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       M U S I C          T H E O R Y         O N L I N E

                     A Publication of the
                   Society for Music Theory
          Copyright (c) 1995 Society for Music Theory
| Volume 1, Number 5    September, 1995    ISSN:  1067-3040   |

  All queries to: mto-editor@boethius.music.ucsb.edu or to
AUTHOR: Covach, John R.
TITLE: Schoenberg's Turn to an "Other" World
KEYWORDS: aesthetics, atonality, Goethe, Heidegger, musical
worlding, mysticism, Schoenberg, Schopenhauer, Steiner, Swedenborg

John R. Covach
Department of Music
Hill Hall, CB# 3320
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3320

ABSTRACT: The present paper constitutes an extension of an earlier
article in this journal.(1)  Building on the notion of musical
worlding introduced in that essay, I explore Schoenberg's turn to
atonality in the period of 1908 and after.  I argue that Schoenberg
employs atonality as a means of disrupting tonality in order to
create an "other" world; this otherness is created by opening up a
tension between the world of the "great German tonal masterworks"
and the particular atonal piece.  Schoenberg's fascination with
other worlds is explored, and atonality is cast as a technical
solution to an aesthetic problem that runs throughout Schoenberg's
music and thought: how to represent the spiritual essence of music.

1. John R. Covach, "Destructuring Cartesian Dualism in Musical
Analysis" *Music Theory Online* 0.11 (1994), reference:
mto.94.0.11.covach.art.  See also my "Musical Worlds and the 
Metaphysics of Analysis," *Music Theory Online* 1.1 (1995).  
An earlier version of the present study was presented as part of 
a poster session at the 1994 Lancaster Music Analysis Conference.  
I would like to thank Allen Forte and Robert Wason for reading 
an earlier version of this study and offering valuable suggestions.  
Please note that while all German umlauts have been represented 
below with the addition of an "e," French diacritical marks, 
unfortunately, do not appear owing to restrictions of character use 
in the current online format.


          Ich fuehle luft von anderem planeten
                                     Stefan George, "Entrueckung"

          Schoenberg is endeavoring to make complete use of his
          freedom and has already discovered gold mines of new
          beauty in his search for spiritual harmony.  His music
          leads us into a realm where musical experience is a
          matter not of the ear but of the soul alone--and from
          this point of view begins the music of the future.
                                          Wassily Kandinsky (1911)

[1] In the third and fourth movements of his Second String Quartet
of 1907-8, Arnold Schoenberg sets texts by Stefan George, adding a
soprano to the traditional four string instruments.  As is well
known, Schoenberg does not provide a key signature for the last
movement, and many writers have taken this as an indication of the
composer's turn to atonality.  Recalling this period much later in
his life (1949), however, Schoenberg points out that throughout all
the movements of Op. 10 "the key is presented distinctly at all the
main dividing-points of the formal organization."(2)  Still, the
combination of Schoenberg's (subsequent) turn to atonality and the
George text referring to the "air of other planets" has been too
much for many writers to resist.

2. Arnold Schoenberg, "My Evolution," in *Style and Idea*, ed.
Leonard Stein, trans. Leo Black (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1984), 86.

[2] Viewing his turn to atonality in the period around 1908-9 some
years after the event, Schoenberg tended to emphasize the ways in
which his atonal music extended the great German musical tradition. 
With an almost Hegelian faith in the inevitable forward progress of
history, Schoenberg tended to view his rejection of tonality as a
natural development of the tonal language itself, playing down the
idea that atonality constituted a radical turning point in the
history of Western art music.  By contrast, Carl Dahlhaus has
challenged the notion that atonality forms a necessary continuation
of tonal music and questions whether Schoenberg's turn to atonality
was really as historically inevitable as Schoenberg later tended to
portray it.(3)

3. Carl Dahlhaus, "Schoenberg's 'Aesthetic Theology,'" in
*Schoenberg and the New Music*, trans. Derrick Puffett and Alfred
Clayton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 81-93.  

[3] This article explores Schoenberg's turn to atonality by
employing an interpretive perspective adapted from philosophical
hermeneutics.  Working from Martin Heidegger's notion of
fundamental ontology,(4) I propose that one way pieces of music are
meaningful is in a particular work's relation to other works within
some group of works.  For example, pieces of tonal music in the
German tradition--the canonical works of eighteenth and nineteenth
century in which Schoenberg was so interested--form a kind of
"community" of works.  When one considers a single piece, one
considers it within the context of this community of other related
works.  Even if one considers only the characteristic features of
a single work, the exceptional features of the specific work will
have to arise by a comparison with other pieces that are somehow
related to it, even if this occurs only implicitly.  Thus, it is
almost impossible to consider any piece of tonal music in isolation
from other works, and every analysis or experience of some work
invokes the other works in the canon.  In this way, the listener or
analyst "situates" a work within the context created by its
tradition, and meaning is thought of as arising not only within the
work itself, but also from its relation to other works.

