Music and Vision homepage


<<  -- 2 --  Gordon Rumson    APPROPRIATE TEMPERAMENT


It is Equal Temperament which allows composers to modulate so freely that tonal gravity is effaced: thus, music by Hindemith, Sorabji, Ornstein, Ives, Cowell, Busoni and Schoenberg is possible. For this repertoire Equal Temperament is obligatory. Even Busoni's, or Foulds' different scale structures are based on the uniformity of the semitone interval. Busoni did suggest the use of thirds of tone, but I am not aware of any of his compositions that make use of this possibility. He was obviously unaware of Arthur Fickenscher's Polytone (which was initially suggested in 1913 in Germany) having 60 notes to the octave. It is interesting that so many experiments in microtonality can be dated to this era of the reduction of tuning alternatives into Equal Temperament.

Some people argue that equal temperament was achieved earlier, but Jorgensen rightly points out that its functional achievement requires specific methods that simply were not widely spread. It may be his date is too late, and so perhaps Equal Temperament might be pushed back to say, 1850. However -- and very suggestively -- this already places most of the great music of our repertoire in a tuning system no longer used. Of the 'certifiably' great composers, only Brahms lived and produced for an extended time after this date (Liszt is too controversial). The loss of colour and the falling off of development in Western music may be attributable to this very issue.

But what do these tunings and temperaments actually sound like? There are far too few examples on CD so far. However, one online resource is of enormous value. For those who are interested the 'Warped Canon' page makes altered tunings and temperaments (Well-temperaments are on the second page) available using the famed Pachelbel Canon as point of departure. Here, as long as your computer is enabled for this (and most recent ones should be) you can compare the different tunings and temperaments and actually hear the difference.

I suggest that if at first it simply sounds 'out of tune' that you allow several repetitions to allow adjustment for your ears. After a remarkably short period of time the expressive features and potentials of these tunings and temperaments will become audible.

Copyright © 26 June 2006 Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada






 << Music & Vision home                  Tresa Waggoner >>