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Color and Density___________________

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.”1 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 (tone-color-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.2

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.3 Today there

is still disagreement among scholars as to what the word actually means. But all of it is
Arnold Schoenberg, Theory of Harmony, trans. Roy E. Carter (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1983), 421-2.
Alfred Cramer, “Schoenberg’s Klangfarbenmelodie: A Principle of Early Atonal Harmony,” Music
Theory Spectrum: The Journal of the Society for Music Theory 24, no. 1 (Spring 2002), 4.
Cramer, 3.

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.”4

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

Nouritza Matossian, Xenakis (New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1986), 65.

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.5 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.

After this discussion he moves on to what he calls “yet another idea,” and begins to

build a description of klangfarbenmelodie. He does not, however, truly leave behind the

previous topic. He begins with an explanation of how sound is made up of pitch, tone

color and volume, and makes the statement that all music up to that point had only been

measured according to pitch. Meanwhile, tone color was treated as a secondary element

while in fact it is an equally, if not more important member. (He only mentions volume

in the initial description of sound; the rest of the discussion deals only with pitch and tone

color. This is surely because he does not consider volume as fundamental as the other

two elements.)

Schoenberg, 421.

Schoenberg states that the evaluation of tone color is in a “much less cultivated,

much less organized state than is the aesthetic evaluation of these last-named harmonies,”

referring, it would seem, to the previous discussion on chords. He continues,

Nevertheless, we go right on boldly connecting the sounds with one another,

contrasting them with one another, simply by feeling; 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. Such just cannot be done at present.6

In these two sentences, Schoenberg seems to be referring directly to the tone colors

produced by the harmonies of the previous discussion, 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. He states it even more clearly at the end of the


. . . but we do write progressions of tone colors without a worry, and they do

somehow satisfy the sense of beauty. What system underlies these

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. However, this view can be seen in no less conspicuous a

publication as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Julian Rushton’s

entry on this term in the second edition states that by klangfarbenmelodie, Schoenberg

“implied that the timbral transformation of a single pitch could be perceived as equivalent

to a melodic succession.”8 While this conclusion misses the point of Schoenberg’s

Julian Rushton, “Klangfarbenmelodie,” in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed.,
ed. Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell (New York: Grove Dictionaries, 2001), 13: 652.

discussion, it is not difficult to see how it has been reached when the remainder of the

discussion is taken into account.

In the following paragraph in Harmonielehre, Schoenberg attempts to break down

his concept of musical sound, saying that “tone color is . . . the main topic, pitch a

subdivision,” or, more clearly, “Pitch is nothing else but tone color measured in one

direction.”9 These first statements make the remainder of the paragraph misleading

because he is now talking about a single tone, whereas before he was talking about

chords. Considering the initial discussion, 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. He continues, under this pretext, to talk about how melodies are “patterns”

of tone colors differentiated by pitch, then making the statement that similar patterns

could be devised according to true tone color, instead. Thus, the major description of

klangfarbenmelodie occurs in this misleading context. To further the confusion, he

defines these “patterns” of tone color as “melodies”. This presents an image of a single

tone progressing according to its timbre rather than its pitch.

He does, however, define his use of the term “melody” immediately after stating

it. Under this definition, a melody is a “[progression] whose coherence evokes an effect

analogous to thought processes.”10 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.”11 In these statements it becomes clear that he is not referring

Schoenberg, 421.

specifically to single pitches or varying instrumentation, but simply to a logical system of

structuring tone color.

