Dhaka, Bangladesh
Schoenberg's house of horrors

Schoenberg's house of horrors

You don't believe me about the importance of a Key in music? What's the big deal, right? Music is about freedom of expression. It doesn't need to make sense or have logic to it. After all, it's supposed to be a true reflection of life, and life can be random. Can you explain how the world exists? Or why your younger sibling gets extra attention? Or how Santa Claus can fit himself through a narrow chimney or carry so many presents on a rickety sleigh? Most things in life don't make sense. So why should music be forced to have a Key, logic and Tonality? Keyless music If you're asking this question too, then you'd probably have been buddies with Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg. In the early 20th century, he began to question Tonal music. He wondered why songs had to have a specific Key Signature. He felt that Tonal compositions were making listeners lazy because they were being fed music that was clichéd and familiar. He was right, in a sense. Remember, one of the most common reasons we enjoy music is that deep down we understand the rules of music. And when we can predict and anticipate the next note or harmonic movement, we feel good. Well, Schoenberg wanted to change that. So, he started experimenting and composing songs WITHOUT a Tonic. Now, a piece of music without a Tonic is like a story without a narrator, like a TV without a remote control. And trying to listen to Atonal (Tonic-less) music is like trying to ride a unicycle in rush-hour traffic while blindfolded. You get the idea! Atonal music is not easy to stomach. Schoenberg knew this, and he wanted to have some fun. Without a Key, the music rulebook goes right out of the window. You'll be faced with a "tune" you can never hope to recall because all you hear is a whole bunch of notes that don't make any sense together. The chords and harmony are so disorganised that it's like being told a nonsensical story that starts with "Happily lived and all after ever they" and ends with "Time upon once a…" On the whole, it would be like the soundtrack to a horror movie. How did he manage this sorcery? Remember the Heptatonic scale? We love music that uses seven notes at a time because our brain can't handle more than that. Twelve notes is too many to keep track of in one song. So, naturally, Schoenberg invented a 12-tone scale to challenge his listeners by making them miserable! The most famous of his Key-less pieces is the Second String Quartet, Op. 10. When listening to this one you feel like you're being bucked around on a mechanical bull. You'll be tossed this way, then jerked that way, then be made to somersault, then someone will twist your stomach into a pretzel knot, and you'll want to throw up… but you won't know where your mouth is. Phew! That's why most music critics in his time pooh-poohed him, calling him a senseless iconoclast with no respect for musical traditions. Most people called his music "degenerate"! But if you want to know how it feels to listen to Atonal music, check it out here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FzgFd0eDaMQ (fast-forward to 18:47 to get to the worst part). They say you never know what you have until it's gone. Well, after listening to Schoenberg, you'll be gasping for a Key like you're locked inside a house of horrors!

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