4. Heidegger's fundamental ontology is presented especially in his
*Being and Time* [1927], trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson
(New York: Harper and Row, 1962).

[4] I will argue that Schoenberg's turn to atonality was
essentially an attempt to write music that could not be situated in
traditional ways within the tonal world of the "great masterworks." 
If the canon of eighteenth and nineteenth-century tonal works can
be thought of as a kind of "musical world" in which the individual
pieces that make it up are variously situated, rejecting tonality
had the effect of casting these atonal pieces into a novel
relationship with the musical world of the masterworks--one in
which the traditional inter-opus relations are no longer valid but
in which these connections still form the basis for musical
understanding and meaning in a radically transformed way; meaning
is created by an inability to situate a work in the expected and
traditional manner.  Each atonal work thus resides outside of the
musical world of the canonical tonal works--in a kind of "other"
musical world--while simultaneously relying on that tonal world for
its effect.

[5] Thought of in this manner, the interpretive question with
regard to Schoenberg's turn to atonality changes significantly. 
Rather than exploring how atonality constitutes an extension of
turn-of-the-century tonal practice (or even how it constitutes an
anticipation of the twelve-tone method), one might instead explore
why Schoenberg may have felt compelled to seek an "other" world. 
I will argue that atonality is meaningful precisely because of its
difference from tonality--a difference that creates an aesthetically 
crucial disruption of tonal practice.  A consideration of the many 
texts Schoenberg used in his works during this period, as well as the 
literary and philosophical texts that seem to have exerted some 
influence on his thinking about music, reveals a strong fascination 
with "other" worlds of various types.  Atonality is thus posited as a 
technical solution to broader aesthetic and philosophical problems 
that occupied Schoenberg during this period, and indeed, throughout 
his career.

[6] In pursuing these issues, this study will first briefly review
an application of Martin Heidegger's fundamental ontology to
musical experience, focussing especially on the notion of "musical
worlding."  I will then consider and summarize Schoenberg's
fascination with the mystical notion that music can provide a
glimpse of an "other," higher realm of existence.  These ideas can be 
traced in part to Arthur Schopenhauer's "metaphysics of music," but 
also in part to Honore de Balzac's philosophical novels (which were 
influenced by Emanuel Swedenborg's theology).  Schoenberg's 
awareness of Goethean science was almost certainly influenced in at 
least an indirect way by Rudolf Steiner's writing.  I will then review 
well-known accounts of Schoenberg's turn to atonality (Schoenberg, 
Adorno, Dahlhaus, Forte).  I will argue that recovering the aesthetic 
impact of Schoenberg's atonal music requires one to situate each 
particular piece with regard to the musical world of the German tonal
tradition, but to situate it outside of that tradition.

[7] In his important book, *Being and Time* of 1927, Martin
Heidegger argues that the Western philosophical tradition since the
time of Plato has operated under a number of assumptions that have
become tacit, but that none the less determine the ways in which we
think about crucial philosophical questions.  One assumption that
Heidegger examines is what is often termed the "Cartesian subject-
object split."  This means that in our daily lives we tend to
divide our experience into an inside (our thinking selves as
subjects) and an outside (objects in an external world). 
Transferred into the musical realm, the subject-object split refers
to the separation that occurs--however tacitly--whenever we
approach a piece of music as an object in some world "out there,"
an object distinct from ourselves as perceiving and/or conceiving
subjects.  It is probably safe to say that in our analysis of works
we tend to assume this subject-object distinction; while we are
mostly not at all clear on what the specific nature of the musical
object is, we nevertheless proceed as if that problem can be
"bracketed" in analytical discussion.

5. This section summarizes longer and more detailed discussions of
musical worlding that appeared in my "Musical Worlding: Heidegger's
Fundamental Ontology and the Understanding of Music," *Methods: A
Journal for Human Science* (1994): 49-58; and "Destructuring
Cartesian Dualism in Musical Analysis."  The reader is referred to 
those articles for a fuller treatment of the issues raised in this section.

[8] Following Heidegger's model of "fundamental ontology," and thus
in an attempt to "de-structure" our assumptions about how meaning
arises in the musical experience, I have argued that particular
pieces of music are situated within what I term "musical worlds." 
The musical world of a piece is a number of other works that form
a kind of background--a body of other pieces that create a purely
musical context for some particular piece.  The musical world of a
piece is the product of our cumulative experience in music, and is
usually not something of which we are consciously aware as we
listen.  The exact pieces that make up a musical world could never
be exhaustively listed; in a certain sense they are what is closest
to us in our musical experience, but by virtue of this they are
also what is most difficult to articulate in a conscious manner:
musical worlds are transparent.  