In the previously cited article, 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,”12 referring to the fact that, at the time,

chord tones were considered “reified partial tones” of the harmonic series. Instead of

using the harmonic series to structure chords, Schoenberg’s idea suggests using the colors

of the chords to decide their pitch content.13

As previously mentioned, 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. In response to claims about

Webern’s music fulfilling klangfarbenmelodie, Schoenberg argues that the composer’s

works are only slightly similar to his concept, and points out several places in his own

work as isolated examples of what he meant by the word Klänge. They are “the tomb

scene of Pelleas und Melisande, or much of the introduction to the fourth movement of

my second String Quartet, or the figure from the second Piano Piece that Busoni repeated

so many times in his adaptation, and many others.” He adds, “They are never merely

individual tones of different instrumentations at different times, but rather combinations

of moving voices.” He does not say that these examples are in themselves

klangfarbenmelodien, 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,

an organization that connected them according to their intrinsic values.” 14

Cramer, 2.
Ibid., 1-2.
Ibid., 4.

Cramer presents examples which he believes are the ones referred to in this letter.

For the quotation from Pelleas und Melisande, Cramer presents measures 6 – 7 after

rehearsal number 30, which is reproduced below in Example 1. He believes this is

correct because it is an example Schoenberg copied into the notes of a 1950 Capitol

recording of the piece, making mention in his commentary of the “musical sound . . .

which is remarkable in many respects.”15 Here, Cramer notes that with the soft dynamic,

the combination of instruments on each line, and the use of tremolo and flutter tongue,

the individual timbres of the instruments do not stand out, but rather create a “changing

sonorous whole.” The other examples similarly show polyphonic passages and do not

show a varying of instrumental timbres. Instead, as Cramer remarks,

Individual tones tend to be disembodied through low dynamic markings

and extremely high or low pitch, so that the contribution of each tone is
somewhat indistinct. If these passages are timbral, it is because each tone
contributes to the timbral whole.16

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. Within the context,

this is a safe addition, and it brings into focus how this concept is connected to sound

mass. 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, then his concept is a description of sound mass music.

In 1954, three years after Schoenberg’s letter to Rufer, a young Iannis Xenakis

completed his breakthrough composition, Metastasis. In this work, he grappled with the

Ibid., 4.
Ibid., 7.

problems he saw in the serialist music of his time. In his article, The Crisis of Serial

Music, Xenakis articulates these problems in six points, saying that such music:

1. Concentrates chiefly on frequency, intensity and timbre. [Notice, these are

the same three elements Schoenberg pointed out.]
2. Frequency dominates the other components which only intervene secondarily
and arbitrarily.
3. Duration is still less organized and only appears in traditional form.
4. The effort of organization rests uniquely on the frequencies and translates
itself by a linear arrangement of 12 tones.
5. With the exclusion of harmonic control the linear polyphony of the
Renaissance constitutes the frame upon which form is elaborated. The form, in the
last analysis, is only the ensemble of multilinear ‘manipulations’ of the fundamental
6. The quantitative and geometric side present in all music becomes
preponderant with the school in Vienna.17

In summary, the serialist school was applying seemingly arbitrary structures to

musical parameters in an effort to follow the twelve-tone method to a logical conclusion.

In fact, their conclusion was illogical since, by quantizing musical elements to a tone row

or set, they ignored the continuous nature of those elements and elevated pitch to a

dominance that was more total than before Schoenberg. Also, they did not deal with the

real problem presented, namely, how to develop a system of moving all musical

parameters organically, without one presiding over the others. In Bálint Varga’s

published interview, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, the composer says that those in

the Darmstadt school, in attempting to address this issue, were dealing with mass events

and did not know it. He comments that they should have begun to think of “average

Quoted in Matossian, 85.

density, average duration, colours and so on,” noting that these ideas would inevitably

lead to the introduction of probability mathematics in structuring music, or what he

would eventually term stochastic music.18 While Xenakis’ response to these problems

was the statistical approach, it is not this that makes his music close to

klangfarbenmelodie. Rather, it will be seen that his fundamental conception of music,

which led him to stochasticism, deals more with the development of densities, which are

perceived as color, than the development of pitches.

In Varga’s interview, Xenakis states that he first started working with

probabilities outright in his 1955-6 composition Pithoprakta. In fact, it was during work

on Metastasis that he was first made aware of the existence and function of probability

theory. Therefore, Metastasis is not a prime example of his statistical modeling in music.

