Bach and Tuning
Table Of Contents
- About the author
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Family Tree
- Chapter 1: Johann Gottfried Walther
- Chapter 2: Dieterich Buxtehude
- Chapter 3: Andreas Werckmeister
- Chapter 4: Baroque Fine Tuning
- Chapter 5: Bach Cities
- Chapter 6: Thuringian Aesthetic of Irregularity
- Chapter 7: Notation
- Chapter 8: Johann Philipp Kirnberger
- Chapter 9: Refreshed Perspectives
- Appendix I: Elizabeth Hehr Translation of Werckmeister’s Musicalische Temperatur (1691)
- Appendix II: Compact Disc Early Liner Notes (PITCH 200202)
- Appendix III: Glossary
A new Baroque chromaticism was born in the late 17th century, and Johann Sebastian Bach would become its master. Following the needs and interests of organists, and as a natural consequence of the obsolescence of meantone, a game changer emerged. The irregular-sized steps of well temperament, not equal temperament, was the compromise entered upon to cement chromaticism to the Baroque. Keyboardists have long since transitioned from supporting artists into virtuosic soloists.
The hero in this endeavor is Andreas Werckmeister, the pioneer who ushers in the concept of a closed circle of twelve major and twelve minor keys into music. Other protagonists include:
Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Gottfried Walther, Johann Philipp Kirnberger, Princess Anna Amalia van Preussen, Johann Friedrich Wender, and Johann Nikolaus Forkel.
Irregularly shaped scales provide resources for a different narrative, a catalyst to perceiving a missing dimension in Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. The aim here is to return lost color to Bach’s music which has been stripped away by equal temperament hegemony.
There is an intuition that something greater than presently expected will result. It is more than returning kaleidoscopic color; it is semantic because meaning is modified.
Finally, there is a good reason to re-record the masterworks. ← 17 | 18 →
Chapter 1: Johann Gottfried Walther
A pleasant brook may well the ear’s delight inspire.
Johann Gottfried Walther
He should have been called ‘ocean’ instead of brook.
Ludwig van Beethoven
The reason I chose to begin this book with Johann Gottfried Walther (1684–1748) is his lifelong relationship with Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). Walther, as both blood relative and close friend, was an especially close eyewitness to Bach’s private musical world. Walther was a keen participant, an acute observer of his musical times, and a thorough researcher for the historical record in music.
Only half a year apart in age,1 Walther and Bach shared similar interests in musical pedagogy and performance. There was obvious chemistry between them, and genuine respect, which all points to their being the best of friends. Indeed, it could be said Johann Sebastian and Johann Gottfried were as close as brothers: in fact, Johann Sebastian Bach was godfather to Walther’s first son, Johann Gottfried Walther II. Walther and Bach shared the honor of being godfathers to ← 19 | 20 → Heinrich Nicolaus Trebs’s son. It may be said that Johann Sebastian was probably closer to Walther than he was to his own flesh and blood brothers.
The oldest Bach brother had a rocky start with the youngest brother. Eldest brother Johann Christoph seems to have genuinely annoyed Johann Sebastian when he stole away his baby brother’s recopying studies of earlier composers. Middle brother Johann Jacob put a great physical distance between himself and his siblings; Johann Jacob first apprenticed as a piper in the tradition of his late father, Johann Ambrosius, and then went off to join the Swedish military, eventually to find himself in Istanbul studying flute privately with Johann Joachim Quantz’s teacher.
It actually makes more sense to consider Walther as more of a “brother” than as a distant cousin. Walther was actually related to Johann Sebastian in different ways due to the complex business of how wives were chosen at that time and how families were constituted.2 Walther’s mother was of the Lämmerhirt family which earlier joined the Bach family when Walther’s aunt Hedwig Lämmerhirt married Johann Bach of Erfurt in 1637. Bach’s mother was Hedwig’s half-sister.
More to the point, Johann Sebastian married his second cousin, Maria Barbara Bach (1684–1720). They had already resided together in the very same Arnstadt building, popularly known as “The Golden Crown,” where the Mayor of Arnstadt, Maria Barbara’s uncle Martin Feldhaus, also lived. The cousins, both orphaned, lived within the warm bosom of the greater Bach family. Maria Barbara’s father died in 1694, the same year as Johann Sebastian’s mother.
In Bach’s mind, childhood friend Georg Erdmann (1682–1736) was a “brother.” They had become close friends soon after Johann Sebastian arrived in Ohrdruf, following the death of his father in 1695. Later, they traveled together as friends north to Lüneburg for further academic studies. Georg Erdmann grew up in Leina in Thuringia, near Gotha, and later joined the Russian army as a diplomat for a Russian prince in Riga. Soon after securing his Leipzig position, Johann Sebastian actually addressed his old friend as “brother” on 28 July 1726: “Noble and Most Honored Sir and (If Still Permissible) Esteemed Mr. Brother” (J.S. Bach in David, Bach Reader, p. 125). In the letter, Bach basically wrote about ← 20 | 21 → the challenge of relocating to Leipzig. Bach clearly had an expandable view of what constituted a brother, not concerned with a mere blood relation technicality.
