By Ross W. Duffin
Department of Music
Case Western Reserve University
Modern performers of Baroque music are increasingly using historical temperaments. Among the dozens of temperament solutions proposed by theorists during the 17th and 18th centuries, related temperaments by Francesc’ Antonio Vallotti and Thomas Young are among the most popular today, to the point where they arguably dominate the field.This article briefly reviews the technical basis for temperaments, then presents the historical and musical evidence for and against the temperaments of Vallotti and Young in performances of Baroque music. Graphics and sound illustrations allow comparison of the different temperaments both by constituent intervals and complete pieces.On both historical and musical grounds, the author pleads for a more critical approach to Baroque temperament choices, suggesting that 1/6 comma meantone might be a better temperament for most ensemble situations.

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About the Author

Ross W. Duffin is perhaps best known in North America for his radio program, Micrologus: Exploring the World of Early Music, on National Public Radio from 1981 to 1998. A former Noah Greenberg Award winner, his scholarly work has focused on 15th-century Franco-Flemish music from Du Fay to Josquin and on English music of the Jacobean period. His other publications on tuning and temperament include the Micrologus program, “Temper, temper!” and the chapter “Tuning and Temperament” in A Performer’s Guide to Renaissance Music (New York: Schirmer Books, 1994), as well as the chapter “Tuning” in A Performer’s Guide to Medieval Music (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000). Since the publication of this article, he has also written “Just Intonation in Renaissance Theory and Practice”, “Baroque Ensemble Tuning in Extended 1/6 Syntonic Comma Meantone”, and How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (And Why You Should Care) (W. W. Norton, 2007). Duffin is Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music and director of the Early Music program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.