Major and minor triads emerged in western music in the 13th to 15th centuries. From the 15th to the 17th centuries, they increasingly appeared as final sonorities. In the 17th century, music-theoretical concepts of sonority, root, and inversion emerged. I propose that since then, the primary perceptual reference in tonal music has been the tonic triad sonority (not the tonic tone or chroma) in an experiential (not physical or notational) representation. This thesis is consistent with the correlation between the key profiles of Krumhansl and Kessler (1982; here called chroma stability profiles) and the chroma salience profiles of tonic triads (after Parncutt, 1988). Chroma stability profiles also correlate with chroma prevalence profiles (of notes in the score), suggesting an implication-realization relationship between the chroma prevalence profile of a passage and the chroma salience profile of its tonic triad. Convergent evidence from psychoacoustics, music psychology, the history of composition, and the history of music theory suggests that the chroma salience profile of the tonic triad guided the historical emergence of major-minor tonality and continues to influence its perception today.

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