BETWEEN U S: A HyperHistory of American Microtonalists

Many musicians think that to attack today’s equal-tempered tuning is to attack the European classical music tradition itself. Not at all true, in fact, quite the opposite. Through most of European history – all except the last 100 years, in fact – tuning was an art, not a science, and the differences between different keys in the old keyboard tunings had an enormous, if subtle, influence in the way the great composers wrote their music. Ever wonder why F major is considered a calm, pastoral key, or why there are no Vivaldi concerti in F# major? Tuning is the answer. And the old tunings need not be dead, for they still have much to offer the modern composer. I keep my own pianos tuned to 18th-century well temperament, and compose for the wonderful variety of intervals it provides.

For simplicity’s sake I’m going to present only two phases of European tuning, meantone and well temperament.

From BETWEEN U S: A HyperHistory of American Microtonalists
by Kyle Gann
© 2001 NewMusicBox

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