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How Schoenberg’s Concept of Klangfarbenmelodie Relates to Sound-Mass Music of the Mid-Twentieth Century
At the end of his celebrated book on harmony, Arnold Schoenberg gave the world a glimpse of a future music. He called attention to the fact that up until that time music was constructed only according to pitch, and that tone color was, structurally, all but neglected. He disagreed with the common conception that pitch and tone color were independent parameters of sound since “the tone becomes perceptible by virtue of tone color.” Schoenberg wondered what music would be like if it had a logical system operating in regard to the progression of its tone color. Indeed, the world wondered with him. Since the time he wrote about it, this idea of klangfarbenmelodie (tonecolor-melody) has been the subject of inquiry, discussion and not a few arguments. In his article, “Schoenberg’s Klangfarbenmelodie: A Principal of Early Atonal Harmony,” Alfred Cramer cites an argument made by Schoenberg against the claim that certain Webern compositions were a fulfillment of his concept. These works were considered so because of their varying of instrumentation and relative stasis of pitch. Cramer also notes a discussion between two scholars, Erich Doflein and Carl Dahlhaus (along with others), who argued over whether to consider the third piece of Schoenberg’s Five Orchestral Pieces an example of klangfarbenmelodie. Today there is still disagreement among scholars as to what the word actually means. But all of it is only a quiet murmur, because in the end, Schoenberg’s concept of twelve-tone composition was what truly lived on, changing the face of Western music. To find the connection to sound mass, it will help to briefly track a portion of twelve-tone’s influence on Western music. First, Webern used the system by breaking the row into small three- or four-note segments, which was the first sign of micro-structuring and formal music. The serialists of the Darmstadt school, moving in the same direction as Webern, took the row and applied its twelve steps to aspects of rhythm, dynamics and articulation, creating dense and mathematically complex textures. Yet, the intricate structures, though well-thought-out and elegant, were nearly imperceptible to the listener. This led composers of the mid-1950s and early-1960s to react against total serialism. They began looking for other ways of structuring music, believing that the Darmstadt school had taken pitch-related structure to its absolute limit. At that time, electronic music studios were opening across Europe; composers lined up to get the chance to work in them for a short time. There, they were able to create music from the ground up, starting with elementary wave forms and creating whatever their imaginations could devise. This new development in music opened up their minds to think about sound according to its physical attributes: frequency, amplitude, envelope, duration. Edgard Varèse should be mentioned here, being one pioneer who had been thinking on this level since the 1930s. He had also been made aware by his experience with electronic music; now, modern music was catching up with him. It was not long before some composers began to take these new concepts and apply them to the traditional orchestra. Iannis Xenakis and Krzysztof Penderecki are two such composers. Their works for orchestra challenged everything anyone knew about music at the time. Xenakis’s techniques applied his understanding of physics and engineering to problems he saw in the serialistic approach to composition. Penderecki, too, saw problems in the Darmstadt ideology and set out to organize his music according to what was being heard – the impression of the sound itself rather than pitch. The fruit of both is now considered sound mass music. Other composers such as György Ligeti and Witold Lutoslawski began to write similar kinds of music. Performances of these works were often received as a fresh alternative to the serialist and aleatoric movements because they were using the orchestra in a way that seemed more meaningful and could be understood by anyone. Also, they were doing it by creating a sound no one had heard before. This new sound manifested itself in the work of composers from different countries and backgrounds. Each one had his or her own particular approach to the technique of composition; Xenakis went in the direction of stochasticism, Pendericki to graphical scoring, Ligeti to micropolyphony and Lutoslawki to open scoring. Yet, each yielded a sound that was then, and is now, perceived as being similar. What is it about the music of sound-mass that makes it unified? As one reviewer said about the premiere of Xenakis’ Metastasis, “It deals with the new problem (first posed by Schoenberg) of timbre composition.” Although none of these composers set out to realize Schoenberg’s musical prophecy, in the re-conception of music initiated by electronic music and realized acoustically in their works, there is evidence of a new music, the logic of which is structured according to tone color and not according to pitch. In this way, composers reacting against serialism, which was the eventual result of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone method, unwittingly created music that began to fulfill his other influential concept, that of klangfarbenmelodie. To see this more clearly, we will examine Schoenberg’s concept and see how it relates to the breakthrough compositions of Xenakis and Penderecki. To begin with, it is important to understand what Schoenberg meant by the term klangfarbenmelodie. The idea is first discussed in the last chapter of Schoenberg’s text, Harmonielehre. In this chapter, he had been discussing chords of six or more tones. Chords of such density were fairly new to music, and Schoenberg was pointing out that their overall color changes substantially when the voicing is changed or a single note is added or removed. This is because the color is dependent on where the notes are in relation to each other so that changing the voicing or inclusion of even one note affects several sets of interval relations.
