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Bach and Tuning

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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 6: Thuringian Aesthetic of Irregularity

Extract



Thuringian aesthetic of irregularity expressed in the myriad of cut stone shapes [Photo: Johnny Reinhard]



Baroque era Thuringians loved their rough hewn scales, just like they loved their half-timber houses. But it wore thin for many others, especially those who could not make sense of all the variation, who simply could not hear it, or understand what all the fuss was about.

There are other cultures who relish irregularity as a beautiful musical condition besides Thuringian Germans. For example, irregular tunings are deeply rooted among the Sapmi (Lapplanders) of northern Europe. Sapmi of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia tell all who will listen that they do not care for the cookie cutter approach with natural phenomena, such as with Europeans who shape their parks into idealized rectangles. In the Sapmi song form of Joigenen, the Sapmi avoid any repetition of exact musical intervals in their joiks (Reinhard, Joiking, Ear Magazine, pp. 18, 25).

Similarly, although willing to repeat intervals exactly in its scale skips and steps, the Javanese pelog tuning is different from one “gamelan” orchestra to another. More striking is how the alternative Indonesian tuning known as “slendro,” ← 131 | 132 → with its five fairly equidistant spaced steps per octave is never found exactly equal. Most surprising still, the octaves are designed to beat!

Western scholarship has inadvertently conflated the spiraling of fifths of irregular tuning with the circling fifths of a circular tuning. Irregular tuning provides...

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