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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 7: Notation

Extract



Beginning of Chapter 35 from the original Orgel-Probe (1681) using standard organ notation with carrots to indicate wide, narrow, and pure fifths, now identifiable as Werckmeister III and IV tunings, respectively101



Composers represent their choice of musical tones with the conventional notation of their time. Their notation corresponds directly to their particular choice of tuning system. Musical notation was developed to represent the actual sounds found in musical practice. It is an attempt to pass musical directions directly from the composer to the performer.

Notation is necessary symbolism to represent music intervals through the medium of print. Superficially, it seems like the staff’s five lines set up the notes, like ← 153 | 154 → stepping stones up and down the range. However, as every good music teacher imparts upon their collective students, it is the intervals found between notes which hold the greater meaning in music. While modern notation still retains indications of the old meantone chromatic pairs (e.g., C-sharp and D-flat), for almost a century they have been recognized as enharmonic identities, true redundancies of each other, each sounding theoretically the same in conventional equal temperament. Baroque interpretations were different. There are several distinct interpretations of notation possible.

According to music scholar Arthur Mendel (1905–1979), there were no obvious connections between notation and any absolute standard of pitch for Bach,102 at least as commonly interpreted by modern investigation. One of the flaws common in the interpretation of early music...

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