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  • Topic: Arnold Schoenberg, Twelve-tone technique, Serialism
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  • Published : April 24, 2011
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Serialism emerged after atonal composers wanted to consolidate their music into a new harmonic language. Atonal music appeared in the beginning of the twentieth century. This music type avoided the principles of the traditional harmony and the establishment of a tonal center in compositions. Arnold Schoenberg was the first exponent of serialism. He announced to his pupils Alban Berg and Anton Webern his new invention in 1921. According to Schoenberg, serialism had a new meaning for atonal composers because it achieved coherence and unity in a musical composition without coming back to traditional procedures such the tonal organization, harmonic relationships, expansion, and development of themes. Arnold Schoenberg (1874- 1951), who is considered the Father of serialism, was born in Vienna, Austria. He began violin lessons at age eight. Alexander von Zemlinsky was his only source for instruction in counterpoint. Having decided to dedicate his life to music, Schoenberg began composing in his teens. The strong influence of expressionism caused him to write atonal music years later. Expressionism was a trend derived from art emerging in the early twentieth century. This art claimed the realm of the unconscious rejection of traditional beauty in order to express more powerfully the artist’s soul (Machlis, 335). In other words, “It took over the romantic love for overwhelming effect and high - pitched emotion, for the strange, the macabre, and the grotesque”(336). Arnold Schoenberg applied this principle into his first atonal works rejecting the good conception of harmony, melody, tonality, color and form. Schoenberg said, “In a few decades audiences will recognize the tonality of this music today called atonality.” He insisted, “Tonal is what is understood today… atonal is what will be understood in the future” (Machlis 334). Even though he was criticized for the use of new ways to express his musical ideas, he believed that real art was not for everybody and that in the future people could understand what his music was about. Arnold Schoenberg also said, “It is not lack of invention or of technical skill that has urged me in this direction.” He added, “I am following an inner compulsion that is stronger than education, and am obeying a law that is natural to me, therefore more powerful than my artistic training” (335). In 1908 Arnold Schoenberg composed his first atonal work. A couple of years later he found the need to build a solid foundation in order to organize appropriately his atonal works. Schoenberg declared, “I was always occupied, with the desire to base the structure of my music consciously on a unifying idea” (Griffiths 86). In his works, atonality missed most of the principal bases of traditional harmony. He thought it an appropriate time to create a method that would be in many ways less restrictive than the traditional diatonic harmony. At the same time it could offer a new organization and right direction for his atonal music. Paul Griffiths says in his Modern Music “Schoenberg had been troubled by the lack of system, the absence of harmonic bearings on which large forms might be directed” (86). As a result of that, the concept of serialism became clearer and atonal writing became self inspired with a new law governing the construction of melodies and harmonies (86). The term serial technique is often used in reference to the series of twelve tones. European writers prefer the expression dodecaphonic which is the Greek equivalent of twelve-tone. Because of that, Serialism is also known as the twelve-tone method which consisted in the equal treatment of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. Schoenberg had used the following characteristics in the development of his atonal music that over time he applied into serialism: 1.-Avoidance of the octave as either a melodic or harmonic interval. 2.-Avoidance of traditional pitch collections, such as a diatonic scale, that might suggest major or minor...
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