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Title: Neotonality  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Tonality, Neoclassicism (music), Modernism (music), Donald Sur, Expressionist music
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Neotonality (or Neocentricity) is an inclusive term referring to musical compositions of the twentieth century in which the tonality of the common-practice period (i.e. functional harmony and tonic-dominant relationships) is replaced by one or several nontraditional tonal conceptions, such as tonal assertion or contrapuntal motion around a central chord.

Although associated with the neoclassicism of Stravinsky and Les Six in France and Hindemith in Germany, neotonality is a broader concept, encompassing such nationalist composers as Bartók and Kodály in Hungary, Janáček and Martinů in Czechoslovakia, Vaughan Williams in England, Chávez and Revueltas in Mexico, Villa-Lobos in Brazil, and Ginastera in Argentina. Figures with less nationalistic ties such as Prokofiev, Shostakovich, William Walton, Britten, and Samuel Barber also are counted amongst neotonal composers. Without establishing any one style or school, neotonality became the dominant international idea in the 1930s and 1940s (Salzman 1974, 44, 64, 68–89; "new tonalities"). Many of these composers (e.g., Bartók, Hindemith, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky) combine features characteristic of common-practice tonality with features of atonality (Silberman 2006, v).

The most common means of establishing a tonal centre in neotonality is by "assertion". This may involve repeating a central pitch or emphasizing it in some other way, for example through instrumentation, register, rhythmic elongation, or metric accent. No single method of tonal assertion ever became dominant in the 20th century. Another possibility is to retain some element of common-practice tonality, such as beginning and ending on the same triad, using tonic or dominant pedal points, or through the use of contrapuntal motion around some central chord (Burkholder, Grout, and Palisca 2009 838, 885; Simms 1986, 65–66).


  • Burkholder, J. Peter, Donald Jay Grout, and Claude V. Palisca. 2009. A History of Western Music, eighth edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 9780393931259.
  • Salzman, Eric. 1974. Twentieth-Century Music: An Introduction, second edition. Prentice-Hall History of Music Series. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 9780139350153.
  • Silberman, Peter Scott. 2006. "Neighbor Spaces: A Theory of Harmonic Embellishment for Twentieth-Century Neotonal Music". PhD diss. Rochester: University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music.
  • Simms, Bryan R. 1986. Music of the Twentieth Century: Style and Structure. New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-872580-8.

Further reading

  • Berger, Arthur. 1963. "Problems of Pitch Organization in Stravinsky". Perspectives of New Music 2, no. 2 (Spring-Summer): 11–43.
  • [Dragone, Luann]. [2003]. Introduction Louise Talma Society website (Accessed 8 February 2013).
  • Hermann, Richard. 1987. "Thoughts on Voice-Leading and Set Theory in 'Neo-Tonal' Works: The 'Hymne' from Stravinsky's Sérénade en la". Theory and Practice 12:27–53.
  • Kinne, Michael. 2000. Die Präfixe post-, prä- und neo-: Beiträge zur Lehn-Wortbildung. Forschungen des Instituts für deutsche Sprache: Studien zur deutschen Sprache 18. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 3823351486.
  • Rihm, Wolfgang. 1986. "Neo-Tonalität?" MusikTexte: Zeitschrift für Neue Musik, no. 14:14–17.
  • Wile, Kip. 1995. "Collection in Neocentric Music: A Study in Theory and Analysis of the Music of Debussy, Stravinsky, Scriabin, Bartók, and Ravel". Ph.D. dissertation. Chicago: University of Chicago.
  • Williams, J. Kent. 1997. Theories and Analyses of Twentieth-Century Music. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace and Company. ISBN 015500316X.
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