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HPSCHD-L  November 1994

HPSCHD-L November 1994

Subject:

Re: Query about key signatures (was: More on tuners)

From:

Bradley P Lehman <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 23 Nov 1994 13:41:50 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (107 lines)

On Wed, 23 Nov 1994, mcgeary thomas nelson wrote:
 
> Regarding key charcacterisitcs, you'll find an exhaustive study of the
> subject in a book by Rita Steblin (in the UMI dissertations in
> musicology series).
 
Not exhaustive of the *whole* topic, but it seems to cover her main focus
(late 18th/early 19th centuries) well.
 
Here's Marc-Antoine Charpentier's key scheme:
 
Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "Energie des Modes"
----------------------------------------------
C.3 ma.   Gay et guerier                  Gay & martial
C min.    Obscur et Triste                Dark & Sad
D. min.   Graue et Deuot                  Grave & Devout
D maj.    Joyeux et tres Guerier          Joyful & very Martial
E. min.   Effemine Amoureux et Plaintif   Effeminate Amorous & Plaintive
E maj.    Querelleur et Criard            Quarrelsome & Noisy
Eb 3 maj. Cruel et Dur                    Cruel & Hard
Eb 3 mi   horrible Affreux                horrible Frightful
F maj.    furieux et Emporte              furious & Passionate
F min     Obscur et Plaintif              Dark & Plaintive
G maj.    Doucement joyeux                Sweetly joyful
G min     Serieux et Magnifique           Serious & Magnificent
A min.    Tendre et Plaintif              Tender & Plaintive
A maj.    Joyeux et champetre             Joyful & rustic
Bb maj.   Magnifique et Joyeux            Magnificent & Joyful
Bb min.   Obscur et terrible              Dark & terrible
B min.    Solitaire et melancolique       Lonely & melancholy
B maj.    Dur et Plaintif.                Hard & Plaintive
 
from Regles de Composition, Paris MS.  Cited in: Prevost, Paul.  Le
prelude non mesure pour clavecin.  Baden-Baden: Editions Valentin Koerner,
1987.  P. 278.
 
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
An issue of debate I have regarding meantone temperaments: many tuners
tend to make all the fifths (and therefore the thirds) the same size, and
I think this assumption is too limiting (especially in 16th- and
17th-century music).  It's also perhaps a fallacy to tune the same way
every time: we moderns go for reproducibility and mathematical correctness
instead of artistic flavor.  We prefer to use only temperaments that are
thoroughly documented, instead of perhaps a temperament that was so common
that nobody talked about it.  And a third fallacy is that what Bach meant
by "wohltemperiert" necessarily is a closed irregular temperament, no
wolf, no wide fifths, as in our modern definition of "well-tempered."
 
For the past year I've been using as my standard temperament for most
harpsichord music (including all of Bach's) a meantone where the natural
notes are pretty much in 1/4 or 2/9 comma, more or less, but the sharps
drift upward and the flats downward, and every key sounds different.  No
interval is tempered backwards.  Everything is tuned by fifths (*not*
fourths!), checking the obtained major and minor thirds not by beats, but
by whether I like the sound, with my musical ear and experience (not the
math side of my brain).  None of the fifths are tempered by counting
beats, either - I simply play the fifth melodically (sequentially) and
bring it in until it sounds "a little bit narrow."  I let the fifths
involving accidentals be closer to pure, or sometimes pure if I feel like
it that day.  The wolf ends up not being too bad, every key is usable
(even Ab major) though spicy, and the temperament can be set in two or
three minutes.  Nothing is tuned directly by thirds.  Of course it sounds
slightly different every time, but that's not a problem.  This idea of
tempering fifths (and only fifths) melodically is from one of the chapters
in Jorgenson's _Tuning_.  It's the kind of temperament that a 17th-century
musician untrained in mathematical exactitude might come up with, simply
knowing the sounds that s/he liked to hear in the music, and knowing a
little bit about fifths having to be narrow.
 
Frankly, this temperament strategy seems to me to be intuitively right and
elegant.  It makes the music sound good, and it makes key characteristics
mean something.  It's more melodically pleasing than 1/4 comma meantone,
and gives greater dramatic range than well-temperaments or 1/4 comma, all
of which seem too bland and uncharacterized for my taste.  This is a
subjective priority, yes.  But listeners hear music subjectively anyway.
 
And yes, this temperament works well with other instrumentalists and
singers, too, even viols: depending how much they can adjust things, I
simply temper the fifths a little less so the E moves up.  That doesn't
change the philosophy or basic characteristic of the temperament, which
isn't based on constants.  The main thing that varies is the degree to
which the keys are differentiated.
 
I used this temperament in one of my dissertation lecture-recitals,
demonstrating its differences against 1/4 comma meantone and equal
temperament, playing A-B(-C) comparisons from various pieces, including
Bach's "Chromatic Fantasy & Fugue", and Bull's infamous "Ut re mi fa sol
la", and Kuhnau's Biblical Sonatas, as well as other more diatonic pieces.
Each of these pieces springs to life in this irregular meantone, such that
the temperament an important becomes part of the piece.  Modulation causes
tension and release.  (The F#-minor Toccata is pretty exciting in this
temperament, too....)  The primary evidence for all this is in the *music*,
making it sound pleasing and exciting, more than in any treatises.
 
Just some musing for the day.  And I'm with Rob, let weird keys be weird!
Unless we're going to start assuming that composers chose their keys at
random.  I certainly don't, even when composing for unaccompanied voices,
because keys have inherent spiritual qualities and sound colors
independent of actual pitch (mathematical frequency).  If I say "imagine
Eb major" and "imagine G major," which do you hear immediately in your
mind as warmer?  Greener?  Mellower?  Simpler?
 
 |\      _,,,--,,_  ,)          Bradley Lehman, [log in to unmask]
 /,`.-'`'   -,  ;-;;'       personal nutrition tip #107:
|,4-  ) )-,_ ) /\       I have better things to do than count out the exact
'---''(_/--' (_/-'   recommended serving size of Cheez-Its or Tootsie Rolls.

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