However. and many others. however. the combination of instruments on each line.” or. . “They are never merely individual tones of different instrumentations at different times. Schoenberg’s idea suggests using the colors of the chords to decide their pitch content. but that “They would become melodies if one found the point of view to arrange them so that they would form a constructive unity of absolute autonomy. we go right on boldly connecting the sounds with one another. and they do somehow satisfy the sense of beauty. This is surely because he does not consider volume as fundamental as the other two elements. Instead. . truly leave behind the previous topic. he defines these “patterns” of tone color as “melodies”. tone color and volume. an organization that connected them according to their intrinsic values. then making the statement that similar patterns could be devised according to true tone color. more clearly. so that the . Cramer presents measures 6 – 7 after rehearsal number 30. which is remarkable in many respects.) Schoenberg states that the evaluation of tone color is in a “much less cultivated. under this pretext. pitch a subdivision. Such just cannot be done at present.” These first statements make the remainder of the paragraph misleading because he is now talking about a single tone. Cramer makes the argument that Schoenberg’s definition of klangfarbenmelodie was that of a “progression of chords of varied formation not necessarily grounded in the harmonic series.” referring. tone color was treated as a secondary element while in fact it is an equally.” The other examples similarly show polyphonic passages and do not show a varying of instrumental timbres. They are “the tomb scene of Pelleas und Melisande. chord tones were considered “reified partial tones” of the harmonic series. .” referring to the fact that. it is clear that this change was intended to illustrate his concept of sound by isolating the discussion to that of the construction of a single tone. as Cramer remarks. the rest of the discussion deals only with pitch and tone color. the main topic. Thus. To further the confusion. to the previous discussion on chords. it would seem. As previously mentioned. whereas before he was talking about chords. Individual tones tend to be disembodied through low dynamic markings and extremely high or low pitch. making mention in his commentary of the “musical sound .” Cramer presents examples which he believes are the ones referred to in this letter. but we do write progressions of tone colors without a worry. He continues. Schoenberg “implied that the timbral transformation of a single pitch could be perceived as equivalent to a melodic succession.” He does not say that these examples are in themselves klangfarbenmelodien. instead. simply by feeling.” In these statements it becomes clear that he is not referring specifically to single pitches or varying instrumentation. He continues. Schoenberg seems to be referring directly to the tone colors produced by the harmonies of the previous discussion. the major description of klangfarbenmelodie occurs in this misleading context. however.After this discussion he moves on to what he calls “yet another idea. What system underlies these progressions? From just these excerpts it is hard to imagine how the concept of klangfarbenmelodie became that of unchanging pitches which develop through the use of varying instrumentation. (He only mentions volume in the initial description of sound. Schoenberg attempts to break down his concept of musical sound.” and begins to build a description of klangfarbenmelodie. a melody is a “[progression] whose coherence evokes an effect analogous to thought processes. and the use of tremolo and flutter tongue. if not more important member. In these two sentences. In response to claims about Webern’s music fulfilling klangfarbenmelodie. In the following paragraph in Harmonielehre.” He adds. but simply to a logical system of structuring tone color. or the figure from the second Piano Piece that Busoni repeated so many times in his adaptation. This presents an image of a single tone progressing according to its timbre rather than its pitch. Schoenberg argues that the composer’s works are only slightly similar to his concept. He begins with an explanation of how sound is made up of pitch.” He connects this definition to the idea of tone-color-melodies by saying it would be possible to make “progressions whose relations with one another work with a kind of logic entirely equivalent to that logic which satisfies us in the melody of pitches. . saying that “tone color is . but rather combinations of moving voices. “Pitch is nothing else but tone color measured in one direction. Considering the initial discussion. it is not difficult to see how it has been reached when the remainder of the discussion is taken into account. much less organized state than is the aesthetic evaluation of these last-named harmonies. Julian Rushton’s entry on this term in the second edition states that by klangfarbenmelodie. Cramer notes