Applying Traditional and Proportional Aspects of Form to Atonal Music

Daniel J. Arthurs

Theory teachers can encounter several problems when presenting atonal (and more specifically, twelve-tone) techniques to their students for the first time. Among these problems is the need to find creative ways to motivate student interest in styles which may be unfamiliar, or with which they may be less than favorably disposed. Many students close their ears to the music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern when first exposed to it. It takes a considerable amount of time to understand the complexity, wit, and aesthetic thought of the composer who uses twelve-tone technique.This discussion will present two possible ways to encourage student enthusiasm for twelve-tone music. In the first approach, familiar, traditional aspects of form are related to similar formal features in a twelve-tone piece by Schoenberg. For the purpose of this discussion, I will use a method of graphic representation that shows similarities between sonata form and the form of Schoenberg's Kiavierstíck, Opus 33a. However, this method may be used with other 20th-century pieces in order to pique the novice's interest in the structure of atonal music. By relating Schoenberg's piece to sonata form, the following additional questions might also be treated: Why does Schoenberg change rows? What accounts for the different groupings of row subsets? Why does Schoenberg change meter? Why do certain passages contain irregular phrase lengths?The second approach will examine organic features that are inherent in nature and, consequently, music. Specifically, the same method of visual aid used in Part I will be used to display symmetry, summation series, and the Golden Section in Part II. As a final twist, the diagram of sonata form from Part I will be juxtaposed with Part II to further illustrate the usefulness of proportions inherent in Op. 33a with regard to the traditional aspects of form.