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sm24-3_EN_p30_Tuning_V2_sm23-5_BI_pXX 2018-10-30 5:40 AM Page 30




he practice of using period instruments in as musicians tried to transcend the constraints sound exactly alike. This is what gives each in-
Early Music has facilitated a general of Pythagorean tuning. Kerner explains: “Mu- dividual key its distinct character.
awareness of how Baroque pitch is about a sicians and theorists began experimenting “We also know that Bach and others were
semitone lower than modern pitch. Less with tuning systems that require the temper- well aware of the system of equal temperament
commonly known are developments in ing of one or more of the otherwise pure fifths [the common temperament from the 20th cen-
temperament, tuning and pitch over the course in the tuning scheme in order to increase the tury until present day], and that it was not pre-
of history. Their implications go beyond the harmony range of the system and allow the ferred, probably because all of its major thirds
concert experience. In many profound and sur- music to modulate into more useable keys.” were equally wide or pure, and there was no dis-
prising ways, they have influenced why com- tinguishing character of any particular triad.”
posers wrote the music that they did. MEAN-TONE TEMPERAMENT All high Baroque music favored equal tem-
The first historically significant temperament perament. Interested readers can hear this
DEFINITIONS is mean-tone temperament. It came in count- temperament in most harpsichord recordings
Tuning, temperament and pitch are not in- less versions through the three centuries of its of Baroque music. The booklet notes usually
terchangeable. popularity, and its use even overlapped with state which temperament is used.
Pitch is the simplest to understand. It is the later temperaments well into the 19th century.
frequency at which sound waves move, when Mean-tone temperament favoured pure thirds EQUAL TEMPERAMENT
referred to in a musical context. Pitch can be at the expense of perfect fifths. Every usable triad Many more temperaments were developed
measured in the SI unit Hertz (Hz). The mod- thus sounded the same. By focusing on thirds, through the ages, leading eventually to equal
ern definition of “A” is defined as 440 Hz. however, another interval became unbearable: temperament at the turn of the 20th century.
Tuning can refer to a specific pattern or sys- tweaking all those fifths created intervals called This temperament is perhaps the easiest to un-
tem of tuning or, secondarily, to two or more “wolf tones,” so named because its out-of-tune derstand. Simply take a pure octave and divide
pitches that are perfectly synchronized. “When sound evoked the howling of wolves. Furthermore, it into twelve equal parts. Whereas earlier tem-
this happens,” as Robert Kerner, period instru- just as before, not all keys were usable. peraments were based on a pure tuning which
ment builder and retired keyboard curator at the Many Renaissance and early Baroque key- then got adjusted here and there, equal tem-
Eastman School of Music, explains, “any dis- board pieces were conceived using this tem- perament throws everything out the window.
cernible tuning beats are eliminated.” perament. The thirds-centric approach of this It has no basis in naturally occurring overtones
Temperament is closely related to tuning. temperament directly influenced the upsurge and requires no adjustment of old models. In-
When intervals are purposely de-tuned, they are of thirds and sixths in place of the parallel stead, it just calculates everything cold.
“tempered” from their pure form. fifths that were more prevalent in the music The compositions that resulted from equal
of the preceding era. Modern listeners can get temperament no longer have tendency tones,
PYTHAGOREAN TUNING a taste of mean-tone temperament from so composers could truly compose in any key
Pythagorean tuning, the first major tuning sys- recordings of Buxtehude or Italian music on equally. Atonality, which would not have
tem used in Western music, is based on math- period organs. worked with earlier temperaments, burst
ematical ratios found in the natural world. forth. To hear what this temperament was
Perfect fifths sound gloriously pure in this tun- WELL TEMPERAMENT conceived to facilitate, listen to how dreamy
ing as they are the favoured tuning interval Many musicians and theorists experimented and ambiguous the whole tone scales feel in
(the only interval used while tuning). Triads, with developing beyond mean-tone tempera- say, Debussy’s piano works.
however, are only possible in a few keys. Be- ment.
yond those few keys, the thirds that result from “What we call well temperament nowadays FUTURE
the tuning of the contiguous fifths that make was better known as ‘new temperament,’ of The future is an exciting time as music and
up the octave become unbearably out of tune. which there were many [types],” Kerner says. tuning systems across the world cross-polli-
Pythagorean tuning only works in music “This is a generic phrase referring to any of the nate with Western models. Whatever happens,
consisting of a single melody, parallel fifths unrestricted and irregular ‘unequal’ tempera- it is important to keep in mind that the mod-
and a few triads in a limited number of keys. ments of the late Baroque and Classical era. ern temperament that we take for granted is
Accompanied early chant, also known as mon- “In these systems, the circle of fifths is actually very young and still open to change,
ody, fits like a glove with this tuning. ‘closed’ [all the fifths are usable and either pure just as so many tuning systems have been
or slightly tempered], and the major thirds of through the ages. It’s not as absolute as one
MOVING ON TO TEMPERAMENTS the various keys are of differing sizes – some might think! LSM
The idea of purposely de-tuning intervals just are pure and others much wider than pure. As
a little here and there became more attractive a result, no two triads in well temperament

30 NOVEMBER 2018

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