that with the soft dynamic. Under this definition. . this view can be seen in no less conspicuous a publication as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. . or much of the introduction to the fourth movement of my second String Quartet. contrasting them with one another. and points out several places in his own work as isolated examples of what he meant by the word Klänge. Instead of using the harmonic series to structure chords. which is reproduced below in Example 1. but rather create a “changing sonorous whole. For the quotation from Pelleas und Melisande. to talk about how melodies are “patterns” of tone colors differentiated by pitch. Meanwhile. at the time. and the concept of a structure to tone color seems to be simply a law of governing how their colors progress from one chord and one voicing to the next. Nevertheless. He does not. and it has never yet occurred to anyone to require here of a theory that it should determine laws by which one may do that sort of thing. He believes this is correct because it is an example Schoenberg copied into the notes of a 1950 Capitol recording of the piece. Cramer cites a letter from Schoenberg to Josef Rufer which both clarifies Schoenberg’s position on this definition and presents musical examples that bring this idea closer to sound mass music. He does. In the previously cited article.” While this conclusion misses the point of Schoenberg’s discussion. define his use of the term “melody” immediately after stating it. He states it even more clearly at the end of the paragraph: . and makes the statement that all music up to that point had only been measured according to pitch.” Here. the individual timbres of the instruments do not stand out.
This technique effectively obscures the distinction of any one pitch from any other. Each of the two A sections can be characterized as a single chord cluster. saying that such music: 1. Xenakis states that he first started working with probabilities outright in his 1955-6 composition Pithoprakta. The form. within one event in time. He comments that they should have begun to think of “average density. these expansive clusters place all twelve notes. they did not deal with the real problem presented. 4. or what he would eventually term stochastic music. which led him to stochasticism. is only the ensemble of multilinear ‘manipulations’ of the fundamental series. Also. Despite the obscuring of pitch. a good example of how the composer intuitively conceived of music before a system presented itself. [Notice. It was in this piece that Xenakis first dealt with the problems of his age. and it brings into focus how this concept is connected to sound mass. in the last analysis. and how that conception relates to Schoenberg’s idea. Rather. three years after Schoenberg’s letter to Rufer. Concentrates chiefly on frequency. by quantizing musical elements to a tone row or set. Soon. Xenakis notes in Conversations that he did employ computations in structuring pitch relations in this piece. In fact. and in the ending a different cluster. each member of the orchestra is added and the sound slowly changes into a mass. these are the same three elements 2. namely. He then moves the mass by shifting the density of sound from section to section. it was during work on Metastasis that he was first made aware of the existence and function of probability theory. The Crisis of Serial Music. In Varga’s interview. similarly dense. it is because each tone contributes to the timbral whole.] In summary. Xenakis articulates these problems in six points. In fact. without one presiding over the others. In this work. While Xenakis’ response to these problems was the statistical approach. which makes it closer to the music of the serialist school than the other two. The piece has an overall structure reminiscent of ABA. in attempting to address this issue. In Conversations. . The quantitative and geometric side present in all music becomes preponderant with the school in Vienna. Xenakis admits that this was only because he wanted to end it quickly to pursue stochasticism. closes back to a single note. it will be seen that his fundamental conception of music. how to develop a system of moving all musical parameters organically. In Bálint Varga’s published interview. were dealing with mass events and did not know it. the composer says that those in the Darmstadt school. This is directly linked to their density. The impact of the sound on the listener is almost completely that of color. and then slowly moving up above the crowd as all conversations become one sound. deals more with the development of densities. he grappled with the problems he saw in the serialist music of his time. tones. since the line is melodic and the texture is reduced to only a few solo players. their conclusion was illogical since. The opening measures of the first section are reproduced in Example 2 above. plus many microtones (since the stings glissando from one pitch to the next). it is not this that makes his music close to klangfarbenmelodie. In Figure 1 below. first employed glissandi to create continuity. they ignored the continuous nature of those elements and elevated pitch to a dominance that was more total than before Schoenberg. Each section lasts a substantial length of time so that the listener is affected by a sense of stasis and slow continuous movement. which form is elaborated. as previously mentioned. 