It is, however, a good example of how the composer intuitively conceived of music

before a system presented itself, and how that conception relates to Schoenberg’s idea. It

was in this piece that Xenakis first dealt with the problems of his age, first employed

glissandi to create continuity, and first divided the orchestra down to its discrete

members. In addition, the premiere of this piece at the 1955 Donaueschingen Festival

was the first exposure the world had to sound mass music.

The piece has an overall structure reminiscent of ABA. In Conversations,

Xenakis admits that this was only because he wanted to end it quickly to pursue

stochasticism, so he just wrote a closing section to mirror the first. The opening

measures of the first section are reproduced in Example 2 above. Each of the two A

sections can be characterized as a single chord cluster; in the first it fans out from one

note to forty-six, and in the ending a different cluster, similarly dense, closes back to a
Bálint András Varga, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, (London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1996), p.54.

single note. Each section lasts a substantial length of time so that the listener is affected

by a sense of stasis and slow continuous movement. In Figure 1 below, a chart of the

path of the glissandi in the closing section is reproduced, giving a clearer representation

of the overall shape of the section.

These cluster chords are the first element of this music that relates to

klangfarbenmelodie. This is directly linked to their density, as every member of the

string sections plays a different pitch from the other. Just as Schoenberg’s atonaliy and

twelve-tone system treated each note with equal emphasis over time, these expansive

clusters place all twelve notes, plus many microtones (since the stings glissando from one

pitch to the next), within one event in time. This technique effectively obscures the

distinction of any one pitch from any other. The impact of the sound on the listener is

almost completely that of color. It is likely because of the impression of these two

sections that one reviewer at the time of the premier, as previously mentioned,

immediately linked it with klangfarbenmelodie.

In between the two cluster sections is one that deals with a pointillistic texture,

which makes it closer to the music of the serialist school than the other two. Despite the

obscuring of pitch, Xenakis notes in Conversations that he did employ computations in

structuring pitch relations in this piece. As this section begins, these structures become

apparent, since the line is melodic and the texture is reduced to only a few solo players.

Soon, however, each member of the orchestra is added and the sound slowly changes into

a mass. This motion from one instrument to fifty-seven might be similar to hearing one

conversation in a crowded hall, and then slowly moving up above the crowd as all

conversations become one sound. He then moves the mass by shifting the density of

sound from section to section, presenting many of these changes in harsh juxtaposition.

In all of it, the element that the listener follows most easily is the timbre.

There are two other points about this piece that connect it to klangfarbenmelodie.

The first is noted by Nouritza Matossian in her book, Xenakis.19 Here she informs the

reader that Xenakis designed “timbral characters” for this composition which he called

“personages”. These include particular techniques and orchestrations, such as individual

and cascading glissandi, pizzicato, disordered brass, solo instrumental lines, internal

movement of percussion and others. To explain their use, Matossian compares these

“personnages” to geometric shapes, such as the square. Many different kinds of squares

can be created merely by changing the color of the square, the material it is made of, and

so on. Xenakis used these characters as generic figures which would be altered according

to pitch, dynamics, duration and other sound qualities to present, as it were, a certain

genus of sound that was also specified by its species. In addition, 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. This is a technique that he

continued to use later in his career.

In connection with this idea is the second point, which comes from a quotation

from Varba’s Conversations.20 In talking about Metastasis, Xenakis tells of two things

that were occupying his mind at the time of writing the piece. The first was the idea of

writing a dodecaphonic work that was intimately connected to some mathematical

computation, which would be most fulfilled by his later use of probability theory. The

second point, however, speaks directly to the last chapter of Harmonielehre. Without

Matossian, 60-61.
Varba, 72.

mentioning Schoenberg, Xenakis notes the phenomenon previously discussed, in which a

chord of six or more pitches has a particular color that is substantially altered by even

small changes to the notes. Xenakis says that, at the time, he was occupied with the idea

of writing a continuous progression from one of these distinct sonorities to another,

without any gap in between. 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. His treatment of the above mentioned “personages” shows some

of the results of his thinking.