[9] *At the most fundamental level, we do not experience a piece of
music as a self-contained object*.  It is rather more like a
location within a rich network of other pieces in our musical
experience.  *Musical understanding* arises when we are able to
situate a particular piece within such a musical world, and
*musical meaning* arises as we appreciate the particular way in
which the work is situated.  Thought of in this way, the work is
not so much an isolated point as much as it is a location of
gathering together.  We may explain this gathering together in
terms of tonality, form, row structure, motivic development, etc.,
but such descriptions will always be derivative objectifications of
a more basic kind of musical experience.  Thus in every analysis of
any particular work one may pose the questions: how does this
analytical interpretation situate this work with regard to some
musical world? and how can that world be characterized?

[10] A brief example will serve to clarify the relationship between
a work and the musical world in which it may be situated.  Let us
take a familiar work as an example, the first movement of
Beethoven's Op. 2/1 piano sonata.  Following Schenkerian theory and
a Heideggerian destructuring of it, one might first take the movement as
a five-line piece, and then question what exactly the nature of
this property of "five-lineness" is; how can it be
characterized?(6)  Analysts typically write about the five-line--
and the *Ursatz* and transformations that are part of the multi-
layered structure of the voice leading--as if it were a property
that is inherent in the piece itself.  This implies that, taken in
isolation from other works, the first movement of Op. 2/1 manifests
the property of "five-lineness," and that this property might
exist, perhaps as a kind of Platonic musical Idea, prior to any
particular manifestation of it.

6. Graphs of portions of this piece can be found in Allen Forte and
Steven E. Gilbert, *Introduction to Schenkerian Analysis* (New
York: Norton, 1982), 152, 238; and Charles Burkhart, "Schenker's
'Motivic Parallelisms,'" *Journal of Music Theory* 22/2 (1978):
145-175.  See also Schenker's pre-*Ursatz* analysis of the work in
*Der Tonwille* 2 (1922): 25-48.

[11] I hasten to point out that I am reading these analytical and
theoretical claims as tacit ones; they are brought to our attention
as the result of destructuring our assumptions about analytical
interpretation.  An interpretation in terms of musical worlds,
however, would hold that "five-lineness" is a relationship that
exists not only within the work, but also and most importantly
*between* works; without other works that resemble this movement
from Op. 2/1, there could be no five-line.  The principal claim is
that the five-line is a way of situating a work within a musical
world of other works like it; and as such it constitutes not so
much a description of a property inherent in the work itself (taken
as an isolated musical object), as much as an interpretation that
places the work in the richest possible context within some

7. This is, of course, a very brief and general treatment of this
issue.  I have offered a more extended destructuring of the tacit 
claims in music-analytical practice in my *Musical Communities, 
Communities of Music: A Hermeneutic Approach to Musical 
Meaning*, a paper presented at the special conference 
"Bordercrossings: Future Directions in the Study of Music," Ottawa, 
Canada (March 1995).  The issues touched on in this section, however, 
warrant much fuller consideration and I will return to this topic in a 
future article and deal much more thoroughly with the many questions 
that my discussion raises.

[12] The sustained appeal of Schenkerian theory and analysis is the
result, in large part, of its power to effectively situate individual 
tonal works from the eighteenth and nineteenth century with regard 
to the musical world of the "great German masterwork."   But 
Schoenberg's atonal works cannot be situated with regard to that 
musical world in quite the same way.  Even the advanced chromaticism 
of Schoenberg's tonal music, though it pushes at the boundaries of the 
musical world of German masterwork, can still be situated within that 
tradition.  In Schoenberg's atonal music, however, it is the very way in 
which these works evoke the musical world of the tonal masterwork 
while remaining outside of it that is the crucial factor in suggesting a 
kind of musical "otherworldliness" in Schoenberg's atonal music.

[13] Before moving on to a discussion of atonality, it may be
helpful to explore briefly Schoenberg's fascination with the idea
that music can somehow penetrate into an other and higher spiritual
realm--a fascination that is reflected in both those writers whom he
found most interesting, and in the texts he chose to set during his
atonal period.  Let us begin with Schoenberg's interest in the philosophy 
of Arthur Schopenhauer.  Schoenberg is known to have studied 
Schopenhauer's philosophy carefully, and it is especially Schopenhauer's 
aesthetics of music that bear upon the present discussion.(9)  As is well 
known, Schopenhauer divided our knowledge of the world into two 
aspects, the world as representation and the world as will.(10)  
Responding to Immanuel Kant's claim that we are restricted in our 
knowledge of any object by our manner of representing things to 
ourselves internally (that is, we can never really know what things in 
the external world are really like, but only how they appear to us), 
Schopenhauer posited that we can come to understand these 
"things-in-themselves."  The Kantian thing-in-itself is something 
Schopenhauer calls the "will."  The will exists outside of time, space, 
and causality (these being *a priori* modes of our internal representation).  
As such, the will is absolutely unified, though it is subject to various 
degrees of objectification.  While the other arts capture these various 
degrees of objectification of the will through the Platonic Ideas, music
captures the will directly, in a manner that has no need of the
Ideas.  Music thus provides the most accurate representation of the
will and, in a certain sense, provides a window onto an "other"
world--the will itself.

