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The Structure of Atonal Music Paperback – September 10, 1977

ISBN-13: 978-0300021202 ISBN-10: 0300021208

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (September 10, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300021208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300021202
  • Product Dimensions: 10 x 7 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #687,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Robert M. Morelli on May 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
Forte's book is, as its title suggests, a work on
atonal music. In this role, it is regarded as an
important and seminal work. While it uses a quantitative
language, as does all music theory, and indeed music
itself, it is not a treatise on mathematics.
A few reviews below have criticized Forte for what are
claimed to be mathematical flaws. As a researcher with
a PhD in mathematics and a side interest in composition,
I'd like to counter this. As long as Forte is analysing
music, and not claiming to prove Fermat's Last Theorem,
I'm happy to let him use whatever terminology suits his
purpose. I am no more concerned about his set theory
than I am whether classical harmony is a good number
system.
Pedantry about mathematical terminology in this context
may sound impressive to non-mathematicians but is likely
based on shallow knowledge/understanding of mathematics.
More importantly, it certainly distracts from the central
focus, which is how well Forte's framework contributes to
understanding and composing a certain kind of music.
In particular, a review titled "quackery" below has been found
useful (as of this writing) to 5 of 8 readers. The
"quackery" reviewer cites the use of the term "cardinality"
as an abuse of mathematical terminology when applied to
finite sets. In fact, applying "cardinality" to finite
sets is commonplace, about as controversial as using stringed
instruments in an orchestra.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Pi on May 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
I can't comment on Forte's book, since it was not *my* introduction to musical set theory. However, I would like to respond to a rather stupid reviewer from Nov. 11, 2001, who seems to believe that cardinality is a concept unique to infinite sets (in mathematical set theory). This is simply not the case. Finite sets have cardinality as well (e.g. the set {X,Y,Z} has a cardinality of 3} . In fact, the concept of cardinality for infinite sets is far more tenuous than it is for finite sets, and due to problems such as the independence of the continuum hypothesis, some philosophers and mathematicians speculate that infinite cardinality may be an untenable concept. Most do not agree, but it is certainly misinformed to criticize Forte for introducing the concept of cardinality to musical set theory with finite sets of pitches.

As to the reviewer from Nov. 27, 2001, if you don't agree with the material, why'd you pick up a book on atonal theory in the first place? You should be commenting on whether this is a good intro to atonal theory, not the merits of atonal theory itself. For that, you may feel free to argue with a sock puppet.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
Sorry, I beg to differ with both "fatuous" and "childish and absurd". As an aspiring composer who is not a formally trained instrumentalist, and is not formally trained, but self-taught, in music theory, this book is FAR more objective than Perle's (I didn't even finish reading Perle's, the writing style was so opaque), and doesn't assume either the ability to read music or an affinity for Schoenberg, Berg and/or Webern. Plus the writing style is way more transparent. Perle's book is mostly a musicological piece, not an objective assessment of available musical materials.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LedFoot Coyote on May 8, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book about set theory as it applies to the set of 12 pitch classes. As such, it will provide no subjective insight into the experience of hearing atonal music, and it looks entirely to the past to examine atonal structures. As a reading experience, it is colder and dryer than a witch's kiss, but it is essential in its organized discussion of how to apply set theory to the 12-pitched musical world, and for its identification of all possible pitch class sets. Others have expanded upon Forte's work, and some have added good positive criticism and insight but, historically, Forte expanded brilliantly on Milton Babbitt's work and so should be considered as a vital part of 12-pitch analysis.

I am deeply engaged in a study of symmetry in 12-pitch music, and Forte's book has been essential to me. The numerous one-star reviews of this book seem unnecessarily bitter and perhaps even a bit irrational.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Scott Lyle on March 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is paramount literature for the instruction and understanding of the fundamentals of atonal music. It is written in great detail with careful tempering concerning the reader. An essential must for the library of any musician studying the concepts of pitch-class and atonal music principles.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bill Flavell on June 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Forte pitch class set table is still the most highly concentrated form of objective information on all possible structurally distinct 12TET scales that exists.
The text of the book just gives the logic behind the table.
Whether or not pitch class set theory is a viable way to analyze "dead" (already finished) compositions is irrelevant, since it's painfully obvious that the most beautiful music surely hasn't been written yet! :)
Perle's books are inscrutible examples of Schoenbergian cultist/apologist propoganda/navel-gazing.
I haven't read Pentatonic Scales for the Jazz-Rock Keyboardist yet, but judging from my previous experiences with "musicians", I'd be willing to bet that it doesn't include all 38 possible structurally distinct 5-tone scales! :)
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