In music, the absence of functional harmony as a primary structural element. Probably originally a pejorative term applied to music of extreme chromaticism, it has become the most widely used descriptive term for 20th-century music whose connection with tonality is difficult to hear. Arnold Schoenberg and his students Alban Berg and Anton Webern are regarded as the seminal atonal composers; the serialism of their later work is often distinguished from their earlier “free atonality.”

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on atonality, visit

Seen & Heard

What made you look up atonality? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.

Get Our Free Apps
Voice Search, Favorites,
Word of the Day, and More
Join Us on FB & Twitter
Get the Word of the Day and More