Dr. Ross W. Duffin

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A Letter to Readers

 
 
 
January 2, 2007

Dear Readers,

A number of you, it seems, have been coming to my course website in hopes of finding online sound examples to illustrate my book. Unfortunately, I did not prepare anything specifically for that purpose, neither as a companion CD nor as a carefully designed website. In part, that was because the only performances I could offer were electronic versions of keyboard works, and my book is mostly about non-keyboard tunings. Before the book was published, it seemed impossible to introduce its concepts to a professional string quartet, for example, and get them up to speed to the point that they could make a recording they were comfortable with. I do have some electronic performances in extended sixth-commma meantone on my Baroque Ensemble Tuning website, but the examples there were designed for maximum clarity, not musical beauty, even though there are comparative ET versions for all of the pieces.

It occurred to me, however, that some of the skepticism expressed about the ideas in my book concerns the use of non-ET tunings for chromatic music of the 19th and 20th centuries. I say in the book—and I truly believe—that virtually any music written using tonal harmony can work in non-ET tuning, no matter how chromatic it is. So I offer below some electronic piano performances, mostly comparing a non-ET performance with ET, although the final selection is very long and is not replicated in that way. The non-ET tuning is Bradley Lehman’s Bach temperament, mentioned in my book and described in detail (with many additional sound examples) at his own site. I chose this temperament to show that even an 18th-century circulating temperament can work on later chromatic music, and even in whole-tone music (Voiles).

The difference on casual listening, especially, to the comparative examples may seem subtle. But a close listen—even a quiet listen without focusing on the details of the tuning but rather on the “feeling” of it—can be extremely revealing. To me, the major difference is the tranquility of the consonances and the color of the chromatic passages, versus the non-stop jangling of ET. I suppose the most important message from these comparative examples is that 19th- and 20th-century piano works in non-ET tunings don’t suck, as my daughter might say. That, in itself, may be a surprise since most people think everything from Bach to the present HAS to be in ET or it will be intolerably dissonant.

The examples were all made by taking MIDI files found on the web, exporting them to my Korg Triton electronic keyboard set in the Bach well temperament (and then in ET), and recording the results on my computer. The advantage to this method for purposes of comparison is that the only difference between the performances is the tuning. There are a lot of files so the page may take a minute or two to load completely. They are all QuickTime files which you can play on any Mac, or on any PC after downloading QT from the Apple website.

Lastly, I reiterate that electronic piano performances are not the ideal musical illustrations for the concepts in my book, which focuses mainly on non-keyboard tuning. But I thought they were good enough to lay to rest some of the false statements concerning the impossibility of non-ET tunings in chromatic music, and to provide a taste of what non-ET tunings have to offer in comparison to ET. I hope that my book will now spur both keyboard and non-keyboard performers to experiment with alternatives to ET when the music favors such an approach.

Happy listening!

Ross W. Duffin

 

 

First is Liszt’s piano arrangement of Wagner’s Liebestod in Bach’s WT.
(MIDI sequencing by Robert Finley)

Here is Liszt’s Liebestod in ET.

 

Next is Brahms’ Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2 in Bach’s WT.
(Sequencer unknown)

Brahm’s Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2 in ET.

 

Next is Debussy’s Clair de Lune in Bach’s WT.
(MIDI sequencing by Katsuhiro Oguri)

Debussy’s Clair de Lune in ET.

 

Next is Debussy’s Voiles in Bach’s WT.
(MIDI sequencing by Jeruen E. Dery)

Debussy’s Voiles in ET.

 

Last is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in Bach’s WT.
(MIDI sequencing by Gary D. Lloyd)

 

 

 

 

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