3. than the development of pitches. Just as Schoenberg’s atonaliy and twelve-tone system treated each note with equal emphasis over time. Within the context. however. Metastasis is not a prime example of his statistical modeling in music. Duration is still less organized and only appears in traditional form. which are perceived as color. It is likely because of the impression of these two sections that one reviewer at the time of the premier.” noting that these ideas would inevitably lead to the introduction of probability mathematics in structuring music. then his concept is a description of sound mass music. In addition. presenting many of these changes in harsh juxtaposition. Schoenberg pointed out. If Schoenberg’s concept of klangfarbenmelodie dealt with the organization of colors that were created by a polyphony in which pitch was only important in its contribution to overall color. the premiere of this piece at the 1955 Donaueschingen Festival was the first exposure the world had to sound mass music. as every member of the string sections plays a different pitch from the other. Therefore. With the exclusion of harmonic control the linear polyphony of the Renaissance constitutes the frame upon 6. In between the two cluster sections is one that deals with a pointillistic texture. The effort of organization rests uniquely on the frequencies and translates itself by a linear arrangement of 12 5. In his article. giving a clearer representation of the overall shape of the section. Cramer’s statement might be amended to say that each tone contributes to the timbral whole more so than it contributes to any pitch relationships. Conversations with Iannis Xenakis. These cluster chords are the first element of this music that relates to klangfarbenmelodie. intensity and timbre. this is a safe addition. a young Iannis Xenakis completed his breakthrough composition.contribution of each tone is somewhat indistinct. however. In 1954. the element that the listener follows most easily is the timbre. and first divided the orchestra down to its discrete members. a chart of the path of the glissandi in the closing section is reproduced. average duration. This motion from one instrument to fifty-seven might be similar to hearing one conversation in a crowded hall. so he just wrote a closing section to mirror the first. As this section begins. the serialist school was applying seemingly arbitrary structures to musical parameters in an effort to follow the twelve-tone method to a logical conclusion. Metastasis. It is. If these passages are timbral. these structures become apparent. Frequency dominates the other components which only intervene secondarily and arbitrarily. in the first it fans out from one note to forty-six. colours and so on. immediately linked it with klangfarbenmelodie. In all of it.
speaks directly to the last chapter of Harmonielehre. In connection with this idea is the second point. Krzyzstof Penderecki is considered the figurehead for the period. although it is clear that Xenakis paid attention to the progression of colors. Without mentioning Schoenberg. sound became the form-creating. duration and other sound qualities to present. pizzicato. Many different kinds of squares can be created merely by changing the color of the square. Xenakis says that. His treatment of the above mentioned “personages” shows some of the results of his thinking. The first was the idea of writing a dodecaphonic work that was intimately connected to some mathematical computation. Here we see that alongside his mathematical ponderings was an awareness of timbre and a desire to write music that was structured around its development over time. At the time it was occurring. aleatorism and happenings. Poland was coming out of seven years of isolation from the stage of modern music. Threnody: to the Victims of Hiroshima. Penderecki is not as forthcoming in detailed explanations of his compositional techniques as is Xenakis. They struggled to find their place in these surroundings. Xenakis is writing klangfarbenmelodie music. this style was not very well defined. they delved into the twelve-tone method of the Second Viennese School. In the first four years following the revolt. One of the first theorists to attempt an explanation was Tadeusz Zielinski. Here she informs the reader that Xenakis designed “timbral characters” for this composition which he called “personages”. Pitch as such ceased to have a vital role – color was now dominant. It was not until 1960 that Poland made a breakthrough with a sound that was characterized as being truly Polish. These include particular techniques and orchestrations. The first two were performed in that same