However, although it is clear that Xenakis paid attention to the progression of

colors, it is also clear that his music is primarily structured according to the movement of

densities of sound, not the evolution of colors. The result, however, is music that is

removed completely from reliance on pitch-related structures, and instead deals with the

movement of masses of sound over time. Since these masses effectively obscure the

function of individual pitches and bring timbre to the fore, the effect is that the listener

perceives a structure reliant upon changing timbre. This is even true in the middle

section because of the eventual total obscuring of pitch. In effect, Xenakis is writing

klangfarbenmelodie music, but his true structure is based on density rather than color.

In 1960, six years after the completion of Metastasis, Poland produced another

sound mass composer. In 1956, the same year that Xenakis was beginning work on

Pithoprakta, Poland was coming out of seven years of isolation from the stage of modern

music. In this year, the people staged a revolt, which resulted in, among other things, a

loosening of restrictions on music by the ruling Soviet-controlled government. While


this success was far from true freedom, it did permit Polish composers access to music

that they had been isolated from since 1949.

In his book Polish Music Since Szymanowski, Adrian Thomas talks about the

progress of composers during this time.21 In the first four years following the revolt, they

delved into the twelve-tone method of the Second Viennese School, aleatorism and

happenings, and a few rare instances of serialism. They struggled to find their place in

these surroundings, both individually and as a nation. The young composers had been

schooled during the oppression of Soviet Realism, 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. The new highly mathematical and

philosophical surroundings presented both an exciting world of possibilities and a

challenge to their national identity.

It was not until 1960 that Poland made a breakthrough with a sound that was

characterized as being truly Polish. This new sound was christened sonorism according

to a term used speculatively by prominent scholar Józef Chominski in previous years. At

the time it was occurring, this style was not very well defined, although after the 1970s,

several scholars attempted to solidify what sonorism is. One often quoted passage comes

from Teresa Melecka. In 1983, she wrote,

[I]n place of melody, harmony, metre and rhythm, sound became the
form-creating, tectonic agent. Pitch as such ceased to have a vital role – color
was now dominant. The sound shape became the architectonic unit instead of
the motif.22

Adrian Thomas, Polish Music since Szymanowski, (Cambridge: University Press, 2005), 92.
Ibid., 161.

While sonorism is linked with most of the Polish composers from this time,

Krzyzstof Penderecki is considered the figurehead for the period. Around the year 1960,

he produced four pieces which were the first of his own to break completely with

traditional forms and are considered the first sonoristic compositions. They are,

Dimensions of Time and Silence, Anaklasis, Threnody: to the Victims of Hiroshima, and

his String Quartet. The first two were performed in that same year. Of these

performances, Anaklasis is particularly of note because it was the first of Penderecki’s

works to be performed on an international stage outside of Poland, being commissioned

for the 1960 Donaueschinger Festival in Germany. It is evidence to the power of this

new kind of music that he received an encore from the audience, something that was far

more common in the nineteenth-century and almost unheard of in the twentieth. The

success of this performance was pivotal in making Penderecki the important figure he is

today. Interestingly, it was on the same stage five years previous that Metastasis had the

same effect for Xenakis.

Penderecki is not as forthcoming in detailed explanations of his compositional

techniques as is Xenakis. Therefore, determining the structure of his work from this

period has been the daunting task of theorists ever since the style came to prominence.

One of the first theorists to attempt an explanation was Tadeusz Zielinski, who wrote on

the subject throughout the 1960s. 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. He also talks of three basic types of sound, the discussion of which

will help to define the former term. These three types are lines, or a single pitch held for

various durations; bands, or many pitches forming a cluster that is held for various

durations; and points, or short sounds such as a plucked string or a note of brief duration.