8. This section summarizes much longer and more detailed
discussions that have appeared in my "Schoenberg and the Occult:
Some Reflections on the 'Musical Idea,'" *Theory and Practice* 17
(1992): 103-18; "The Quest of the Absolute: Schoenberg, Hauer, and
the Twelve-Tone Idea," *Black Sacred Music: A Journal of
Theomusicology* 8/1 (1994): 157-77; and "The Sources of
Schoenberg's 'Aesthetic Theology,'" paper presented at the annual
conference of the American Musicological Society (November 1991),
Chicago, Illinois. 
9. Schopenhauer's influence on Schoenberg is explored by Pamela
White in her article "Schoenberg and Schopenhauer," *Journal of the
Arnold Schoenberg Institute* 8/1 (1984): 39-57; and in her book
*Schoenberg and the God-Idea* (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1985).
10. The main points of Schopenhauer's philosophy are set down in
his main work, *The World as Will and Representation*, 2 vols.,
trans. E. F. J. Payne (New York: Dover, 1969).  Music is discussed
in detail in the third book of volume one, section 52 (pp. 255-67),
and in chapter 39 of the second volume, "On the Metaphysics of
Music" (pp. 447-57).

[14] Schoenberg was also influenced by the description of an "other 
world"--in this case a spiritual world--as it occurs in the writings of 
the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).  The evidence 
suggests, however, that Schoenberg did not get his knowledge of 
Swedenborg's ideas from reading Swedenborg directly, but rather 
Schoenberg seems to have gleaned his knowledge of Swedenborg 
from the philosophical novels of Honore de Balzac.(11)  Consider 
the following passages from *Seraphita* that describe Swedenborg's 

     In fact, to the spirit, time and space are not.  Distance and
     duration are proportions proper to matter; and spirit and
     matter have nothing in common.

     But the spirit was in the infinite, and they did not know that
     in the infinite time and space are not, that they were divided
     from him by gulfs, though apparently so near.

     In short, everything was at once sonorous, diaphanous, and
     mobile; so that, everything existing in everything else,
     extension knew no limits, and the angels could traverse it
     everywhere to the utmost depths of the infinite.(12)

Schoenberg mentions Balzac's account of Swedenborg's vision of
heaven, as it occurs in Balzac's *Seraphita*, in his famous 1941
essay, "Composition With Twelve Tones."(13)  Schoenberg likens his
notion of the unitary perception of musical time and space to
Swedenborg's heaven, where time and space in the physical sense are
radically transformed.  Thus music, in the most fundamental sense,
can be thought to exist in a realm where time and space are
unified, and the parallels that Schoenberg draws to Swedenborg's
ideas suggest that this realm is not only an "other" one, but a
spiritual one as well.

11. Schoenberg had a single volume of Swedenborg in his personal
library (preserved at the Arnold Schoenberg Institute in Los
Angeles), and many of the pages remained uncut.  See Clara
Steuermann, "From the Archives: Schoenberg's Library Catalogue,"
*Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute* 3/2 (1979): 203-18. 
For a discussion of the influence of Balzac, Swedenborg, and
Steiner on Schoenberg's unfinished oratorio, *Die Jakobsleiter*,
see Karl Woerner, "Schoenberg's Oratorium *Die Jakobsleiter*: Musik
zwischen Theologie und Weltanschauung," *Schweizerische
Musikzeitung* 105 (1965): 250-57 and 333-40.
12. Honore de Balzac, *Seraphita*, trans. Clara Bell, ed. David
Blow (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1989), 143, 148, and 151.
13. Schoenberg, "Composition with Twelve-Tones," in *Style and
Idea*, 220.

[15] Schoenberg was probably also familiar with the mystical 
interpretations of Goethean science forwarded in the 1880s and 90s 
by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).  Though Steiner began his career as 
a scholar editing Goethe's works for two editions, including the 
prestigious Weimar edition, after the turn of the century his thinking 
took a distinct turn toward the occult.  In 1902 he became head of the 
German-speaking branch of the Theosophical Society, and in 1913 he 
formed his own organization, the Anthroposophical Society.  Steiner 
always maintained that his later occult philosophy was founded in 
German Idealism, and especially in the writings of Goethe.  Steiner 
believed--and argued that Goethe believed--that there exist realms finer 
than our coarse physical one and that through intuitive perception one 
can gain access to these finer, and higher spiritual realms.  In 1897, 
Steiner wrote as follows:

     Goethe's basic conviction was that something can be seen in
     the plant and in the animal that is not accessible to mere
     sense observation.  What the bodily eye can observe about the
     organism seems to Goethe to be only the result of the living
     whole of developmental laws working through one another and
     accessible to the spiritual eye alone.  What he saw in the
     plant and the animal with his spiritual eye is what he