year. Around the year 1960. in which a chord of six or more pitches has a particular color that is substantially altered by even small changes to the notes. Anaklasis is particularly of note because it was the first of Penderecki’s works to be performed on an international stage outside of Poland. however. and a few rare instances of serialism. it did permit Polish composers access to music that they had been isolated from since 1949. Poland produced another sound mass composer. metre and rhythm. Since these masses effectively obscure the function of individual pitches and bring timbre to the fore. it is also clear that his music is primarily structured according to the movement of densities of sound. without any gap in between. several scholars attempted to solidify what sonorism is. It is evidence to the power of this new kind of music that he received an encore from the audience. tectonic agent. Xenakis notes the phenomenon previously discussed. determining the structure of his work from this period has been the daunting task of theorists ever since the style came to prominence. being commissioned for the 1960 Donaueschinger Festival in Germany. The success of this performance was pivotal in making Penderecki the important figure he is today. Matossian points out the fact that Xenakis graphically mapped the timbral characters as they progressed and created a detailed color visual representation of the piece. which resulted in. or a single pitch held for various . harmony. In this year. In addition. One of the lasting contributions of these writings is the notion of the “sound shape” which he considers an elementary unit of construction in Penderecki’s works. Matossian compares these “personnages” to geometric shapes. This new sound was christened sonorism according to a term used speculatively by prominent scholar Józef Chominski in previous years. the same year that Xenakis was beginning work on Pithoprakta. and the concept of music they had become most familiar with harkened back to Romantic pathos-led composition and encouraged employing themes of folk lore. While sonorism is linked with most of the Polish composers from this time. Adrian Thomas talks about the progress of composers during this time. which would be most fulfilled by his later use of probability theory. it was on the same stage five years previous that Metastasis had the same effect for Xenakis. six years after the completion of Metastasis. among other things. In his book Polish Music Since Szymanowski. she wrote. In 1960. This is even true in the middle section because of the eventual total obscuring of pitch. In effect. the discussion of which will help to define the former term. One often quoted passage comes from Teresa Melecka. such as the square. the effect is that the listener perceives a structure reliant upon changing timbre. he produced four pieces which were the first of his own to break completely with traditional forms and are considered the first sonoristic compositions. both individually and as a nation. he was occupied with the idea of writing a continuous progression from one of these distinct sonorities to another. the material it is made of. dynamics. not the evolution of colors. a certain genus of sound that was also specified by its species. the people staged a revolt. Anaklasis. Xenakis. In 1983. In talking about Metastasis. Xenakis tells of two things that were occupying his mind at the time of writing the piece. In place of melody. who wrote on the subject throughout the 1960s. The young composers had been schooled during the oppression of Soviet Realism. Interestingly. Dimensions of Time and Silence. The first is noted by Nouritza Matossian in her book. and his String Quartet. The second point. something that was far more common in the nineteenth-century and almost unheard of in the twentieth. However. which comes from a quotation from Varba’s Conversations. a loosening of restrictions on music by the ruling Soviet-controlled government. and instead deals with the movement of masses of sound over time. In 1956. The result. is music that is removed completely from reliance on pitch-related structures. While this success was far from true freedom.There are two other points about this piece that connect it to klangfarbenmelodie. To explain their use. The sound shape became the architectonic unit instead of the motif. as it were. such as individual and cascading glissandi. internal movement of percussion and others. solo instrumental lines. Of these performances. Xenakis used these characters as generic figures which would be altered according to pitch. He also talks of three basic types of sound. They are. Therefore. however. at the time. but his true structure is based on density rather than color. This is a technique that he continued to use later in his career. and so on. although after the 1970s. The new highly mathematical and philosophical surroundings presented both an exciting world of possibilities and a challenge to their national identity. These three types are lines. disordered brass.
