I'd like to draw attention to an article on NewMusicBox in which Aspen Festival president Alan Fletcher wades into the murky, like-dislike waters of post-tonal music and emerges more or less unscathed. I do question his attitude of doubt toward the actuality of the mid/late-century hegemony of hard-core atonality in Western music, but he makes some extraordinarily well-worded points about some of the issues I've been trying, and mostly failing, to articulate here. His final paragraph in particular stands out:
"Some have a wish for music to be primarily an antidote to existential loneliness. When music fills this role, it's lovely, but the idea that this is music's primary function is so limiting as to be just bathetic. Music is a powerful, temporal art, and it needs to fulfill all the functions of art—to challenge, to celebrate, to excite intellectually and spiritually. To draw an ineffectual line called 'tonality' in the sand, and demand that none shall pass, will not work."
Reading this piece brought a certain comfort on a day when I finished a movement of my resolutely near-atonal, ruminative, distant flute-harp duo, and sketched the pulsing, pop-harmony driven coda of my eventual horn concerto. Although this back-and-forth between high consonance and middling dissonance still bugs me, especially when consecutive pieces seem to pull toward the extremes rather than a middle-ground synthesis, I've gotten used to it being a part of the way I think, and worry about it slightly less. I think the turning point, as with many of these things, came in the form of a single sentence from a composer I took a lesson with a couple of years ago, who faced similar issues in his music: "I gave up trying to ask "Why?" years ago. I figure that if all these different things come out of my head and feel right and honest, there must be some connection there. It's just not up to me to find it."