Schoenberg's error /

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Main Author: Thomson, William, 1927-
Format: Book
Series:Studies in the criticism and theory of music.
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Review by Choice Review

Thomson (University of Southern California) precludes any wry comment about the emperor's clothes by suggesting that, perhaps, "There is no emperor!" This volume is the result of thinking that has occupied the author for about four decades. Drawing on the writings of music theorists, ethnomusicologists, psychologists, philosophers, historians, and others, he delineates many of the problems that are the condition of late 20th-century art music. He shows how the preoccupations with "the scientific method" and "progress" that arose in the 19th century have led to the current state of musical affairs. In 14 relatively short, but highly readable, chapters, Thomson traces many of the intellectual strands that led Schoenberg to focus exclusively on the concept of harmonic tonality and arrive at the conclusion that its limits had been reached and that a new system his 12-tone method had to be developed. How he might have reacted to the Pandoran consequences of his method makes for thought-provoking speculation which the author forgoes. Taking on a life of their own, Schoenberg's ideas led to many musical extremes compositional, theoretical, and aesthetic that exist today. The author traces the results effectively and tellingly in what could be the onset of an open debate that is long overdue. Despite an uncommon number of typos in an otherwise handsomely produced book, one of a distinguished series by the publisher, this provocative volume can be highly recommended for all serious music collections.-R. Stahura, Ripon College

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

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