An Issue between Contemporary Theory and Modern Compositional Practice A Study of Joseph Straus’s Laws of Atonal Voice Leading and Harmony using Webern’s Opus 12/2 and Crawford’s String Quartet Mvt. 3

Yi-Cheng Daniel Wu


In his recent research project, music theorist Joseph Straus extends the traditional notions of smooth voice leading and the quality of harmony in tonal music to describe atonal voice leading and harmony. To achieve this goal, Straus proposes a theory called fuzzy transformations to analyze atonal music. Based on his findings, he further concludes the law of atonal voice leading and that of atonal harmony, which state that compositions, especially those in “more conservative styles,” do obey these two laws. To test the validity of Straus’s laws, I use Crawford’s String Quartet Mvt. 3 and Webern’s song op. 12/2 as case studies, examining the potential strengths and inherent weaknesses in Straus’s fuzzy transformations, and further pointing out a conflict between music theory and compositional practice.

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