NB tasks 1 and 2 please submit electronic versions as well by the end of the course (email to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Atonality and Abstraction in the Visual Arts
In this session we chart the parallel artistic development of music and the visual arts from figuration and tonality to abstraction and ‘atonality’ and its variants.
Students learn what is meant by atonal music and how the concepts of consonance and dissonance have evolved throughout the course of musical history. By examining the Symphony (Op.21) of Schoenberg’s pupil Anton Webern, we start to examine the techniques by which atonal music can be created.
- Pierrot Lunaire (1912) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veUJxETj7-c
- Opus 11 with score and annotations – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDiyVJVeNXg
- Opus 23: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7A9HSlgDlQE
- Analysis of Op 23 by M Krzyaniak – Serialism and dodecaphony before Schönberg’s Opus 23 http://michaelkrzyzaniak.com/Research/EarlySerialism/
- Performance of Dunstaple Veni Creator Spiritus quoted in the above
- Opus 25 Gavotte with score: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oqa1cw0PNOg
- Analysis of Gavotte: http://www.musictheory21.com/documents/straus-introduction-to-post-pp167-178.pdf
- 12 ways of listening to Schoenberg’s journey to serial music
- Hahl-Koch, J., 1984. Arnold Schoenberg, Wassily Kandinsky, letters, pictures and documents, London & Boston: Faber and Faber.
- Meyer E. da C., F. Wasserman, eds., 2003. Schoenberg, Kandinsky, and the Blue Rider, New York & London: Scala Publishers.
- Shaw-Miller, S., 2002. Visible deeds of music: art and music from Wagner to Cage, New Haven, CT & London: Yale University Press
Questions to Consider
- Why did Schoenberg consider tonality ‘outworn’ by the start of the twentieth century?
- Are we justified in drawing a correspondence between atonality in music and abstraction in the visual arts?
- What might be the counterpart of dissonance in the visual arts?
Indicative Seminar Activity
- In order to understand Schoenberg’s ‘emancipation of dissonance’ we survey the evolution of consonance and dissonance throughout musical history, and relate this to the evidence of the harmonic series.
- We demonstrate how the atonal music of Schoenberg and his pupils avoids the consonances of tonal music (octaves, fifths and thirds) and we analyse Webern’s Symphony, Concerto and Variations in order to demonstrate his approach towards serial technique.
- Students are asked to create their own 12-note row and to write a two part canon or canon-by-inversion which avoids the use of consonances.
- Matrix Generator
Serialism: Webern Symphonie Op.21 (1928)
We learn about Schoenberg’s discovery of serial technique as a means of composing atonal music and unifying the content of a musical work. We learn how Schoenberg’s pupils Webern and Berg each adapted serial technique to suit their own compositional purpose, and analyse Webern’s Symphonie Op.21. Students learn how to listen to atonal music. They uncover the serial construction of Webern’s Symphonie Op.21 and consider this as a model for their own serial composition.
- Webern: Symphonie21 with (poor quality) score – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBf2K4S4Nmk&list=PLId6OIy1d7FT-02qoBSJw8snTX-OZ-tcy, or here
- Score: http://imslp.org/wiki/Symphony,_Op.21_%28Webern,_Anton%29
- Salzman, E., 2001. Twentieth Century Music 111-120
- Brindle, R.S., 1986. Serial Composition, (1966), Oxford: OUP
- Schoenberg, A. ‘Composition with Twelve Tones’ in Kostelanetz, R. and J. Darby (eds.) Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music (pp.233-263), (1996) NewYork: Schirmer
- Griffiths, P., 1983. Second Viennese School (pp.118-126) London: Macmillan
Questions to Consider
- Why did Schoenberg arrive at the method of serial composition, rather than continuing to write free atonal music?
- Is the technique of serialism an artificial creation, or does it have historical roots?
- What are the characteristics of Webern’s serial style, in contrast to Schoenberg and Berg?
- What do we make of Schoenberg’s comment that, before long, milkmen would be whistling his tone rows?
Indicative Seminar Activity
- Students are introduced to the twelve-note row of Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments and are led to uncover its properties. We examine movement 1, uncover the retrograde symmetry and discuss whether it is audible; retrograde structures in the electro acoustic domain are discussed by way of comparison.
- The construction of movement 2 is also explained to students, and offered as a compositional strategy for their own work.
Follow-Up Work: Assessed Item 2
- Students are required to write a strict serial composition for two or more instruments, lasting between 30 seconds and three minutes. A brief written commentary and two copies of the score should be submitted: a performing score, and an annotated score demonstrating the serial construction. See assessments for submission details.