On Atonal Music

“They always stick in one of those atonal things before the Beethoven,” said Mrs. Bowman, who had just been to a symphony concert. “I never did like that sort of thing, but I guess I’m just not very musical.”

“No one who loves music really loves twelve-tone music,” Mr. Magundi said. “There may be certain compositions that strike you as clever, and you may enjoy some of the interesting sounds emanating from the different sections of the orchestra; but you will never love it. This is not a defect of your musical education, but a compliment to your ear: it simply shows that you have the ability to distinguish what is music from what is not. The modern twelve-tone system is designed expressly to prevent music from happening—that is, what any sane listener would define as music. Nor will I listen to that hoary and false assertion that the great composers of the past were similarly derided in their time. They were not. Beethoven’s seventh symphony, at its first concert, could not be continued until the audience had forced the orchestra to repeat the second movement. Wagner was the center of an almost religious cult. Ravel saw popular dance bands playing his “Bolero” when the ink was hardly dry on the score. These were composers who appalled the conventional critics with their innovations; but their innovations were music, and ordinary people heard it and loved it, and loved it while it was still fresh. We have had a century to get used to atonal music, and all the great orchestras have been force-feeding it to us as the price we have to pay to hear Mozart or Mahler. Yet, during that long period, and with such a relentless campaign, not one composition in that style has made the slightest impression on the public at large. We must confess, therefore, that something more than fashion is at work here; and we may boldly state it as a law of nature that no sane and healthy person will ever really love atonal music.”

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