In this way. This aspect makes Penderecki’s work arguably more accessible because the sound shapes are heard as units that interact over time. This is a clear structure according to the sound shapes’ motion within the different parameters of the musical space. the varying density of sound in time and musical space. as seen in Example 4 below. while aware of Schoenberg’s idea. Lutoslawski and others. A sound shape is defined by the elementary unit or units it is composed from and how those units behave over time. the basic system is. Schoenberg was truly suggesting that just as pitches in a melody create a certain effect in the listener because of their acoustical properties. which are more tangible than the sound fields more common in the music of Xenakis. this system is not the one most related to the idea of klangfarben-melodie. but have no defined pitch. throughout the piece. and formal construction which is based on the development of such shapes and. In this way Penderecki’s music is quite similar to that of Xenakis. The ends of these bands occur at different times so that the overall effect of the shapes in combination is that of the sound moving upward until it disappears. the second about one half the length of the third. Within these works. However. continuity of musical events over time and within vertical space. developing a new language that is ultimately based on colors. but rather by the density of sound within time and space and how that density changes. because the music world in the twentieth-century has adopted a pervasive emphasis on individuality and non-conformity among composers. The musical examples shown here have dealt in the near total obscuring of pitch. Clearly. sound mass might be seen as a heavy-handed. and points. These elements also appear in the work of Ligeti. It is a medium sized band in the extreme high ranges of the instruments which has a continuousbend upward at its end. The same conclusion can then be reached – that the listener understands a structure in the piece according to the changing of timbre. These elements are as follows: the use of dense clusters which obscure the presence of pitch and bring timbre to the fore. . by the re-conception of music that was the result of electronic music technologies. Mirka outlines two systems at work within all pieces: the basic system and the timbre system. facilitated by a glissando. although sound-mass is based upon colors. Instead. or objects of development. more broadly. The basic system has eight categories of contrasts. In addition. and eventually returns in the other direction. The timbre system deals with the development of these timbres. in measure 3 of Anaklasis. so similar that they should fall under the same label. She also builds on Zielinski’s definitions. while being approached from such unique angles. or particularly intense realization of Schoenberg’s concept. Sound-mass has provided an idiom in which colors progress according to a logic free of the tethers of pitch structures. who concentrates his efforts on overall larger masses. it is possibly unlikely that anyone would propose anymore to develop a new law by which composers could move from one chord to another. thus making themselves units of timbre. becomes pointillistic. The particulars of how the sounds contrast defines how the sound shapes are created and move within it. so complex sonorities must have an underlying law that governs the affect they have on the listener. but the first attempt at a thorough analysis of Penderecki’s structure throughout his sonorisitc period was done by Danuta Mirka in her book The Sonoristic Structuralism of Krzysztof Penderecki. but her work is best defined as the unveiling of a structure within all of Penderecki’s sonorisitc works. contrasts in dynamics. but color. while Schoenberg’s idea referred to a law structuring harmonic progressions. and ends with a still thinner band in a higher register. which in turn shows a logical structure based on density. which would thus take pitch and interval relations into account. at measure 113 at the end of Anaklasis. For instance. Yet. Despite its name. one particular sound shape is used among the strings. although his music certainly employs similar shapes. Zielinski’s ideas have since been used as a basis for common understanding. they succeeded in creating music that addresses sound apart from its pitch or rhythm. the characteristic elements of sound mass are clearly displayed. On a larger scale. progresses to less sustained sounds. Density. They are the elements which make this music. the piece is not ordered by interval relations. it does not completely fulfill Schoenberg’s idea. and how these issues of continuity affect a sense of mobility. in turn. Maybe a future law that would provide composers with further codification of the dynamics of complex sonorities is still to come.durations. The first is about one half the length of the second. sound shapes which present themselves as a tangible musical unit. These composers. While it has been shown how the work of these two composers relates to klangfarbenmelodie. Rather. as well as traditional timbres. moves to a thinner band in an extreme high register which oscillates its pitch within the vertical space by way of a wide vibrato. the piece begins with sustained sounds. these categories deal with contrasts in register. This system shows how the composer manipulates his sounds according to these parameters in each piece. it has not yet been mentioned how this relates to the whole of sound mass music. or many pitches forming a cluster that is held for various durations. This structure is designed according to contrasts within musical space. For example. is perceived not as pitch. did not set out to fulfill it. it is also important to point out that. Also. One thing Penderecki is often noted for is his creation of many new sound effects by employing unconventional ways of sounding the instruments. and the last two overlap while the first two do not. To summarize. the strings have a progression which starts from a thick band in the middle register. Slapping the strings on the fingerboard with the palm of the hand is one example. bands. there is a progression in the length and placement of each shape. The difference of Penderecki’s music is that he uses sound shapes more distinctly than Xenakis. which oscillates at a slower rate. or short sounds such as a plucked string or a note of brief duration. While we certainly understand consonance and dissonance. as seen in Example 3 below. which results in varying color. since it does not present a law governing the progression of sonorities based on their timbre. there has not yet been the unveiling of any natural law that might explain the dynamics involved in the complex structuring of chords. because it shows that there is an order to the sound shapes created and moved within Penderecki’s pieces.
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