davidh Posted May 22, 2011 Share Posted May 22, 2011 The vast majority of organs are now tuned in Equal Temperament. It’s easy to assume that Equal Temperament can cope reasonably well with music from all periods, and that therefore older temperaments are not really necessary. We no longer use Mean Tone because most compositions written since about 1700 sound awful on a mean tone instrument. It is harder to recognise that music written for mean tone sounds awful on an instrument in equal temperament. It is harder to recognise because (a) mean tone is unfamiliar, and therefore, at first it sounds “wrong”, ( there are few instruments on which we can hear it, © we have grown accustomed to impurities in tuning, especially the major thirds, which would have absolutely unacceptable to listeners 300 or 400 years ago, (d) we not longer recognise what mixtures with pure thirds intervals can do, and (e) we no longer expect the expressive advantages of slightly unequal intervals between semitones and chords of different “tension”. I have been fortunate enough to hear and (briefly) play the organ in the Pieterskerk in Leiden, with some pipes dating back to 1446. After a number of modernisations it has been returned (as far as possible) to the state in which it was left in 1643 by van Hagerbeer. Since then I have listened to recordings of music played on that instrument, and compared it with the same pieces on ET organs. It’s not easy to describe the effects of different tunings, but to my ears, those in ET were in shades of grey, while those in MT were brightly, sometimes gaudily, coloured. For some examples, try :- http://mypipeorganhobby.blogspot.com/2009/...-hagerbeer.html and especially the Sweelinck Toccata in A. Now the laws of physics prescribe that we can have almost anything that we want from a temperament, but every choice which maximises some particular advantages will bring with it some matching disadvantages. Isn’t it time to recognise that no organ can have all of the virtues, nor be ideal for all periods and styles of music. When will we have frequent opportunities to hear early music on instruments which have not been compromised by the need or the desire to play too large a repertoire? (My comments don't apply only to very early instruments, but just as much to those in the recent thread about Victorian instruments. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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