The abandonment of tonality in the early 20th cent. by Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Ives, and many other composers was the next logical step in the evolution of musical style. To compensate for this lack of one principle of order, another had to be substituted. The most successful one proposed thus far is that of dodecaphony, or twelve-tone music (see serial music). Atonality is also used by some to designate all music that has discarded the earlier principle of tonality, whether organized in some other way or not. Others use it only for works such as Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, in which notes and harmonies are used in a free, nonsystematic manner. By the close of the 20th cent., atonal music has become a part of the classical repertoire. However, some critics feel that this music's austerity and rigor lessen its expressive potential, and it has failed to attract a large audience.
See R. Reti, Tonality in Modern Music (1962); G. George, Tonality and Musical Structure (1970); G. Perle, Serial Composition and Atonality (3d ed. 1972); A. Forte, The Structure of Atonal Music (1973).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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