Tone Color Techniques in Music

Klangfarbenmelodie is a technique used in 20th Century music. Jupiterimages/ Images "Klangfarbenmelodie" is another name for tone-color melody and is a term coined by composer Arnold Schoenberg. If employed properly, this technique can create fascinating musical effects. Klangfarbenmelodie is an important tool for any composer regardless of whether they are writing tonal, atonal, polytonal, or serialist works.


Arnold Schoenberg coined the term Klangfarbenmelodie in 1911.

As Arnold Schoenberg was creating his system of twelve-tone technique, he took some time to write a text on music theory entitled, "Theory of Harmony." In this text, he first puts into writing his thoughts on Klangfarbenmelodie in 1911. Later this technique appears in his works as well as the works of many 20th Century composers.


The technique involves using a succession of pitches with different instruments.

The technique of Klangfarbenmelodie is remarkably simple. Klangfarbenmelodie is a succession of tones that differ in timbre. With this definition, a violin could play the first pitch of a melody, and a clarinet could play the second pitch. These changing tones would theoretically come together in a piece to form a complete melody. This definition also includes several instruments playing the same pitch, but using different combinations of instruments for each successive pitch.


Orchestras have a wide variety of instruments to use with Klangfarbenmelodie.

Within an orchestra, there are large varieties of instruments to manipulate. This setup provides the greatest variety for Klangfarbenmelodie. In a single passage, a motive can pass between two instruments with completely different tone colors. This can create a dramatic effect as the melody slowly morphs from one tone and timbre to the next. Chamber Ensembles Chamber ensembles can create Klangfarbenmelodies effectively.

Chamber ensembles have less of an ability to create Klangfarbenmelodie, but the effect can still be dramatic. With these intimate and small ensembles, it is still possible to create effective compositions with this technique. The main issue with a chamber ensemble is there may not be a conductor to help blend the individual tones in a sophisticated way.

Solo Instruments

Solo instruments have more trouble creating Klangfarbenmelodie.

Certain solo instruments can create a form of Klangfarbenmelodie. This occurs through varying octave registers and is most effective on instruments such as the piano, where moving up and down the octave is extremely easy. A similar effect to Klangfarbenmelodie works with certain solo instruments that have a wide variety of techniques available, such as a violin.


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