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Pianomania – Love, Perfection and a Little Bit of Madness

“The tone isn’t breathing.“ – complains pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, distraught. This is a typical sentence in Steinway & Sons’ chief technician and Master Tuner Stefan Knüpfer’s normal work day. The film Pianomania takes the viewer along on a humorous journey into the secret world of sounds, and accompanies Stefan Knüpfer at his unusual job with world famous pianists like Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Rudolf Buchbinder, Till Fellner and Pierre-Laurent Aimard, among others. Read more >>

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Author Topic: Authentic Bach - Role of correct temperament?  (Read 16571 times)
xvimbi
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« on: September 19, 2005, 08:20:39 PM »

Discussions can get heated when it comes to how one best performs Bach in an "authentic" way. Often, people argue about pedaling or correct ornaments, to name just a couple of issues. However, practically nobody seems to be concerned with the fact that the temperament used on modern pianos is not the one that Bach used, and the pitch is different as well. In fact, because of the use of equal temperament in modern pianos, practically all aspects of the different "moods" and colors associated with different keys are lost. Those only come out when used with the unequal temperaments of the time. Composers like Bach, Mozart and Chopin wrote their various works that made use of all keys (preludes, etudes, sonatas) for the express purpose to bring out those moods. So, here are my questions:

Why does nobody consider something as fundamental as the correct temperament when thinking about performance practices?
What difference would it actually make? I.e., has actually ever anybody recorded Bach Inventions, WTC, late Beethoven sonatas, etc., on a modern piano with the proper tuning that the composer used? I am not talking about period instruments. I'm interested in the modern piano.

Any thoughts?
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Mayla
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« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2005, 10:09:17 PM »

.
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stevie
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« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2005, 12:33:58 AM »

bach often had a bad temper, and much of his music should naturally played in such a way.
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lostinidlewonder
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« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2005, 01:00:52 AM »

If you hear the orchestration of a piece then the same thing on piano, it sounds similar and not too much is lost. Even less is lost when you are talking about the same instrument with miniscule difference in tuning.

As a matter of kindness to a piano I think it would be really bad to keep changing between temperments, piano strings generally enjoy to be kept at a constant tension. Also it would be annoying to have to hire a technician to tune to the temperement you want then ask him to kindly tune it back at the end of the concert.

If you like investing money to tune the piano and think that will give you more confidence to make your playing "traditional",  fair enough. But really you cannot play any Bach traditionally on a modern pianoforte no matter what tuning you have. You have to sit on a harpsichord, organ or clavichord. But I beleive Bach music is so flexible it can be played with any musical medium, and the modern pianoforte makes a meal out of it all the time despite it being "untraditional" in all these aspects.
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alessandro
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« Reply #4 on: February 21, 2006, 03:01:18 PM »

Mayla, dears,

I try to ad something, in my handicapped English, on what well-tempered means in my opinion and on how Bach can sound in general.
First of all, 'well' is the translation of 'wohl', which has also a small connotation of 'whole'.  It has a sound of totalness.  The prelude in the well-tempered can be seen as an ode to the in that time new temperament in keyboards and is in fact something like an etude.  It tries to capture all the temperaments in every tune that the piano can offer in a two page score.  When you look at the original score it has a genuine, mathematical fluidity though at different measures there happens something magical for the ears and only the end is in my ears a little strange, forced, but that can be due to the fact that the original isn't also that clear. 
I have this childhood-memory of a respected pianotuner who once got critic from a musician that the piano wasn't welltuned.  The tuner was a blind man an the musician got this, in that period, brand new electronic tuningmachine that looked like a waterpass (something with a bubble in water that is used to see if surfaces are really flat.)  And the tuning machine showed at different spots a 'mistake'.  Told in a simplified way this is what happened. Every note can be divided in nine 'comma's'.  One can make a difference between chromatic and a diatonic "tones". Let's say chromatic is five comma's and diatonic is four comma's, that makes nine.  And for what's left between mi and fa, and si and do, the tuner did spread nicely a five comma's for the first and a four comma's for the other.  The electronic machine didn't make this difference but cut everything in two parts of 4,5.  That gives a flat sound to the whole tuning. The blind tuner didn't use such machine and had a human, temperamental tuning.  Once they artist realised that there was a recurrent 4 and 5 comma's, once he realised that the tuner did his job with his guts, his stomach, his 'temperament' the fight was over and he congratulated the tuner.
Now the creation of the keyboard, the division, the number of keys per scale is a purely human invention.  Music is of a cosmic order.  There has been tremendous discussion, conflict, mainly between religious, catholics and - let's call them - searchers over the (actual) division of the keyboard. It was a quarrel over numbers (of keys).  Some people thought music was sacred and therefor the propriety of the church.
I'll make it short.  The undescribable beautiful things that sometimes happen in pianomusic is in my opinion caused by temperament of player and instrument and the dynamics, the vibes, the trilling of chords or series of notes.  If both are magically balanced, then the emotion doesn't make a stop in the brains but it goes straight to the fibres of the listener's body, nerves, back, skin... (or the heart if you prefer.) The prelude of the well tempered is one of those pieces that contains this imminent beauty, within itself, and the pianist can - sometimes - bring a little of that beauty alive.
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cy_shuster
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« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2006, 11:48:02 PM »

