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Howard Goodall's "Story of Music"


davidh
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UK television viewers have had the opportunity to see the first two parts of this series.

 

Howard Goodall has an exceptional ability to communicate some of the technicalities of music in simple and easily understood terms, and I can easily forgive the excessive use of graphics (probably not his fault) and the appalling electronic keyboard which he uses for demonstrations. A simple account of some difficult topics can't take account of the more subtle nuances, but even so I have to disagree with some of his opinions, and note one definite error.

 

He said carefully that the "selling point of the piano, making it different from the harpsichords, clavichords, spinets and virginals was its ability to play soft and loud, that is "piano e il forte". Accurate but misleading; the clavichord was never "loud", but it was capable of a wide dynamic range, perhaps wider than that of the early piano, although at a lower level.

 

In explaining temperament he said that Western Music needed "at least" (careful words) 19 subdivisions of the octave, and that close sharps and flats are subsumed into the best approximation on a single key. To illustrate this he showed a diagram of a set of 19 organ pipes on which an ascending 19-division scale was played. Unfortunately these were labelled

C natural, D flat, C sharp, D natural, E flat, D sharp, E natural, E sharp, F natural, etc

whereas D flat in 19-division temperament is HIGHER than C sharp, so the series should be

C natural, C sharp, D flat, D natural, D sharp, E flat, E natural. E sharp, F flat, etc

 

Few modern scholars would now maintain the old view that Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was intended for equal temperament, but Goodall said that it was the most conclusive evidence that equal temperament worked. I am not convinced either by his statement that it made easier for different instruments to play together in tune.

 

As for our organ, equal temperament results in mutations that clash with the harmonics from a fundamental note, and equal temperament resulted in the death of the traditional English Cornet stop.

 

He did say, very wisely, that we now all hear music through the filter, or some would say "distortion" of equal temperament, and ... everyone now hears music as "in tune" or "off key" as, say, everyone in 1600.

 

David Hitchin

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Don't shoot the tuner - he is doing his best. The stiff strings of a piano guarantee enough inharmonicity to ensure that the instrument is not in tune with itself.

 

According to simple acoustic theory, an organ pipe should not be in tune with itself, either. A physical pipe length is constant but different harmonics imply different end corrections, so should not be perfectly in tune with each other. Fortunately a more sophisticated theory takes into account phase locking which reduces inharmonicity to a very low level.

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Out of ignorant curiosity, as the screen with nineteen organ pipes flashed by too fast for me to read, which are the remaining 7 sharps and flats in the "19 semitone" scale (19 - 12 = 7). Each of the black notes can be either a sharp or a flat (e.g. C# and Db) making five but if we count E#, Fb, B# and Cb in addition that gives me 21 possible notes in the scale?

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Don't shoot the tuner - he is doing his best. The stiff strings of a piano guarantee enough inharmonicity to ensure that the instrument is not in tune with itself.

 

According to simple acoustic theory, an organ pipe should not be in tune with itself, either. A physical pipe length is constant but different harmonics imply different end corrections, so should not be perfectly in tune with each other. Fortunately a more sophisticated theory takes into account phase locking which reduces inharmonicity to a very low level.

 

 

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IMHO, tuning is vastly overrated.

 

All you need is tremulants.and a toy-counter :wacko: even with a baroque organ.

 

 

 

 

 

Best,

 

MM

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