Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music

Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music

Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music

Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth-Century Music

Excerpt

History does not repeat itself, but patterns of historical constellations recur. Part of the fascination of the sixteenth century for the twentieth-century student is the similarity of certain fundamental constellations in two otherwise very dissimilar epochs. The break-up of the one Western Church and the ensuing life and death struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism in the sixteenth century have a resemblance to and a bearing on the East-West conflict of the twentieth century. The crisis of modality in sixteenth-century music resembles in many ways the crisis of tonality in the music of the present. That in both cases political, ideological, and artistic crises are inextricably tied together, is a thesis that can only be suggested here; it must await demonstration in a larger work.

Few musical concepts are more open to debate than the terms "tonality" and "atonality." The inherent difficulty in defining concepts so large and so complex is increased by the dispute on the propriety of one of them. Arnold Schönberg considered "atonality" a misnomer, Igor Stravinsky called it an "abusive term." If I, nevertheless, chose this term, I did so not only because it is commonly used and provides, together with the term "tonality," a framework of initial orientation, but also because I know of no other phenomena in the history of music that can more pertinently be compared with modern atonality than those of . . .

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