Don't Be Afraid Of Atonality | Aaron Wyanski - SCHOENBERG: Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11 (Speculative Records/2 February 2024)

Don't Be Afraid Of Atonality
Aaron Wyanski - SCHOENBERG: Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11

Speculative Records
Release: 2 February 2024

Composer pianist, educator and speculative musicologist Aaron Wyanski who explores memory, vulnerability, and perspective in his work. Along with his work as a composer, and professor of composition, he's toured with a jazz big band, and performs as a recitalist.

CD Cover for works by composer Arnold Schoenberg

In this release, he takes on one of Arnold Schoenberg's lesser known works. 

“Since the presence of complicated dissonances does not necessarily endanger tonality, and since on the other hand their absence does not guarantee it, we can ask now, what are the characteristics of that music which is today called ‘atonal’? Permit me to point out that I regard the expression atonal as meaningless… I am not usually a coward; but if I should be asked to give this phenomenon a name, I would prefer—to avoid it entirely.” — Arnold Schoenberg 

The three pieces that make up Schoenberg's Op. 11 are an early expression of atonality, composed in 1909. 

Cartoon of composer ARnold Schoenberg

Just What Is Atonality, Anyway?

Atonality, in simple terms, ditches the rules that had governed Western/Eurocentric harmony as a common practice for centuries.

Oh, but I hear bits of melody in it, you'll say.

Sure, you do. But, do they go where you expect... at all? Lyrical melodies do still surface in the piece, as bits and pieces, flotsam and jetsam that bob up and down over the movement of the composition.

That movement has defied any tonal analysis for more than a century. Some experts believe the piece is in the key of E, but there's no consensus. 

Another analysis says the piece is based on hexachords.

Composer and pianist Aaron Wyanski
Composer Aaron Wyanski

What To Do?

Listen, and enjoy. The piece moves through various moods and shifts of tone and tempor. The liner notes describe it variously as "classical, lounge, jazz" - it is all those things and more.

There's a playfulness underneath it, and sections of cinematic bravura and drama, along with quirky passages. The end result is a moving target of music that winds its way in and out of melody.

The piece is written for piano, but Wyanski arranges it for chamber orchestra. 

Aaron Wyanski performs all the instruments, by which I assume midid, expertly handled to convey the colours of orchestral instrumentation. He makes good use of the wind section to add texture to the piece, and underscore its melodic sections.

It's an interesting and engaging take on the kind of music many people claim to dislike.

Here's hoping Wyanski can change some minds with this imaginative series of bite-sized releases. This is one of several short EPs of Schoenberg he's been releasing since late 2023. You can check them out on his Bandcamp page, below.