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Bach's Tuning


DouglasCorr
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I don’t know if someone has already reported this information here and I missed it, but I have I’ve just come across these astonishing sites:

 

Larips

 

Bach tuning

 

They describe how the embellishment at the head of the title page of Bach’s Clavierubung is actually an explanation of how to tune the keyboard! Much more intriguing than da Vinci code puzzles!! It was in everyone’s face all the time….. There is much else of interest on both sites!

 

This seems to me such a wonderful breakthrough that it deserves more publicity.

 

However, harpsichords can be tuned relatively quickly; I wonder how useful it would be for organ tuning – organs are generally out of tune most of the time to some extent – would the effect of the fine adjustments be lost?

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I don’t know if someone has already reported this information here and I missed it, but I have I’ve just come across these astonishing sites:

 

Larips

 

Bach tuning

 

They describe how the embellishment at the head of the title page of Bach’s Clavierubung is actually an explanation of how to tune the keyboard!  Much more intriguing than da Vinci code puzzles!! It was in everyone’s face all the time….. There is much else of interest on both sites!

 

This seems to me such a wonderful breakthrough that it deserves more publicity.

 

However, harpsichords can be tuned relatively quickly; I wonder how useful it would be for organ tuning – organs are generally out of tune most of the time to some extent – would the effect of the fine adjustments be lost?

 

When I was an apprentice I was taught to lay a scale in the time honoured manner as were piano tuners. As electronics developed we had the basic `squeek box' that made life a little easier for almost anyone to attempt to lay a scale and tune. These days with modern computers you can have any sacle you wish, - but:

 

Tuning an organ is not just simply setting a scale on a 4' principal and tuning octaves up and down, it is knowing how to deal with shading, robbing, sympathetic `pulling' from pipes too close together and generally moulding the tuning, with the realisation that two unison pipes tuned together can appear to have no beat but still not be perfectly in tune, so that the organ sounds well.

 

Fortunately there are still a few tuners around who have these skills.

 

FF

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I don’t know if someone has already reported this information here and I missed it, but I have I’ve just come across these astonishing sites:

 

Larips

 

Bach tuning

The first of these (by Bradley Lehman) is utterly convincing, and I, for my part, believe it to be right (and have that temperament available in my copy of Hauptwerk and in my electronic keyboard). As well as the author's recordings, there are already some other recordings using this tuning, such as Richard Egarr's new Goldberg Variations.

 

By comparison the second site (by Charles Francis) is a travesty. The author's suggested interpretations of the same graphic bear no relationship to any known practical method of tuning, and he has produced a considerable number of interpretations, all equally arbitrary, over a couple of years (Bradley Lehman includes them in his survey - just search for "Francis" on this page). Determined searching will also turn up ad hominem attacks by Charles Francis on Bradley Lehman, including a review debunking his suggestion before it had actually been published! In this page Bradley Lehman answers all Charles Francis's attacks (and also remarks that he appears to be an electrical engineer rather than a musician - now where did we come across something like that before? :lol: )

 

Paul

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I've never understood the first thing about temperaments, so am not qualified to judge Lehman's articles, but from the subsequent correspondence in Early Music it is clear that several people who do understand these things find his theory controversial. The weakness in Lehman's argument seems to be that his assumptions that Bach's single loop means a pure fifth, a single knot mans a 5th tempered by 1/12 comma and a double knot one tempered by 1/6 comma are nothing more than that - assumptions.

 

David Ponsford saw no reason to read Bach's squiggles upside down. Reading the diagram the right way up implies a tuning of G-D-A-E-B-F#-C#-G#/Ab-Eb-Bb-F-C - a completely different solution. Depending on the relationships between the loops, loops with single knots and loops with double knots, you get a temperament either similar to Lehman's (though not exact) or radically different.

 

Daniel Jencka also pointed out that the diagram can be interpreted in more than one way (http://www.bachtuning.jencka.com/essay.htm) and one such alternative was proposed jointly by Kenneth Mobbs and Alexander MacKenzie of Ord

 

Carl Sloan pointed out that the "C" indicating the starting point of the temperament is actually an ornamental hook on the "C" of "Clavier". It is also seen on the (non-autograph) title page of WTCII, where there are no loops, and on the initial "S" of "Semitonien" and "Sebastian". He also states that the precise relationship between beat rates and tempering was not understood in 1722 (Bedos de Celles's method having been determined empirically).

 

Other reservations came from Richard Maunder, Mark Lindley and Stuart Isacoff.

 

However, like I said, this is all Greek to me. Don't shoot the messenger!

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The weakness in Lehman's argument seems to be that his assumptions that Bach's single loop means a pure fifth, a single knot mans a 5th tempered by 1/12 comma and a double knot one tempered by 1/6 comma are nothing more than that - assumptions.

Of course - unless we find a text explanation by Bach, any theory is in some way an assumption. But the fact that 5ths tempered by 1/12 and 1/6 comma were common currency in tuning at that time (by virtue of the way of tempering thirds) is supportive, as is the fact that Lehman's temperament is very similar to Sorge's (as discussed in his articles). I just find all the alternatives seem more contrived or arbitrary, and - crucially - just don't work as well.

 

Paul

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Of course - unless we find a text explanation by Bach, any theory is in some way an assumption.  But the fact that 5ths tempered by 1/12 and 1/6 comma were common currency in tuning at that time (by virtue of the way of tempering thirds) is supportive, as is the fact that Lehman's temperament is very similar to Sorge's (as discussed in his articles).  I just find all the alternatives seem more contrived or arbitrary, and - crucially - just don't work as well.

 

Paul

 

I'm no expert but....

the simplicity does appeal compared to the seemingly contrived or arbitary 'rebuttal' temperaments. Certainly the results seem attractive as far as can be established on a one manual house organ. Anyone in Bucks or Oxon wanting to try do please get in touch.

 

David W

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