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Bach and Tuning


Johnny Reinhard

Bach and Tuning is strictly concerned with the identification of a historically accurate tuning paradigm that applies to the great majority of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music. Once Bach has his personal tuning aesthetic acknowledged, a new dimension of meaning is invoked in performance through the intended interplay of diverse musical intervals. This new narrative lays bare Bach’s mental calculations regarding his idealized intonation. Bach, the true chromatic composer of the Baroque, was the scion of a great music family. Likewise, Andreas Werckmeister was the bright star in a neighboring musical family, only a generation earlier. Bach and Tuning connects the valuable tuning contribution made by Werckmeister to Bach’s musical masterpieces.

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Chapter 2: Dieterich Buxtehude


It appears that Johann Sebastian Bach had always admired the music of Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637–1707). Everyone involved in Bach studies knows that in November of 1705 the man traveled 240 miles from Arnstadt in the center of Germany north to Lübeck in order to experience meeting the great north German master Buxtehude first-hand, and to hear his marvelous “Evening Music” (Abendmusiken) in St. Mary’s Church.

These concerts were hour long instrumental and vocal music performances featuring the organ. They were offered only five times a year and only in the winter; they usually began at four in the afternoon. The first Abendmusiken by Buxtehude known to historical record took place in 1681, the same year that Andreas Werckmeister published Orgel-Probe which first announced the well temperament innovation. Buxtehude biographer Kerala J. Snyder reasonably suggests Buxtehude quite possibly initiated correspondence with Andreas Werckmeister in order to nurture a professional relationship.

Buxtehude was hired for St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck primarily for his musical skills as an improviser. His compositions before Lübeck were few. Buxtehude introduced stylo phantasticus, an improvisatory style made up of sequencing variations on the organ, to gain reputation and recognition as one of the greatest musicians of his day. Among the other components of stylo phantasticus are certain rhythmic distinctions, surprising playfulness with dynamics, and a seeming treasure trove of available musical intervals. Johann Mattheson wrote that in stylo phantasticus, “the meter takes a vacation” (Snyder, p. 397)...

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