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Re: origin of 'timbre'
Jim also asked:
>Is there a good source that discusses ... how it came to take its modern meaning?"
He already mentioned Helmholtz's "Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als
physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik". Translator was A.J. Ellis.
The reason for v. Helmholtz to use the term "Klangfarbe" was perhaps the
tempting hypothesis by Müller and subsequently Ohm that there is a quality
called "Tonhöhe" = pitch corresponding to fundamental frequency according to
Fourier analysis of a tone.
I quote Warren 1999: "Ohm (1844) had dismissed Seebeck's observation that a
pitch could be heared corresponding to an absent or weak fundamental as merely
an auditory illusion", and "Helmholtz (1877) backed Ohm's position in this
controversy", and "He attributed the perception of a single pitch to the
adoption by unskilled listeners of a "synthetic" mode of listening to the entire
complex of components (resulting in a pitch corresponding to the fundamental
frequency and having a timbre, or quality, reflecting the harmonic composition),
rather than an "analytical" mode in which pitches of component harmonics could
In other words, the physiomystical term timbre completes what I consider a still
widesprespread illusion concerning the physiophysical measure pitch. Of course,
it depends on the spectral composition of a tone whether it sounds e.g. more
sharp, more rough, or more harmonic. However, we should wonder why nobody so far
managed to find matching physiological correlates. Having revealed the
possiblility that the ordinaty event-related time-scale inevitably led into many
quarrels and mistakes, I am finding evidence after evidence for a cepstrum-like
basis of pitch. Maybe, this will also provide the key for a physiological
plausible understanding of what is contained in "timbre".