Intellectual property reserved by Edoardo Bruni

It is forbidden to reproduce partially or totally without citing the source or without asking for authorization


Art music during the second half of the 20th century has mainly been ruled by two (meta-) techniques, diametrically opposed to each other, and related one to the aesthetics of malaise, the other to the aesthetics of banality. As we have already stated in the manifesto of cathartic music, they are extreme deconstructionist atonality on one side and traditional diatonic tonality on the other.

In the same way as the aesthetics of catharsis is situated between the aesthetics of malaise and the aesthetics of banality, synthesizing and surpassing them, pan-modality also lies in the middle between the two (meta-) techniques, synthesizing and surpassing them as well: it could be defined as “non-traditional atonality” and “non-traditional tonality” at the same time. Like atonality, it rejects the specific historical tonality and accepts the need to disengage from an exhausted compositional system (traditional tonality); like tonality, it accepts the general, non-historical conception of tonality and the need to disengage from the other compositional system, which is unlistenable and equally exhausted (traditional atonality). How can this dilemma be solved? The solution is: by removing the connection, made by Schönberg and which has never since been called into question, between specific historical tonality and general non-historical tonality; that is, by recognising the possibility of recreating a hierarchy and an order in the musical elements (general non-historical tonality) even without using traditional scales (specific historical tonality). This possibility is given by MODES: they preserve the internal hierarchy, but they are different from traditional scales. Some composers in the 20th century have used modality in their works (Bartok, Messiaen, Ligeti…) but without being systematic enough to undermine the predominance of atonality.

We do not state here that modality is a new compositional idea: we state that the idea that it is possible to write tonally/hierarchically in all the modes generated from the scales of any equal temperament is new.

In duodecimal equal temperament 2048 modes exist, generated from 352 scales. Each scale (except for those with limited transpositions) generates as many modes as the number of notes that it contains. The complete list of the 352 scales was compiled – curiously – in the same year (1954) by Edmund Costère (Lois et styles des harmonies musicales – Presses Universitaires de France, Paris) and by George Perle (The possible chords in twelve-tone music – The Score n. 9). Almost all the research that followed this fundamental discovery was addressed towards atonality, and this witnesses how greatly the cultural climate of that moment in history made us virtually blind in seeing possible developments in other directions.