The chromaticism of the nineteenth century diluted the tonal system in such a way that it was only natural that the system would eventually be abandoned altogether. This new music without a tonal center, that was weakened or lost, eventually became known as “atonal” music. In a very loose way, atonality means a piece of music, or a section, that does not have a tonal center or that is difficult to understand by using traditional tonal analysis methods.
In order to compose and atonal piece of music, musical materials and devices, such as the ones mentioned above, must be avoided. It can be said that atonality, or free atonality for that matter, is not possible by simply avoiding such musical devices and tonal idiosyncrasies because when we hear music, we are constantly trying to find a tonal center, even in randomly created music.
Initially, a way of evading the association to a tonal center was through the use of aggregates, meaning that all the other pitches not present in the pitch series would eventually be used through some sort of regular recycling of the twelve pitch classes. As a response to this, and in order to compose “real atonal” music, other music composition techniques were devised – see dodecaphony and serialism.
Nowadays, although the musical movement around serialism has lost some of its traction as a compositional aesthetic, serial music techniques are a part of the tools that music composers have at hand. For instance, it is not uncommon to find a twelve-tone melodic phrase that is supported by non-serial harmonies.
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