Abstract

Tonality is one of the most important concepts in music theory, determining how music theorists organize music institutionally (in curricula, conferences, etc.) and conceptually. For François-Joseph Fétis, who first popularized the term in the nineteenth century, it was a central component of his biologically racist, white-supremacist music theory. This essay argues that the term as it is used today perpetuates this racism by associating a mix of musical features and human perceptual capacities with a Eurocentric historical classification, and by maintaining a teleological evolution narrative based on the European classical music tradition. It argues, furthermore, that scholarship can do away with the terms tonality and tonal music and would profit from instead using more specific terminology for musical features like tonics, major and minor keys, scale degrees, consonance, and functional harmony.

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