence had some positive effects on Western music although it had lots of negative effects, ending with much of classical music finding itself at a dead-end. However, the fact remains that with his influence after WWII, he did nothing to help save and promote the music of the exterminated composers.
"There is still plenty of good music to be written in C major," said Schoenberg to his advanced composition class at UCLA in 1940. It should be noted that Schoenberg wrote tonal music side-by-side with his serial and nontonal music, especially in the 1930s and 1940s.
Adrian: "pretending that all musical intervals are equivalent, when out ears tell us otherwise"
Scott - After the War, Schoenberg was either the most, or one of the most, important/influential living composers of classical music. He was also Jewish and converted back to Judaism during this period. His BIL, Zemlinsky, managed to escape the Holocaust but only lived until 1942. He certainly would have known who these composers were, particularly his BIL. So, I really wonder why he did not do more to preserve and promote their legacy. Why did Maestro James Conlon become the first to really promote Zemlinsky's music?
World War II went on in Europe until 1945. I'm not sure Schoenberg would've had access to the music of the composers you talk about. Schoenberg died not long after the end of the War (1951, in Los Angeles), and in the years immediately after the war, how likely is it that anyone was thinking about the legacies of composers?
I would say Schoenberg was a "great" composer by sheer talent, not through atonality. And his pedagogical treatises on classical harmony, composition etc. are unequalled. His early atonal works are "expressionist" ranging from the spectral to the tortured. Then he claims "to have made a discovery that will ensure the supremacy of German music for centuries to come" i.e. the twelve-tone row. And tries to write charming or romantic works where even consonant intervals are used only for texture, rather than expression.
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