Klangfarbenmelodie (German for tone-color-melody) is a musical technique that involves distributing a musical line or melody to several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument, thereby adding color (timbre) and texture to the melodic line. The technique is sometimes referred to as "Pointillism", a term borrowed from a neo-impressionist painting technique.
The term was coined by Arnold Schoenberg in his text on harmony, Harmonielehre (1911), where he discusses the creation of "timbre-structures." Schoenberg and Anton Webern are particularly noted for their use of the technique, Schoenberg most notably in the third of his Five Pieces for Orchestra (Op. 16), and Webern in his Op. 10 (likely a response to Schoenberg's Op. 16), his Concerto for Nine Instruments (Op. 24), the Op. 11 pieces for cello and piano, and his orchestration of the six-part ricecare from Bach's Musical Offering:
Klangfarbenmelodie in Webern's arrangement of Bach's Ricecar
This may be compared with Bach's open score of the subject and the traditional homogeneous timbre used in arrangements:
Bach's open score of his Ricercar subject
Notable examples of such voice distribution that preceded the use of the term are Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique where, in the fourth movement (March to the Scaffold, bars 109-112), the melody is passed between the strings and the winds several times; and the works of Claude Debussy. Regarding the latter, Samson writes: "To a marked degree the music of Debussy elevates timbre to an unprecedented structural status; already in Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune the color of flute and harp functions referentially."
The French term mélodie de timbres is essentially synonymous and was used by Olivier Messiaen to describe his Couleurs de la cité céleste.
Isao Tomita uses the technique in his works, although rather than employing musical instruments he uses different synthesizer voices; Frank Zappa used the term "Klangfarbenmusik" to describe his instrumental piece Alien Orifice from the album Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention.
- Samson, Jim (1977). Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900-1920. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-02193-9.