Tonality in Crisis, 1900 – 1920

Discusses the demise of tonality in early 20th century music.

This paper looks at the radical changes that took place in Western art music in the early years of the 20th century focusing on the loss of tonality and how the music of various composers of the time reflected the changes. The paper includes sections on Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, and Ives.
“Impressionist Claude Debussy was the first composer to successfully assert a French tradition free from Germanic influences in Western music. Debussy’s most influential innovation was in his use of chords for tone colour rather than structure, an effect that destroyed the piece’s sense of musical destiny through cadence. The overused diatonicity of the Germanic chord system was replaced with whole tone and pentatonic scales, both of which, lacking a leading note, have little sense of musical destination.”