Thus, if Schoenberg's understanding of Goethean science was
influenced by Steiner or his followers--and Steiner had plenty of
followers in Vienna at the turn of the century--then his use of
Goethe's science as a model for certain of his theoretical ideas
suggests that for Schoenberg music offered a means of spiritual

14. Rudolph Steiner, *Goethe's World View*, trans. William Lindeman
(Spring Valley, New York: Mercury Press, 1985), 77.
15. Severine Neff has stressed the importance of Goethean science
in Schoenberg's theoretical writing; see her "Goethe and
Schoenberg: Organicism and Analysis," in *Music Theory and the
Exploration of the Past*, eds. Christopher Hatch and David
Bernstein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993): 409-433.  It 
is worth noting that the writings of Schopenhauer, Swedenborg, and 
Steiner are ultimately incompatible in a strict philosophical sense; I 
deal with this problem at some length in "The Sources of Schoenberg's 
'Aesthetic Theology'" cited above.

[16] Schoenberg's interest in other worlds can also be seen in his
librettos from the atonal period.  The libretto to Schoenberg's
unfinished oratorio *Die Jakobsleiter* begins as follows:  

     Whether to right or left, forward or back, uphill or down, one
     must go on, without asking what lies ahead or behind.  It
     shall be hidden: you were allowed to forget it--you had to--so
     as to fulfil your task.

Certainly *Die Jakobsleiter* is the text from Schoenberg's atonal
period most obviously under the influence of mystical ideas.  In
fact, Karl Woerner has suggested that this libretto has much in
common with Steiner's "Mystery Dramas," which were produced in
Vienna before the First World War.(16)  Indeed, the whole of *Die
Jakobsleiter* takes place in an "other" world.

16. Woerner, "Schoenbergs Oratorium *Die Jakobsleiter*."

[17] While not as obviously mystical, many of the other texts used
by Schoenberg during his atonal period address what might today be
thought of as "alternate modes of consciousness."  As Adorno has 
suggested, for example, *Erwartung* opens up a moment in time; an 
event that might occur in a minute's time takes up roughly a half hour 
in performance.(17)  *Die Glueckliche Hand* also opens and closes 
with the same scene (the man with the winged creature on his back), 
suggesting that the action unfolds in something other than chronological 
time.  These texts have often been interpreted in psychological--and 
specifically Freudian--terms (*Erwartung* especially).  But it is 
important to recognize that in occult and mystical philosophies, "other" 
worlds are not always heavens; one can also catch glimpses, or even 
sustained visions, of hell.  The difference lies in the fact that what is for
psychologists a hell that exists only in the mind of the patient subjectively, 
is for mystics like Swedenborg or Steiner something that is really there 
in an objective sense.

17. Theodor W. Adorno, *Philosophy of New Music*, trans. Anne G. 
Mitchell and Wesley V. Blomster  (New York: Continuum, 1973), 30.

[18] Having briefly considered the notion of musical worlding as well 
as Schoenberg's fascination with other worlds, we can now explore how
Schoenberg's turn to atonality may have been motivated by an aesthetic 
drive to project an "other" musical world.  Let us first review the 
familiar accounts of Schoenberg's turn to atonal composition that have 
been offered.  The composer himself tends to seek continuities between 
his earlier tonal practice and his subsequent atonal one; he emphasizes 
that atonality was a natural next step in the development of chromatic 

     Most critics of this new style failed to investigate how far
     the ancient "eternal" laws of aesthetics were observed,
     spurned, or merely adjusted to changed circumstances.  Such
     superficiality brought about accusations of anarchy and
     revolution, whereas, on the contrary, this music was
     distinctly a product of evolution, and no more revolutionary
     than any other development in the history of music.(18)

18. Schoenberg, "My Evolution," 86.

[19] Theodor Adorno, while not denying the disruptive effect that
atonality produced, nevertheless focusses on the broader aspects of
the historical inevitability of the emancipation of the dissonance:

     What at the time seemed a radical break may be seen today as
     ratification of the inevitable.  Schoenberg overturned the
     vocabulary, from individual sounds to the schemas of the large
     forms, but he continued to speak the idiom and to strive for
     the kind of musical texture which is inseparably tied to the
     means he eliminated, not merely through common genesis but
     through its very meaning . . . Even in his most advanced works
     he remained traditional.(19)

For Adorno, Schoenberg's turn to atonality did constitute an
important shift, but the passage of time allows us to see that this
change was inevitable, and thereby not as radical as it may have
seemed at the time.

19. Theodor W. Adorno, "Arnold Schoenberg," in *Prisms*, trans.
Samuel and Shierry Weber (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981), 160.

