Schoenberg, "Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide" (excerpt); Jan DeGaetani and Gilbert Kalish, Nonesuch 79237.
Last December, I attempted to generate a wave of enthusiasm for Worldwide Atonality Day, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of Schoenberg's dreamily dissonant song "Ich darf nicht dankend." A resounding silence greeted my proclamation, perhaps because it wasn't entirely persuasive; the song was, after all, published with a key signature, thereby retaining at least the appearance of normalcy. Either that, or no one cared. In any case, I now offer September 27 as a more plausible candidate for atonality's big birthday. On that date in 1908, Schoenberg wrote "Du lehnest wider eine Silberweide" ("You lean against a white willow"), the thirteenth of his Buch der hängenden Gärten, or Book of Hanging Gardens, songs on texts of Stefan George. The snippet above comes from the eternally awesome Schoenberg Center; to see the entire manuscript, go to this page and click on 418. A few rogue triads notwithstanding, it is difficult to hear this music as tonal in any meaningful sense. Another significant date will be December 21 — the centenary of the premiere of Schoenberg's Second Quartet, which caused the first great music riot of the twentieth century.
By an interesting coincidence, this month also brings the fiftieth anniversary of the tonality-rejuvenating phenomenon of minimalism — insofar as anyone can define a late twentieth-century musical tendency that has caused endless terminological angst. In September 1958, La Monte Young finished his Trio for Strings, which, with its glacially slow harmonic movement and its hypnotic concluding meditation on the interval of the fifth, is often dubbed the first minimalist piece. On Wednesday, September 17, at the Players Theatre in Greenwich Village, NYC, the online composer community Sequenza21 presents a Minimalism at 50 concert, celebrating an occasion that has otherwise gone unmarked. The Trio won't be heard — apparently a performance is slated at Young's MELA Foundation later this season — but there will be exceedingly rare performances of piano pieces by Terry Jennings, one of the first composers to follow Young's lead. Terry Riley's In C, an arrangement of Steve Reich's Piano Phase for marimbas, and Philip Glass's Piece in the Shape of a Square fill out the program. For some relevant samples, see this page of my Audio Guide.