One of the problems we have is that no one is *entirely* sure what temperament Bach might have used.  Arguments based on specific pieces are balanced by the fact that Bach transposed pieces into different keys, and for different instruments (such as violin, which does not have the fixed pitch of a piano).

I enjoy using a variety of different temperaments when I tune.  They can be categorized as "extreme", "mild", and every shade of gray in between.  The mildest ones can be used for any music, even Debussy.  Here's a good site that shows various temperaments and when they were used:
http://www.rollingball.com

The effects are different on a piano and a harpsichord, because of the much higher tension on the strings in a piano.  This affects the placement of the overtones.  The bottom line is that on both instruments it's easy to notice when the intervals are out of place compared to where we expect them, but only on a harpsichord is it easy to notice the wonderful harmony when the piece returns to a key where the intervals are more pure.

A fascinating book on this topic (very readable) is "Temperament", by Stuart Isacoff.

--Cy--
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danrose
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« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2009, 03:51:52 PM »

Just a thought...
The comment regarding older temperaments is largely true (I have been curious to hear them for a while now). But, as far as Bach is concerned, he was a big fan of equal temperament, and endeavored to prove its worth with the Well-Tempered Clavier. I suspect that his own instruments were tuned with equal temperament though he would have had to play on instruments that were tuned differently (church organs might be one example).
So, chances are, if you want to find Bach pieces written for non-equal temperaments, you'd have to look to music that he expected to be performed on instruments that he had no control over, such as choral and sacred music or possibly performances in distant cities.
(I may be wrong, so feel free to correct me on this!)

D.
P.S. Sorry, I should have read the other replies first!
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richard black
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« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2009, 09:44:37 PM »

Well, since this thread has been bumped I feel I should point out that some performers in the authentic movement have indeed experimented with all sorts of temperaments. Some electronic keyboards can be set up in non-standard temperaments, too.
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latrobe
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« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2010, 11:17:54 PM »

Why does nobody consider something as fundamental as the correct temperament when thinking about performance practices?
What difference would it actually make? I.e., has actually ever anybody recorded Bach Inventions, WTC, late Beethoven sonatas, etc., on a modern piano with the proper tuning that the composer used? I am not talking about period instruments. I'm interested in the modern piano.

Hi!

For the past 10 years or so I have been promoting concerts performed on an instrument that I tune to an unequal temperament in Sussex UK and the next concert is Beethoven HammerKlavier on 1st July 7.45pm http://www.organmatters.co.uk/index.php/topic,113.0.html. After this we will have a further BeethovenFest on 24th July 4pm with four Beethoven sonatas - Moonlight, Emperor, Tempest and Waldstien by Adolfo Barabino and a pupil.

Adolfo has gained a lot of insight into this repertoire played in the authentic temperament:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXzSXWaQGmA and here are other performers playing Beethoven possibly in a different style to which Adolfo adheres but on the temperament nevertheless:

E flat Opus 7
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QavJJgu0q7I
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBaqxiUVELo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=youUdKGTIXc
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubjdT41PH5g

Waldstein
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAhbLlXFdaA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxhwjEqziVs
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPq-2qoFEdE

Schubert Sonata in Bb Major D.960 (particularly powerful)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhjQSpKnQPI
http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=7bJNEBiqaCM
http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=uTGka9jFUCU
http://www.youtube.com/watch#!v=UxBzVcEr5Qo

Chopin:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zxNrQuxfNY

Perhaps this piano does not qualify as "modern" - here's one slightly younger:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iw8FjHvHu30 and I also encourage temperament exploration on the organ:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uj9MORwoF0
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teVlrYJGKAE

I hope that these examples show really what can be done to achieve authenticity and a new dimension both in performance and music appreciation. I am also working on a specific tuning method of the "modern" piano to hint more at the harmonic structure of the fortepiano.