A sound shape is defined by the elementary unit or units it is composed from and how

those units behave over time.23 For instance, at measure 113 at the end of Anaklasis, as

seen in Example 3 below, one particular sound shape is used among the strings. It is a

medium sized band in the extreme high ranges of the instruments which has a continuous

bend upward at its end, facilitated by a glissando. 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.

Zielinski’s ideas have since been used as a basis for common understanding, 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. She also builds on Zielinski’s definitions, but her work is best defined as the

unveiling of a structure within all of Penderecki’s sonorisitc works. This structure is

designed according to contrasts within musical space. The particulars of how the sounds

contrast defines how the sound shapes are created and move within it. Mirka outlines

two systems at work within all pieces: the basic system and the timbre system. The basic

system has eight categories of contrasts. To summarize, these categories deal with

contrasts in register, contrasts in dynamics, continuity of musical events over time and

within vertical space, and how these issues of continuity affect a sense of mobility. This

system shows how the composer manipulates his sounds according to these parameters in

each piece.24

Danuta Mirka, The Sonoristic Structuralism of Krzysztof Penderecki, (Katowice, Poland: Music
Academy, 1997), 21-22.
Mirka., 229.

One thing Penderecki is often noted for is his creation of many new sound effects

by employing unconventional ways of sounding the instruments. Slapping the strings on

the fingerboard with the palm of the hand is one example. The timbre system deals with

the development of these timbres, as well as traditional timbres, throughout the piece.25

Despite its name, this system is not the one most related to the idea of klangfarben-

melodie. Instead, the basic system is, because it shows that there is an order to the sound

shapes created and moved within Penderecki’s pieces, which in turn shows a logical

structure based on density. Density, in turn, is perceived not as pitch, but color.

For example, in measure 3 of Anaklasis, as seen in Example 4 below, the strings

have a progression which starts from a thick band in the middle register, moves to a

thinner band in an extreme high register which oscillates its pitch within the vertical

space by way of a wide vibrato, and ends with a still thinner band in a higher register,

which oscillates at a slower rate. In addition, there is a progression in the length and

placement of each shape. The first is about one half the length of the second, the second

about one half the length of the third, and the last two overlap while the first two do not.

This is a clear structure according to the sound shapes’ motion within the different

parameters of the musical space. On a larger scale, the piece begins with sustained

sounds, progresses to less sustained sounds, becomes pointillistic, and eventually returns

in the other direction.

Clearly, the piece is not ordered by interval relations, but rather by the density of

sound within time and space and how that density changes. In this way Penderecki’s

Mirka, 239-40.

music is quite similar to that of Xenakis. The same conclusion can then be reached – that

the listener understands a structure in the piece according to the changing of timbre. The

difference of Penderecki’s music is that he uses sound shapes more distinctly than

Xenakis, who concentrates his efforts on overall larger masses, although his music

certainly employs similar shapes. This aspect makes Penderecki’s work arguably more

accessible because the sound shapes are heard as units that interact over time, or objects

of development, which are more tangible than the sound fields more common in the

music of Xenakis.

While it has been shown how the work of these two composers relates to

klangfarbenmelodie, it has not yet been mentioned how this relates to the whole of sound

mass music. Within these works, the characteristic elements of sound mass are clearly

displayed. These elements are as follows: the use of dense clusters which obscure the

presence of pitch and bring timbre to the fore, sound shapes which present themselves as

a tangible musical unit, but have no defined pitch, thus making themselves units of

timbre, and formal construction which is based on the development of such shapes and,

more broadly, the varying density of sound in time and musical space, which results in

varying color. These elements also appear in the work of Ligeti, Lutoslawski and others.

They are the elements which make this music, while being approached from such unique

angles, so similar that they should fall under the same label. These composers, while

aware of Schoenberg’s idea, did not set out to fulfill it. Rather, by the re-conception of

music that was the result of electronic music technologies, they succeeded in creating

music that addresses sound apart from its pitch or rhythm, developing a new language

that is ultimately based on colors.