[20] Allen Forte, by contrast, construes atonality and tonality as
distinctly different musical contexts.  While his account of
Schoenberg's transition from tonal to atonal composition emphasizes
the fact that certain collections of pitch classes that arise in
the tonal works later re-appear in the atonal works, these
collections are recontextualized in a crucial way.(20)  In the
fully atonal works, Forte holds that tonality is no longer operative, and
the distinction between tonality and atonality is sharply
drawn.(21)  Forte begins the Preface to his important study, *The
Structure of Atonal Music*, for instance, with the following

     In 1908 a profound change in music was initiated when Arnold
     Schoenberg began composing his "George Lieder" Op. 15.  In
     this work he deliberately relinquished the traditional system
     of tonality, which had been the basis of musical syntax for
     the previous two hundred and fifty years.  Subsequently,
     Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg, and a number of other
     composers created the large repertory known as atonal

20. Allen Forte, "Schoenberg's Creative Evolution: The Path To
Atonality," *Musical Quarterly* 64/2 (1978): 133-76.
21. Allen Forte, "Sets and Nonsets in Schoenberg's Atonal Music,"
*Perspectives of New Music* 11/1 (1972): 43-64.
22. Allen Forte, *The Structure of Atonal Music* (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1973), ix.

[21] Carl Dahlhaus, in a certain sense siding with Forte and
breaking with Adorno's argument in an important way, privileges the
disruption that Schoenberg's turn to atonality caused:

     Yet the fact remains--and to have to admit this is rather
     difficult for a historian--that it is, strictly speaking,
     impossible to give a reason for Schoenberg's decision of 1907. 
     Those who speak of historical necessity, of the dictates of
     the historical moment which Schoenberg obeyed, make the event
     appear more harmless than it actually was.  The suspension of
     the existing order, the proclamation of the musical state of
     emergency, was an act of violence.  And thus the theories with
     which Schoenberg attempted to justify the emancipation of the
     dissonance are characterized by a helplessness which prevents
     us from taking them at their word as being motives for
     compositional decisions.(23)

For Dahlhaus, Schoenberg's turn to atonality is indeed a turn to a
distinctly different musical context; but it also constitutes a
decision on Schoenberg's part that cannot be accounted for in terms
of such a Hegelian notion as the progress of history.

23. Carl Dahlhaus, "Schoenberg's 'Aesthetic Theology,'" 88.

[22] Considering the various accounts of Schoenberg's turn to
atonality, there are a number of ways that one might apply the
notion of musical worlding to the analysis of the atonal works.  By
privileging the notion of historical continuity, for instance,
atonality may be seen to extend and continue the tonal tradition. 
According to this approach, atonality is not really "atonal," but
rather a more complicated kind of tonality.  Thus, the disruptive
effect of "atonality" is illusory, and Schoenberg's atonal pieces
should be heard as extending the tonal practice.  Any particular
atonal work is thus situated within the musical world of the German
masterworks of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, and analyses
may employ modified Schenkerian graphs or Roman-numeral analyses. 
In various and sometimes very contrasting ways, this approach has
been taken up by Will Ogdon, Kenneth L. Hicken, William Benjamin,
and Graham Phipps.(24)  For the present discussion it is not as
crucial to explore *how* each analyst casts atonality as an
extension of tonal practice, as much as it is to note simply *that*
each offers such an argument.

24. Will Ogdon, "How Tonality Functions in Schoenberg's Opus 11,
Number 1," *Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute* 5/2 (1981):
169-181; and Kenneth L. Hicken, *Aspects of Harmony: Schoenberg's Six
Little Tonal Pieces, Op. 19* (Winnepeg: Frye Publishing, 1984).  See
also Graham H. Phipps, "Harmony as a Determinant of Structure in
Webern's Variations for Orchestra," in *Music Theory and the
Exploration of the Past*, eds. Hatch and Bernstein (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1993), 473-504; while this article deals
with Webern's twelve-tone music, its author assures me it is also
representative of the approach he takes to the atonal repertory.
William Benjamin's work in this area remains unpublished, though he
demonstrated his analytical approach to the atonal repertory in a
recent presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for Music
Theory in Tallahassee, Florida (1994).

[23] A second approach, represented primarily by pitch-class set
theory, holds that atonality creates a self-contained musical
world.(25)  According to this view, the disruption caused by
atonality is privileged.  Atonal pieces cannot be situated within
the musical world of the German masterworks; instead these works
create a musical world of their own.  Thus, one situates any
particular work with regard to other atonal pieces; in considering,
say, Schoenberg's Op. 11/1, one interprets it not with regard to
earlier tonal pieces, but rather with regard to other atonal
pieces like it.  The reader may object at this point that pitch-
class set theory does not make specific claims about how works
should be structured, but rather generalizes relationships that
exist potentially within the twelve-pc musical environment.  While
this may be true in part--though it might prove helpful to
destructure why we choose to examine the kinds of relationships
that we do--meaning arises in atonal analysis when the analyst
interprets the results; and it is the mode of interpretation, I am
arguing, that will be determined by one's experience with other
atonal works.  In short, we operate according to the
"hermeneutic circle": we generally attempt to interpret new atonal
works in terms of our experience with familiar ones, and the
relationships we privilege in so doing situate the atonal work
within a world made up of other atonal works.(26)