At the beginning of his own contribution to Johann Mattheson’s book of musician autobiographies, Grundlage einer Ehren-Pforte (1740), Walther acknowledged that he was both a distant relative of the Bach family through Hedwig Lämmerhirt, and a cousin through Maria Elisabetha Lämmerhirt. Inexplicably, J.S. Bach refused requests to send his own autobiography for publication to Johann Mattheson (1681–1764), arguably the most prolific writer on music in his time. Mattheson referred to Walther as “my honored friend” on page six in his book, Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739).
The Lämmerhirt family of Erfurt provided the maternal bloodline to J.S. Bach’s genetic makeup and played an important role in his eventual success, in addition to a great many other Bachs and Walthers. Johann Sebastian received a financial inheritance from the Lämmerhirt side of the family. This money came from the very same uncle, Tobias Lämmerhirt, Bach shared with Walther. Uncle Tobias’ Last Will and Testament also provided money for Walther’s mother.3
The Lämmerhirts were apparently very close as a family, many of whom were in the furrier business. And their women were unusually attracted to musicians. Johann Gottfried Walther’s mother, Martha Dorothea Lämmerhirt (1655–1727), was the rare Lämmerhirt woman who married a non-musician, Johann Stephen Walther (1650–1731). The renowned Albert Schweitzer explained that Walther originally “was intended for the study of law” but escaped that destiny thanks to his obvious musical talent (Schweitzer, I:43). Walther was appointed in 1707 to a lifetime post as organist at the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Weimar (now called the Herderkirche), not too long after Bach received his Arnstadt post.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s maternal grandfather, Valentin Lämmerhirt (1585–1665), was Johann Gottfried Walther’s maternal great-grandfather. To add to the complexity, he had a son also named Valentin Lämmerhirt (1608–1665). This younger Valentin would be J.G. Walther’s grandfather. Both Valentins died in 1665, about twenty years before either J.S. Bach or J.G. Walther were born.
Walther’s extensive study of organ performance and composition in Erfurt with his cousin Johann Bernard Bach was another personal connection to the Bach tradition. Johann Bernhard Bach’s father was brother to Maria Barbara’s father. Johann Sebastian Bach’s mother, Maria Elisabetha Lämmerhirt (1644–1694), in conjunction with her niece, Walther’s mother, eleven years ← 21 | 22 → younger than Maria Elisabetha, would together connect the greatest German music scholar of his time with its greatest composer of music.
Walther also told in his Mattheson autobiography of his studies with the “famous Musicum, Mr. Werckmeister,” who may be credited with the invention of the musical circle of keys for full chromaticism on keyboards. A chromatic circle of keys was an inviting recipe to the Baroque composer obsessed with chromatic movement.
J.S. Bach was only six years old when a precocious Andreas Werckmeister (1645–1706) began making available a copperplate monochord depicting different tunings, along with a treatise on tuning succinctly titled Musicalische Temperatur (1691). Walther’s endorsement of Werckmeister’s musical genius in establishing well temperament, coupled with his acknowledgment of Johann Sebastian Bach as the supreme musical genius of his time, also make it fitting to start the narrative here.
An important consideration when evaluating the Baroque period (1600–1750) is that practically everything composed by Bach and Walther included a requisite keyboard, or continuo. It seems likely to me that whatever was exacted intonationally on the church organ was applied to all other keyboard instruments as a standard, if not a template. Werckmeister wrote on the title page of his Musicalische Temperatur that the tunings enclosed were for consideration on all keyboards, and not only for the organ. It is my belief that the tuning found on an organ before it was hired was the church tuning for the foreseeable future. The organ tuning would influence or determine the preferred tuning of non-organ keyboard based works, as well. My argument is that if Bach achieved his very best on the organ, it seems counter-intuitive that he would use something less versatile for other keyboard instruments since he makes the identical musical commitment. The answer: a circular well temperament on keyboards, by allowing the use of all 24 major and minor keys, makes possible greater virtuosity for both improvisation and composition than was possible with the earlier tuning systems of quarter and sixth comma meantone temperaments.
Bach’s second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, (C.P.E. Bach) revealed to posterity that his father’s favorite clavier (or keyboard instrument) was the clavichord,4 as it was for himself (Burney, p. 270). This unusually soft instrument is capable of some singular pitch acrobatics called Bebung, a technique that ← 22 | 23 → allows the sharpening and flattening of a pitch through the conscious adjustment of finger weight. Johann Nikolaus Forkel (1749–1818), author of the first biography devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach, wrote that Bach found it the “most convenient for the expression of his most refined thoughts, and did not believe it possible to produce from any harpsichord or pianoforte such a variety in the gradations of tone as on the instrument, which is, indeed, poor in tone, but on a small scale extremely flexible” (David, Bach Reader, p. 436). Bach must have transformed the instrument, described by Walther in his Musicalisches Lexicon as “well known,” and typically intended to lead on to other more prestigious keyboard instruments.
In 1703, a 19-year-old Walther decided to explore the city of Halberstadt in order to meet and study with then 58-year-old Andreas Werckmeister. By every indication they hit it off. Walther remained quite proud of their association. They stayed in contact by correspondence, until Werckmeister passed away three years later.
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2016 (September)
- Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2016. 297 pp., 17 ill.