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date: 28 February 2020


  • Dave Headlam,
  • Robert Hasegawa,
  • Paul Lansky
  •  and George Perle


A term that may be used in three senses: first, to describe all music which is not tonal; second, to describe all music which is neither tonal nor serial; and third, to describe specifically the post-tonal and pre-12-note music of Berg, Webern and Schoenberg. (While serial music is, by the first definition, atonal, it differs in essential respects from other atonal music and is discussed in the articles Serialism and Twelve-note composition; it is, therefore, not considered here.)

Paul Lansky and George Perle

An important aspect of tonality is the way in which pitches are contextually defined so that each particular definition of a given pitch yields a different tonal function. A G which is the root of a G major triad, for example, has a different function or meaning from that of a G which is the 3rd of an E♭ major triad. Such a definition is, in turn, further refined by larger musical contexts, and the roles of rhythm, register, dynamics and timbre in tonal music are closely related to, and interactive with, the definition of tonal functions....

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