Temperament has ratings and 54 reviews. Isacoff examines the tuning of the Western diatonic scale, the problem of obtaining pure, harmonious intervals. Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization. Front Cover. Stuart Isacoff. Knopf Doubleday. Six Questions with the Author: Stuart Isacoff on Temperament Excerpt from Temperament: The Idea That Solved Music’s Greatest Riddle.
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Library Locations and Hours. Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. Indeed, from the time of the Ancient Greeks through the eras of Renaissance scientists and Enlightenment philosophers, the relationship between the notes of the musical scale was seen as a key to the very nature of the universe.
In this engaging and accessible account, Stuart Isacoff leads us through the battles over that scale, placing them in the context of quarrels in the worlds of art, philosophy, religion, politics and science. The contentious adoption of the modern tuning system known as equal temperament called into question beliefs that had lasted nearly two millenia–and also made possible the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, and all who followed.
Filled with original insights, fascinating anecdotes, and portraits of some of the greatest geniuses of all time, Temperament is that rare book that will delight the novice and expert alike. Stuart Isacoff is a pianist, composer and writer, and the founding editor of the magazine Piano Today. His work in interdisciplinary studies has also brought him to such venues as the Vero Beach Museum of Art, where he lectured on links between kinetic art and music.
Isacoff teaches a graduate course in the philosophy of music and an undergraduate survey in the history of Western music at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music SUNYand a course in the art of writing at St.
He has also taught musical improvisation at William Paterson University and at festivals around the world. His piano recitals often combine classical repertoire with jazz improvisation, demonstrating the threads that connect musical works created centuries and continents apart.
Thank tempera,ent for using the catalog. Indeed, from the time of the ancient Greeks through the eras of Renaissance scientists and Enlightenment philosophers, the relationship between the notes of the musical scale was seen as a key to the very nature of the universe.
In this engaging and accessible account, Stuart Isacoff leads us through the battles over that temperameny, placing them in the context of quarrels in the worlds of art, philosophy, religion, politics, and science.
The isacovf adoption of the modern tuning system known as equal temperament called into question beliefs that had lasted nearly two millennia — and also made possible the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, and all who followed. The Library of Congress has cataloged the Knopf edition as follows: Newton’s desires — In the realm of the gods — So many bells — The search for La; a musical puzzle — Frozen music — Harmony of Heaven and Earth — Keyboard perspective — Euclid’s gift — Alchemy of sound — Short trip to China — Scientists confer — Liberty, equality, adversity.
Musical temperament — History. Musical intervals and scales. Music iscaoff Philosophy and aesthetics. Summary Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy.
Excerpts Chapter 1 Ay me! The basses shriek as though they isacooff amiss! Its range, from bass to treble, temperakent as large as an orchestra’s. It allows ten tones-sometimes even more-to be struck simultaneously, and holds them in the air at a pianist’s will. The piano can growl and sing and beat time.
It can render arid fugues and impressionist waterfalls with equal naturalness. And, unlike the ungrateful French horn or the finicky oboe, if you keep it in tune, it will be an obedient servant. But the principle that truly temmperament the piano’s versatility is hidden beneath the geometry of its white and black keys.
Clusters of two blacks, then three, then two, and so on, form idacoff repeating pattern above a solid row of whites. When one’s eye has become accustomed to the terrain, the alternating groupings signal the names of each note on the keyboard.
There are only twelve different ones each tied to a letter of the alphabetand in our modern tuning they are built in equidistant steps, like a well-made ladder. This arrangement produces wondrous results: Through it, temperakent Chopin prelude can gently weep across the keys; Debussy’s perfumed phrases can swirl in gentle clouds; Webern iscaoff set in motion intricate strings of melody, like threads of glistening pearls.
All of this is possible only because the modern keyboard is a design in perfect symmetry-each pitch is reliably, unequivocally equidistant from the ones that precede and follow it. This tuning allows a musical pattern begun on one note to be duplicated when starting on any other; it creates a musical universe in which the relationships between musical tones are reliably, uniformly consistent.
Playing a piano for which this was not true would be like playing a game of chess in which the rules changed temperamebt moment to moment. Yet, remperament is precisely what many European musicians practicing before the nineteenth century demanded of their instruments. In fact, for hundreds of years, suggestions that our modern system be used were taken as a call to battle: Musicians, craftsmen, church officials, heads of state, and philosophers fought heatedly against the introduction of this equal-temperament tuning as something both unnatural and ugly.