However, it is also important to point out that, although sound-mass is based upon

colors, it does not completely fulfill Schoenberg’s idea, since it does not present a law

governing the progression of sonorities based on their timbre. The musical examples

shown here have dealt in the near total obscuring of pitch, while Schoenberg’s idea

referred to a law structuring harmonic progressions, which would thus take pitch and

interval relations into account. In this way, sound mass might be seen as a heavy-handed,

or particularly intense realization of Schoenberg’s concept. Also, because the music

world in the twentieth-century has adopted a pervasive emphasis on individuality and

non-conformity among composers, it is possibly unlikely that anyone would propose

anymore to develop a new law by which composers could move from one chord to


Yet, Schoenberg was truly suggesting that just as pitches in a melody create a

certain effect in the listener because of their acoustical properties, so complex sonorities

must have an underlying law that governs the affect they have on the listener. While we

certainly understand consonance and dissonance, there has not yet been the unveiling of

any natural law that might explain the dynamics involved in the complex structuring of

chords. Sound-mass has provided an idiom in which colors progress according to a logic

free of the tethers of pitch structures. Maybe a future law that would provide composers

with further codification of the dynamics of complex sonorities is still to come.

Works Consulted

Books, Articles, Scores

Cramer, Alfred. “Schoenberg’s Klangfarbenmelodie: A Principle of Early Atonal

Harmony.” Music Theory Spectrum: The Journal of the Society for Music Theory

24, no.1 (Spring 2002): 1-34.

Jacobson, Bernard. A Polish Renaissance. London: Phaidon Press Ltd., 1996.

Ligeti, Gyorgy. Apparitions. 2nd Rev. ed. New York: Universal Edition, 1971.

Ligeti, György, Péter Várnai, Josef Hausler and Claude Samuel. György Ligeti: In
Conversation. London: Eulenburg Books, 1983.

Matossian, Nouritza. Xenakis. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1986.

Mirka, Danuta. The Sonoristic structuralism of Krzysztof Penderecki. Katowice, Poland:

Music Academy, 1997.

Penderecki, Krzysztof. Anaklasis: for Strings and Percussion Groups. Celle, Germany:
Moeck Verlag, 1960.

Rappoport-Gelfand, Lidia. Musical Life in Poland: The Postwar Years 1945 – 1977. New
York: Gordon and Breach, 1991.

Rushton, Julian. “Klangfarbenmelodie.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and

Musicians, 2nd ed. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 13: 652. New York:
Grove Dictionaries, 2001.

Schoenberg, Arnold. Theory of Harmony. Translated by Roy E. Carter. Berkeley:

University of California Press, 1983.

Steinitz, Richard. György Ligeti: Music of the Imagination. Boston: Northeastern

University Press, 2003.

Thomas, Adrian. Polish Music since Szymanowski. Cambridge: University Press, 2005.

Varga, Bálint András. Conversations with Iannis Xenakis. London: Faber and Faber
Ltd., 1996.

Xenakis, Iannis. MetastaseisB. New York: Boosey and Hawkes Ltd., 1967.


Penderecki, Krzysztof. Matrix 5. The Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra and
The London Symphony Orchestra. Krzysztof Penderecki, cond. EMI 7243 5

65077 2 2.
Xenakis, Iannis. Metastasis. The Orchestre National De L’O.R.T.F. Maurice Le Roux,
cond. Le Chant Du Monde LDC 278 368

Example 1: Tone Color Music in Schoenberg’s Pelleas Und Melisande


k k k k k
k k k k k
Example 2: Opening Cluster Progressing from One Note in Xenakis’ Metastasis.

Figure 1: Chart of Glissandi Path in the Cluster Chord at the End of Metastasis.

Example 3: Sound Shapes in Penderecki’s Anaklasis.


Example 4: Sound Shapes Showing a Progression of Densities in Anaklasis.