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An Introduction to 20th Century Art Music

Prominent Composers: Debussy, Ravel, Delius, Griffes, Respighi, Szymanowski, Satie, Faure.
Impressionism in music, like in art, aims to create descriptive impressions, not (necessarily) draw clear pictures.
The music is not designed to explicitly describe anything, but rather to create a mood or atmosphere. This is
done through almost every aspect of music: melody, harmony, colour, rhythm, and form. Melodies tend to be
short in nature, often repeated in different contexts to give different moods. In terms of colour, notes are often
drawn from scale systems other than the traditional major and minor. These include pentatonic, whole-tone, or
other exotic scales (for example, Debussy, a major figure of impressionism, was influenced by Asian music).
The use of harmony was a major part of impressionism. Impressionists did not use chords in the traditional way.
For nearly the entire history of Western music, chords had been used to build and relieve tension, thus giving the
music a sense of direction. A good example of this is Mozart's famous Sonata in A, K.331. You can hear the
harmonies constantly leading the music forward until it finally reaches resolution on the final note.
Now to provide an example of impressionism, we have "L'sle Joyeuse" ("The Island of Joy") by Claude Debussy.
This is actually a musical interpretation of the painting "The Embarkation for Cythera" by Jean-Antoine Watteau.
Both the painting and the piece tell the story of a journey to the mythical island of Cythera, an ideal place of love
and beauty. The opening trills suggest the excited anticipation of the travellers; a middle section depicts them
floating over the water; their arrival is heralded by jubilant trumpeting; and their ecstatic joy in realizing their
destination provides a climactic finish. The chords in this piece sometimes serve no harmonic purpose in the
traditional sense; these chords set the joyful "colour" and mood of the piece, and are no longer exclusively used
to build and release tension. Sometimes the melody isn't very clear, but rather implied... We only get an
impression of it.
Impressionism marked the first major steps into Debussy and Maurice Ravel. An especially noteworthy aspect of
impressionism was the weakening of the concept of tonality. Even though impressionist music was still tonal in
nature, the "non-functional" chords paved the way for the later likes of Schoenberg, and others to do away with
tonality altogether.

Prominent Musical Characteristics:
Modal Influences: The medieval modes were attractive to composers who sought to escape the
"tyranny" of the major/minor sound. Emphasized were primary intervals -- octaves, fourths, and fifths -- in
parallel motion. This resembled a medieval procedure known as "organum", where a melody was
harmonized by another which ran parallel to it at a distance of a fourth or fifth.
Whole-Tone Scale: Claude Debussy heard the musicians of the Far East (Java, Bali, and Indo-China). He
was fascinated by the music of the native orchestra, the gamelan, with percussive rhythms and
bewitching instrumental colours. The music of the Far East makes use of certain scales, which divide the
octave into equal major/minor system and leads to obscured fluidity.
Pentatonic Scale: This scale is popularly associated with Chinese music, but is even more familiar to us
through Scottish, Irish and English folk tunes ("Auld Lang Syne" and "Comin' Through the Rye").
Impressionist Harmony: Impressionist composers regarded the chord as an entity by itself, a "thrill" that
hit the ear with a style all its own. Impressionism released the chord from its function as harmony to
movement within the melody.
Parallel Motion: In Classicism, tension was produced by moving voices in a contrary fashion.
Impressionism, on the other hand, vied chords as melodic entities. Thus, it was "proper to move voices in
a parallel fashion (this was "forbidden" in the Classical era).
Escaped Chords: These were harmonies which gave the impression of having "escaped" to another
tonality. Such chords are neither prepared for, nor are they resolved in any traditional sense. They simply
Other Musical Characteristics: There was little room in Impressionism for the "heaven-storming" climaxes of
Romanticism. Instead, there is a veiling of sonority and delicate texture. Impressionism is "opalescent" and
"transparent", shimmering from time to time with showers of sound. Within the orchestra, flutes and clarinets
are used in their dark lower registers. Violins reach for upper sonorities while trumpets and horns are muted.
There is much use of the harp, celeste, triangle, glockenspiel and cymbal (usually brushed with a drumstick).
Phrases tend to be fragmentary and speckled with colour. Rhythm tends to be vague and free, with cadences
being not so clearly defined. Also, phrases tend to overlap and are fluid in character.

Atonality and Serialism

Prominent Composers: Berg, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Webern, Stockhausen, Berio, Penderecki, Carter, Ligetti.
Atonality, in music, is the absence of functional harmony as a primary structural element. The re-emergence of
purely melodic-rhythmic forces as major determinants of musical form in the Expressionist works of
Arnold Schoenberg and his school prior to World War I was a logical, perhaps inevitable consequence of the
weakening of tonal centres in 19th-century post-Romantic music. By the time of Richard Wagners Tristan und
Isolde, for example, the emphasis on expressive chromaticism had caused successive chords to relate more
strongly to each other than to a common tonic firmly established by intermittent harmonic cadences. Eventually,
the chromatic scale of 12 equidistant semitones superseded the diatonic scale, the inseparable partner of
functional harmony, to the extent that melodic-rhythmic tensions and resolutions took the place of the harmonic
cadences and modulations that had determined the structure of Western music for centuries.
Atonality, although well-suited for relatively brief musical utterances of great rhetorical or emotional intensity,
proved unable to sustain large-scale musical events. It was in an attempt to resolve this vexing dilemma that
Schoenberg devised the method of composing with 12 tones related only to each other, a method predicated on
purely polyphonic considerations of the sort that had been largely abandoned during the Classical and Romantic
eras but had, by the same token, been typical of pre-tonal and early tonal music.
In practice, the atonality of a composition is relative, for an atonal work may contain fragmentary passages in
which tonal centres seem to exist. Schoenbergs song cycle Pierrot Lunaire (1912) and Alban Bergs
opera Wozzeck (1925) are typical examples of atonal works.
Polytonality: The simultaneous occurrence of two or more different tonalities or keys (the interrelated
sets of notes and chords used in a composition). If only two keys are employed, the term bitonality is
sometimes used.
Chromatacism: The use of notes foreign to the mode or diatonic scale upon which a composition is based
12 Tone Method: The technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are
sounded as often as one another in a piece of music while preventing the emphasis of any one
note through the use of tone rows, an ordering of the 12 pitches.

Development of the row
The 12 different pitches of Western music are arranged into a series, or TONE ROW, creating an order of intervals.
Serial music is NOT about the pitches; it is about the intervals that are formed between pitches and the order in
which they occur. The first tone row in a given Serial composition is automatically called the PRIME (P) form of
the row.

The prime row can then be transposed to 12 different pitch levels without changing the order of intervals.
The prime row can be turned upside down (the same intervals moving in the opposite direction) without
disrupting the order of intervals. This is the INVERSION (I) and can also be transposed to 12 different pitch levels.

The prime row can be played backwards (the same intervals in the reverse order) without disrupting the order of
intervals. This is the RETROGRADE (R) and can also be transposed to 12 different pitch levels.

The inverted form of the row can be played backwards (the same intervals in the opposite directions and
reversed) without disrupting the order of intervals, This is the RETROGRADE INVERSION (RI) and can also be
transposed to 12 different pitch levels.

The final count is 48 possible row presentations:
12 transposed primes
12 transposed inversions
12 transposed retrogrades
12 transposed retrograde inversions.
As Schnberg originally intended, the complete series of pitches must be heard before any pitch is allowed to
repeat (this does not include reiterations of the same note).