Course Description

450.733 - Why Tonality Works: Symphonic Music and its Practitioners in Western culture

Early in the 20th century, composers of the "Second Viennese School," believed that tonality and Romanticism in Western music had gone far enough; as an alternative, they developed forms of atonal music written to avoid any formal relation to a central key. In this course, students will learn why this alternative theory of composition largely failed, and why tonality, in effect, "won out." Through in-class demonstrations and discussion, as well as through listening experiences both in and out of class, students will explore some of the reasons why we, as human beings, naturally seek harmonic structure. Important to our discussions throughout the semester will be the harmonic series and the tempered scale. Assigned readings will supplement our continuing discussions of composers who succeeded, others who failed, and why. Assignments will include required viewings of Leonard Bernstein's six-part Norton Lecture Series, "The Unanswered Question," recorded in 1973 at Harvard University. The goal of this course is not only to make students more aware of the components of music as an art form, and better at listening to forms of music that have persisted for over two centuries, but also to give students a greater appreciation for the persistence and influence of "tonality" in Western culture.