25. It is assumed that readers of this journal are familiar with
the central texts in pitch-class set theory; for those unfamiliar
with this literature, see the Bibliography provided in John Rahn,
*Basic Atonal Theory* (New York: Schirmer, 1980).  An interesting
contrast between the first and second approaches discussed here can
be readily seen by comparing Ogdon's analysis of Schoenberg's Op.
11/1 (cited above) with Forte's analysis of the same piece
appearing in his "The Magical Kaleidoscope: Schoenberg's First
Atonal Masterwork, Op. 11, No. 1," *Journal of the Arnold
Schoenberg Institute* 5/2 (1981): 127-168.
26. As with my discussion of Schenkerian theory above, this is an
all-too-brief treatment of a topic to which I will return in a
future article.

[24] There is a third way of thinking about atonality, however;
atonality can be seen to serve as an "other-worldly" location from
which to view the "world" of traditional tonality.  The problem
with the kinds of tonal approaches cited above is that each attempts to
rationalize--and thereby minimize--the music-historical break caused
by atonality.  The second approach, however, too quickly dispenses
with the value of the tonal past in interpreting atonal music;
clearly the past is evoked in atonality, though how it is evoked is
problematical.(27)  This third approach holds that any particular
piece of atonal music must be viewed against the musical world of
the German masterworks; but, by virtue of the difficulty of
situating such a piece within the tonal tradition, the work assumes
a location outside the musical world of these masterworks. 
According to this view, atonal works are not situated with regard
to one another (creating an "other" world of atonality), but rather
each atonal work is situated outside the tradition in an individual
way; each atonal work, in a sense, steps outside the tonal
tradition and reflects back on it from a position that views the
tradition from the outside.

27. This discussion deals only with aspects of pitch structure in
the atonal works.  Clearly any discussion that would incorporate
the dimensions such as rhythm, form, texture, motivic development,
and gesture will locate other ways of evoking earlier repertoires.

[25] A familiar analytical example drawn from Schoenberg's *Sechs
kleine Klavierstuecke*, Op. 19 (1911), may help to clarify the
approach I am suggesting.  The second piece contains a G-B dyad
that is repeated throughout this nine-measure work.  In mm. 7-9, a
progression of major thirds descends against the ostinato dyad,
creating a succession that proceeds F-A, E-flat-G, D-flat-F, and C-
E.  A tonal analysis of this passage might take these thirds as a
stepwise descent from G to C interpreted in the key of C, though
Hicken, in fact, takes the piece in G.(28)  The entire piece might
be seen then as prolonging scale-degree 5, with a descent to scale-
degree 1 in the final measures.  A pitch-class set analysis might
account for the various collections that result from combining
other pitch classes with the central G-B dyad; the argument of the
piece seems to center on the important trichords (0 1 4) and (0 4
8), and culminate with the statement of the (0 1 4 5 8 9) all-
combinatorial hexachord as the final sonority of the piece. 
Interpreted in this manner, the final "stepwise" descent up to the
penultimate dyad D-flat-F could be thought of as the whole-tone
collection (0 2 4 6 8 t), an extension of the (0 4 8) trichord. 
The "resolution" of the dyad D-flat-F into the C-E dyad, which
creates a (0 1 4 5) tetrachord, could be seen to prefigure the
superset (0 1 4 5 8 9)--a collection that can be formed by
combining two (0 4 8)s (the same holds, obviously, for the 
whole-tone hexachord) or two (0 1 4)s.  Depending upon the 
context one constructs, then, the passage in mm. 7-9 can have 
at least two very different analytical meanings.(29)

28. Hicken, *Aspects of Harmony*, 34.
29. This analytical overview of Op. 19/2 makes no claims to
originality.  For more detailed treatments of the piece, see Allen
Forte, "Context and Continuity in an Atonal Work: A Set-Theoretical
Approach," *Perspectives of New Music* 1/2 (1963): 72-82; Deborah
Stein, "Schoenberg's Op. 19, no. 2: Voice Leading and Overall
Structure in an Atonal Work," *In Theory Only* 2/7 (1976): 27-43;
and Marion Guck, "Comment: Symmetrical Structures in Op. 19, no.
2," *In Theory Only* 2/10 (1977): 29-34.

