It has occasionally occurred to me that music could conceivably exist, some distant day, ultimately detached from tonality. I can't hear such music in my head, but I am willing to grant the possibility. Only that distant day would have to have seen a fundamental change in our physical laws, possibly through man's detaching himself from this planet. Perhaps he has already begun, in his space chase, the long road to that New Consciousness, that Omega point. Perhaps we are some day to be freed from the tyranny of time, the dictatorship of the harmonic series. Perhaps. But meanwhile we are still earth-based, earth-bound, far from any Omega point, caught up in such old-fashioned things as human relationships, ideological, international, and interracial strife. We are not by any stretch of the imagination planet-free, the wish dreams of our cosmologists notwithstanding. How can we speak of reaching the Omega point when we are still playing such backyard games as Vietnam?
No, we are still earth creatures, still needful of hum an warmth and the need to communicate among ourselves. For which the Lord be praised. And as long as there is reaching out of one of us to another, there will be the healing comfort of tonal response. It can be no mere coincidence that after half a century of radical experiment the best and best-loved works in atonal or 12-tone or serial idioms are those works which seem to have preserved, against all odds, some backdrop of tonality — those works which are richest in tonal implications. I think offhand of Schoenberg's Third Quartet, his Violin Concerto, his two Chamber Symphonies; almost all of Berg’s music; Stravinsky in Agon or Threni; even Webern in his Symphony or in his second Cantata — in all of these works there are continuous and assertive specters of tonality that haunt you as you listen. And the more you listen, the more you are haunted. And in the haunting you feel the agony of longing for tonality, the violent wrench away from it, and the blind need to recapture it.
We will recapture it. That is the meaning of our transition, our crisis. But we will come back to it in a new relationship, renewed by the catharsis of our agony. I cannot resist drawing a parallel between the much-proclaimed Death of Tonality and the equally trumpeted Death of God. Curious, isn't it, that Nietzsche issued that particular proclamation in 1883, the same year that Wagner died, supposedly taking tonality to the grave with him? Dear Reader, I humbly submit to you the proposition that neither death is true; all that has died is our own outworn conceptions. The crisis in faith through which we are living is not unlike the musical crisis; we will, if we are lucky, come out of them both with new and freer concepts, more personal perhaps — or even less personal: who is to say? — but in any case with a new idea of God, a new idea of tonality.
And music will survive
June 21, 1966