Temperament opinions

Hi Michael,

you write “’i’m fascinated by the rather complex matter of temperaments, which seem to generate some strong opinions”. This may appear to be so superficially. However I find that in this topic, and similarly in many other early-music fields of research, world-leading scholars appear to be mostly in agreement.

Hi Claudio
I’m porobably thinking more of contemporary pianists, many of whom tend to see no need for other than ET, rather than discussion on this site. I’ve been reading Rod Duffins’s book 'How ET ruined Harmony, which is nquite enlightening to me. I found a recent CD on the web of Bach’s Well Tempered Claviar, on harpsichord I think, that confidently asserted in the sleeve notes that ‘well tempered’ referred to equal tmperament -oh dear!

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Dear Michael,

I am sorry to state this, but in my Unequal Temperaments book, I pinpointed some very serious flaws in Duffin’s book. I am not the only one, temperament scholar Ibo Ortgies has also published negative reviews: I know of no single temperament scholar (the likes of Lindley, Rasch, Barbieri) who approves of Duffin’s book and other opinions about historical temperaments. Some of his statements are easy to prove to be false.

As for false statements (NOT by modern scholars AFAIK), they abound: Barbieri told me no long ago that any amateur feels entitled to publish outlandish statements on tuning and temperaments. It is not a recent phenomenon either. Montal (1828) in his great book on piano tuning observed that some published directions to tune the 12 pitches in Equal Temperament just recommended following the Circle of Fifths and tune every fifth … pure!!

Not to mention the seriously misleading works by Owen Jorgensen, debunked by many scholars as soon as they were published (starting in 1978), yet his books keep being read and quoted. His “equal-beating” modifications of historical temperaments, his testing historical temperaments basically on modern pianos . . .

Andrew please feel free to move this post elsewhere.

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Dear Claudio

Thank you, most useful and interesting observations. One can’t take everything at face value. I am trying to download your Unequal Temperaments book, but the Academia website seems reluctant to send me a confirmatory email to set up my account at present. As you said at the end, this discussion really needs to be moved to another heading.

PS, I have at least been able to download your Viola da Gamba Society Lehman rebuttal from the academia website and found your 5th edition and further comments on the Bray Baroque website.

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I don’t think you can purchase the book from Academia, you’ll have to go to Claudio’s webpage and click from there. A lot of other invaluable texts, my preferred is “Playing the Baroque Harpsichord” as I am no temperament-man.


Forgot: https://www.braybaroque.ie/

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Thanks Domenico, found it. Looks like the academia link I found was just the Viola da Gamba Society proceedings with the comments. Quite a lot of material on Claudio’s Bray Baroque site. Much of it is probably rather advanced for me at the moment but it looks a very interesting source. Perhaps I’ll try the Playing the Baroque Harpsichord though. I already have Ann Bond’s Guide to the Harpsichord, which at least starts at a fairly low level. I have been advised to reach Grade 5 on the piano before seriously tackling the harpsichord. I’m not sure how advisable this is but I have a grade or two to go before I get there. In the mean time I’m very lucky to have access to a Kirkmann harpsichord and a Longman and Broderip spinet, as well as my own John Feldberg harpsichord, once I sort out its jammed registers. I’m also getting quite a lot of guided practice in tuning temperaments on those instruments at the Finchcocks Charity so I think that understanding them is quite imporant for me.

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