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The Structure of Atonal Music Paperback – 1 Jul 1977

3.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (1 July 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300021208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300021202
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.8 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 98,719 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Forte is Battell Professor of the Theory of Music at Yale University.

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book, written by Allen Forte (*not* Miriam Forte as Amazon's listing erroneously states [March 2013: this has since been rectified by Amazon]), is a seminal work in the codification of quantitative analysis of pitch material in atonal music. It sets out a systematic approach to labelling groups of pitch classes, explores various relations between them, including similarity relations and set-complex theory, and is illustrated by numerous examples.

Although the book is generally well organised, the presentation can be at times confounding, for example it is almost possible to mistake figure numbers for page numbers, and the appendix mapping the similarity relations is a little challenging to read (it might require a ruler to ensure the tables are being read correctly). The explanations are fairly good, although some sections might require multiple re-readings in order to obtain a sound grasp of the topic, yet this book is (notwithstanding its rigour) more approachable than much literature on this topic, which takes knowledge of the theory as a given. Two other good guides are Rahn: /Basic Atonal Theory/ and Straus: /Introduction to Post-tonal theory/, although it should be noted that there are some small but important differences in methodology, for example in calculating the prime form of a pitch-class set and in the syntax of the set-classes as set out in the index/appendix (although all use the same reference numbers, thankfully [May 2013: although Forte's numeration is almost universally followed in the scholarly literature, I have recently read that the late Elliott Carter used his own idiosyncratic numeration, which is detailed in David Schiff's book]). Ideally, I suggest reading all three in the order: Forte, Rahn (chapters 1 to 3), Straus, Rahn (chapters 4 and 5).
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Format: Paperback
I'm posting this review just to give some balance to the other two that exist for this book at the time of writing, each of which gives the book only one star. Having nothing but one-star reviews for such an influential book just seems bizarre, especially since some some of the weird reasons given suggest the reviewers have a poor handle on what Forte is up to. There are doubtless more up-to-date books that describe Forte's results alongside those of later theorists in a more accessible way; this text remains a classic.
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By A Customer on 23 April 2002
Format: Paperback
Fortean analysis suffers from as Perle put it
'Martian Musicology'.
I cannot recommend it at all, even though it is often still regarded as #the# book on atonality.
...many of the analytical decisions are arbitrary, and self-serving. Many times examples illustrate a point and don't relate to the composition as a whole, and nowhere does his analysis make 'musical' sense and relate to the acoustic experience of music.
A case in point is Ives Unanswered question, where amongst other things he notes that major and minor chords are the same PC set (a revelation indeed!), and also combines into sets verticalisations that Ives cared nothing for: the strings play independently from the trumpet and winds, and at their own tempo - the verticalisations are fortuitous. To analyse them is to find order in the sound of twelve radios tuned to random stations.
As for the math - only Lewin has perpetrated a more impenetrable explanation of music.
Read something else.
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By A Customer on 31 Dec. 1999
Format: Paperback
Among the crimes committed by this book are abuse of punctuation and terminology. I was fairly far into this before I realized that by "pcs" its author didn't mean "pitch class set" (or post-coital syndrome), but "pitch classes". Had he checked any elementary grammar guide, he would have learned that the plural of this sort of abbreviation requires an apostrophe: not "pcs", but "pc's". Also: tetrachords and hexachords are contiguous segments of a scale, melodic pattern, or tone row, not arbitrary four-note and six-note "pitch collections". What the author calls "tetrachords" and "hexachords" are really tetrads and hexads. He should call them tetrads and hexads. I wouldn't make so much of these solecisms had this book any real content. Oh, well. (Read instead George Perle's "Serialism and Atonality".)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3.2 out of 5 stars 20 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential 8 May 2013
By LedFoot Coyote - Published on Amazon.com
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.
82 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music, not math 23 May 2004
By Robert M. Morelli - Published on Amazon.com
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
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.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Objective and Approachable Writing Style 2 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kids, respect the old man! 12 Dec. 1999
By pclima@ufba.br - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
My fellow reviewers have probably read another book. This is a fundamental work for contemporary music history, a period fascinated with the notion of structure.I don't know for how long Kh complexes will be discussed... Nevertheless, it is a must for understanding the development of post-tonal theory, read it! The author has spent more than three decades correcting parallel fifths! Well, Forte is not Babbitt, Lewin, Morris or Straus (this one benefits from the others previous hard work). He, Forte, is different.I don't know if american theory has already recovered from his influence.
8 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the best but... 13 Feb. 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While many of those who have read this book have come down upon it rather harshly, it was a valuable book. Allen Forte was really one of the pioneers in atonal theory insofar as attempting to conceptualize the mathematics behind it. While this book has many obvious flaws, we must realize that it was published thirty years ago. At the time it was written it probably made sense to the author, anyway to analyze in such a fashion. So where does that leave us on the issue of purchasing this book? As a historical study of why everybody has been groomed to use this method, this book is invaluable. How else can we understand what many believe to be the truth? If one wants to truly understand the concept of atonal music, however, this book is not a good choice. This book should be viewed in much the same light as the sun orbiting the earth. Sound, logical thought, that when inspected more closely was found to be completely off base. We needed this book to show us what not to do. Let's thank its author for opening up the subject in the first place.
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