Yours sincerely

David Pinnegar
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David Pinnegar BSc ARCS
Promoting keyboard heritage http://www.organmatters.co.uk and performers in Unequal Temperament http://www.hammerwood.mistral.co.uk/concerts.htm
fftransform
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« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2011, 01:06:45 AM »

If you want authentic Bach, then don't play it on a piano.  Seems really arbitrary to be so vehement about only a particular aspect of period performance, but not many others.

However, if you would like to hear Bach played with a different tuning, I'll be more than happy to.  Please merely pay a piano tuner to come to my house several times a day in order to tune my piano back and forth (at my convenience), or please pay for me to go train with somebody who can teach me this skill.  Don't worry; I won't gouge you on expenses.  Alternatively, if this all seems like too much of a hassle, please buy me a second piano, one which I (you) can have tuned to what one might have expected Bach to be writing for.  If you want to hear Mozart or Beethoven, buy me a couple more pianos.  Either way, you'll have to buy me a larger apartment for my second piano.  Then please pay to have that piano shipped everywhere that I perform or record, or at least pay the piano tuner to live with me on a full time basis, so that he may accompany me and detune/retune all of the pianos.  He'll need a guest house, obviously; at this point, I assume that we're talking about a house for my four pianos and piano tuner, as opposed to an apartment.  And not just for me, but for every other pianist, as well.

Although I'm not sure how much good it will do: can you define "mood"?  Also, can you please start a global campaign to educate the general populace of the extremely subtle differences in intonation?  Otherwise, I really doubt that nearly anybody will be able to tell the difference.  Perhaps the music of these composers shouldn't be played at all!  Seems like an easy solution.


Does that answer your question?
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latrobe
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« Reply #10 on: October 03, 2011, 10:53:28 AM »

Hi!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bs7wDeDSQiI
http://www.jungleboffin.com/mp4/jill-crossland-unequal-tempered-fortepiano/well-tempered-bach.mp3
http://www.jungleboffin.com/mp4/jill-crossland-unequal-tempered-fortepiano/bach.mp3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JF3YzTG7lU

Best wishes

David P
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David Pinnegar BSc ARCS
Promoting keyboard heritage http://www.organmatters.co.uk and performers in Unequal Temperament http://www.hammerwood.mistral.co.uk/concerts.htm
indianajo
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« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2011, 05:54:23 PM »

I tune my own piano. Those fantasizing about a live in tuner should look in the mirror. Buy a long handled 8mm hex wrench,  a 1/4 drive 8mm hex socket, and a tuning fork, and get after it.  I pluck the strings one at a time with a fingernail instead of using damper sticks.  Not useful professionally, they do wear out.
The links listed above provide a reference for experiments in historical tuning. Thank you.  Unfortunately the comments about modern piano and overtones due to string tension cannot be ignored. I find that upper two octaves have to tune to the  "stretch" or they sound awful. That is, the fundamentals can't be tuned in octaves to the bass strings.   Fortunately, my 2010 purchased Hammond H100 organ seems to have this tuning on the fundamental sine wave, and has been a great domestically made tuning reference (not portable) for tuning by ear.  As my favorite piano JSB pieces , the two part inventions, are in the middle three octaves, I may break out the oscilloscope and microphone and do a little experimenting with historical tuning.   
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latrobe
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« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2013, 02:45:45 AM »

Hi!

If anyone wants to listen to music in different temperaments then a recording of a recent concert might well be enjoyable:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gd1nv4wy4mw

Harpsichord - Kirnberger III
Cello - natural intervals and harmonic accordances
Organ - meantone
Piano - a Bach temperament based on numerous perfect fifths.

Best wishes

David P
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David Pinnegar BSc ARCS
Promoting keyboard heritage http://www.organmatters.co.uk and performers in Unequal Temperament http://www.hammerwood.mistral.co.uk/concerts.htm
themeandvariation
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« Reply #13 on: March 27, 2015, 09:30:30 PM »

Thank you latrobe for posting …in particular, how a piano would sound with such tuning…  such a surprise for my ears to hear…. truly, a special kind of beauty…..
 the website: http://www.larips.com  describes a tuning that employs the (what was once thought as decorative) doodlings on the  title page of Bach's WTC…  on that site there is a link to one recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2vUrztI2ns  playing a piece by CPE Bach, employing such a tuning. Please pardon the ambient noise…  i wonder if you have any thoughts about that...
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