3 AUGUST 1991, Page 25

Twelve-tone letter

Sir: In 'Down with dodecaphony' (Music, 6 July) Herbert Lomas aimed at producing some sort of evidence for what has been presented as a 'natural' rejection of dode- caphony, particularly that of Schoenberg. Let me first say that I enjoyed the article. In this as in other matters (alas politics included!) greyish views are the norm (and the unbearable hidden enemy), but Lomas succeeded in remaking the vigorous con- troversy of the second quarter of this century.

Regrettably though, Lomas's argument is a failure in that the presumed evidence is nothing but counterproductive reasoning. His arguments are mixed up, technicalities alongside ad hominem objections and in- effective at the utmost. Dodecaphony is restricted to Schoenberg's, serialism isn't


contemplated at all (as it should be insofar as it plays a framework role for interpret- ing 12-tone methods) and consequently the 12-tone methods are envisaged as some- thing absolutely new, even personally labelled, and subsequently no room has been left for the interpretation of historical precedents. Moreover Lomas sought de- sperately to support his view on pretty suspicious ground — that of mathematics.

Mathematically there is no reason why conventional tonal music (rightly said to have eight notes) should not be 'extended' into an any more refined basic system (12-toned, or a system based on even smaller intervals like the one by Benjamin Johnston knows as microtonality). That would be nothing more than the 'trivial' mathematical equivalent of, say, the exten- sion of natural numbers into other numer- ical systems.

Lomas's 'mathematical argument' would do if only some cognitive proof could be produced and ideally, if there was a 'natu- ral', possibly physiologically based, prop- ensity for the tonal scale. So far none has been successfully presented and — in my view — there are strong reasons to be sceptical about it. On the contrary, it is more likely that counter-examples (con- cerning old civilisations or isolated tribes ignoring our celebrated tonal scale) might be found.

Summing up, there was only one reason- able, legitimate and successful argument in favour of tonality. Lomas invoked it by saying, 'Well, we did begin to hear Schoen- berg — all too well, and too often . . . But we didn't like what we heard.' I welcomed that. Why did he bother if a simple didn't like' argument proves successful in favour of tonality? If the 'We didn't like what we heard' argument is not enough, a more refined music evaluation might be sought within an aesthetic philosophical cloak. The matter would turn out a bit more complicated perhaps, but 'We didn't like what we heard' arguments and similar would be based on a suitable theoretical foundation. Mathematical reasons apparently do not exclusively support the tonality cause, as Lomas might have thought. It is exactly the opposite, a sort of boomerang-like argument. Schoenberg would have felt extremely comfortable with the strictly mathematical view, not surprisingly et pour cause.

Manuel da Costa Leite 4A Devonshire Mansions, Devonshire Place,