[26] The approach that I am suggesting would take this piece as
invoking the key of C, but disrupting our sense of tonality in a
way that prevents it from being situated securely in any key.  The
final measures make a clear reference to the kind of five-line
quality discussed above in connection with the Beethoven piano
sonata movement, but simultaneously the structure is not a five-
line in the same sense.  The "stepwise" descent, G-F-E-flat-D-flat-
C, could be thought of as a minor-key descent inflected by the
flatted-second scale degree; but, perhaps following the unity of
space in Swedenborg's heaven, it is also the inversion of an ascent
from scale-degree 4 to scale-degree 1.  Thus tonality is invoked
but is not present in the usual sense, and a tension is opened up
between recognizable tonal references and this particular atonal
piece.  But the crucial interpretive position I am suggesting is
this: one attempts to avoid reducing the piece down to a more
normative tonal or atonal practice, and one works to keep the
tension open and not allow the analytical drive for reconciliation
to attenuate the disruptive effect of the work.  The piece is
interpreted with regard to the musical world of the great German
masterworks, but *it cannot be situated within it*.  In a certain
sense, it reconfigures that musical world from the outside.(30)

30. Obviously more analysis than space here will allow would need
to be presented in order to fully explore the interpretive position
I am suggesting here.  It would, nevertheless, be possible to
demonstrate that the "logic" according to which the material for
the piece is unfolded develops against a background created by
common-practice tonality and expectations, and that all this
occurs without the piece itself being tonal.

[27] This third interpretive approach is reinforced by the
impression Schoenberg's atonal music made on even his closest
students.  Reflecting on the effect Schoenberg's atonal music
worked on its early listeners, for instance, Erwin Stein writes:

     At the time the listener was struck, above all, by the new
     sound.  It was as if a new spatial dimension had been opened
     up.  One could make out contours, which hardly seemed any
     longer to belong to the realm of music.(31)

While it is possible that there is no other way for modern
listeners to hear Schoenberg's atonal works but in the context of
other atonal works, it certainly would not have been possible for
such a hearing to have occurred at the beginning of this century. 
Even the composer himself could not have heard the earlier works in
terms of the later ones, and retrieving that aesthetic perspective
requires one to understand how disruptive Schoenberg's turn to
atonality really was.  And this brings us back to what I take to be
the key aesthetic question in considering Schoenberg's atonal
music: why disrupt tonality so vigorously?

31. Quoted in Willi Reich, *Schoenberg, A Critical Biography*,
trans Leo Black (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 49.

[28] The answer to this question lies in Schoenberg's deep interest
in the possibility of projecting the spiritual essence of music. 
Schoenberg's turn to atonality constituted an attempt to manifest
"otherworldliness" in music; atonality is a technical solution--or
better, a series of individual technical solutions--to an aesthetic
and philosophical problem with which Schoenberg continued to
struggle throughout his career.  The value of Schoenberg's turn to
atonality is that it breaks sharply with the music that precedes
it; but this break is effected as a means of reflecting back on the
tonal tradition.  Atonality was for Schoenberg a way of
"spiritualizing" music.  Like viewing the Schopenhauerian will,
Goethe's *Urphaenomen* (in Steiner's interpretation), or
Swedenborg's heaven, all of which underlie the physical universe,
atonality was to provide the listener with a spiritual glimpse of
the world that "lies behind" tonality.  As Swedenborg's "other"
world was one in which time and space were radically transformed,
so Schoenberg's atonality radically transformed the "tonal"
relations between tones.  

[29] The interpretation presented here does not constitute an
attempt to recover in any complete manner the ways in which
Schoenberg's atonal music may have been heard in the teens and
twenties of the present century.  Following Gadamer, one can never
recreate the past "as it really was."(32)  Still, it should also be
clear that, as listeners in the last decade of the twentieth
century, we do tend to hear any particular Schoenberg atonal work
in the context of other atonal works by Schoenberg, Berg, Webern,
and even Bartok and Stravinsky; that is, we situate individual
works within the musical world of atonality.  I am not arguing
against such analyses; indeed, we are perhaps bound to hear these
pieces in terms of our own historical situatedness--a situatedness
that differs very much from the one early hearers of atonal music
would have experienced.  In addition (and to the extent one chooses
to privilege the composer's hearing of his or her own music) it
seems clear that as composers began working increasingly with
atonality, they themselves would have tended to situate their own
music more and more in the context of other atonal works.  Thus it
may be that Schoenberg turned to atonality in order to disrupt
tonal practice, but discovered in composing his atonal works a new
musical environment that had structural possibilities of its own.

32. Hans-Georg Gadamer, *Truth and Method* [1960], 2nd rev. ed.,
trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (New York:
Continuum, 1991).

[30] But as mentioned above, such a manner of situating an
individual atonal work would not have been possible for those early
listeners, no matter what position one takes with regard to
Schoenberg's own "pitch-class set consciousness."  For those
listeners, these works constituted a severe disruption, and it is
this original sense of disruption that my interpretation hopes to
recover.  Schoenberg's turn to atonality opened up a crucial
tension between the world of the great masterwork and the
individual sounding atonal work.  It is in this tension caused by 
disrupting tonality that an "other worldly" perspective in music
was effected.  And it was opening up this musical "other" world
that was the principal aesthetic goal of Schoenberg's turn to atonality.  


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