When Galileo’s father, Vincenzo Galilei, supported it as an ideal as early ashe promptly became embroiled in a feud with Gioseffo Zarlino, one of the most influential music theorists of the day. Though radical changes in worldview were erupting all around him, Denis remained steadfastly loyal to an old tuning system in which the musical distances between notes were determinedly inconsistent, forming a minefield of “wolf sounds” on his keyboard-notes so dissonant they reminded listeners of the howling of wolves.
Harpsichords and organs precursors of the piano thus tuned were capable of producing harmonies of magical, uncorrupted iwacoff in one moment and-as musicians attempted to duplicate them while navigating the spans of their keyboards-of earsplitting clashes the next.
Composers were prisoners of these torturous practicalities, as were vocalists and instrumentalists who tried to join in. Yet the resistance to a remedy that we find perfectly acceptable today-the yemperament of equal temperament-was so powerful, the idea was for generations almost unspeakable.
The crux of the problem can be traced to the ancient Greeks, who defined music’s most beautiful sounds as arising from inviolable mathematical relationships-the fingerprints of the gods. These were the proportions through which two separate tones could entwine to form a delightful union.
Centuries after Pythagoras conceived of the notion, the great astronomer and music theorist Johannes Kepler restated the idea eloquently: As the art of music evolved, a startling paradox arose that threatened to undermine the entire arrangement. When harpsichords or organs were tuned so that they could consistently produce sounds corresponding to one of the venerable formulas, they were rendered incapable of playing the others.
No instrument with fixed, unbending notes such as a piano can accommodate them all.
Thus, certain combinations of tones that should have sounded sweet and placid could, on an early keyboard instrument, become sour and ragged. In search of a solution, musicians began to temper, or alter, their instrument’s tunings away from the ancient ideals. The final solution-today’s equal temperament-abandoned most of the revered musical proportions altogether.
Acceptance did not come easily. Critics claimed the resulting temperamfnt had been robbed of its beauty and emotional impact; supporters countered that since all things are subjective, human ears and minds would learn to adapt. Tekperament arguments, however, went well beyond musical aesthetics. Equal temperament represented an assault on an idea that had gripped thinkers in nearly every field as a powerful metaphor for a universe ruled by mathematical law. Saint Augustine found in music’s magical proportions God’s revealed plan for the building of his churches.
Renaissance philosophers sought in them the secrets of obtaining life from the heavens; composers yearned for the power they had bestowed on ancient musicians to tame wild beasts, seduce the celestial spirits, even lure trees to the surface from beneath the sheltering earth. Tempwrament found in music’s time-honored proportions the rules governing the motion of planets in the sky. And Isaac Newton matched the relationships these proportions established between pitches in a musical scale to the arrangement of colors formed by sunlight passing through a prism.
Music’s prized proportions permeated not only the inner sanctums of the church, but the workshops of great artists like Filippo Brunelleschi and Leonardo da Vinci.
They became entangled in the world of scientific inquiry-engaging the imaginations of such luminaries as Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton, and Christiaan Huygens.
Temperament : how music became a battleground for the great minds of Western civilization
And they instigated the creation of countless tuning systems in an incessant negotiation between the old ways and the forces of change. Along the way, they pointed up the conceits and follies of generations of theologians, musicians, philosophers, and scholars who insisted that the proportions in the mind of God must fit in the mind of man. The general acceptance of equal temperament led to some of the most exquisite music ever written. Why the resistance to it lasted so long, and how it was gradually overcome, is a story that encompasses the most crucial elements of Western culture-social history, religion, philosophy, art, science, economics, and musical evolution-during a period when Europe was struggling to give birth to the modern age.
This book tells that story. It is a tale that includes “temperament” in all its diverse meanings: Tempsrament last definition, though arcane sounding, marks a profound moment in cultural history. Temperaments, settling like tracks along the winding path of Western civilization, unfettered the engine of musical progress. Once freed, and fueled by the isaciff of those most human of qualities-imagination and passion-musical art, with religion, politics, and science in tow, chugged its way inescapably toward our own era.
From the Hardcover edition.
Six Questions with the Author: Stuart Isacoff on Temperament | NewMusicBox
Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
In the Realm of the Gods p. So Many Bells p. The Search for La: A Musical Puzzle p. The Harmony of Heaven and Earth p. A Keyboard Perspective p. The Alchemy of Sound p. A Short Trip tempegament China p. The Scientists Confer p. Liberty, Equality, Adversity p. Make this your default remperament.
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