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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 9: Refreshed Perspectives

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If musicians are not endowed with extraordinary ears, I certainly do not know which sector of society should have been given even greater ability. It may be said that a musician in the present era may not be hearing intervals as did the musicians of the past, and that fact alone gives rise for reasonable suspicion. However, it is also inferable that if one can produce the melodic quarter comma flat fifth interval (at 696 cents) in the present, off the cuff, it should certainly be replicable in the past. There was certainly enough tradition for this feat to be accomplished at the time of Johann Sebastian Bach, he who famously tuned only to his own satisfaction.

Rita Steblin admits she never heard any of the tuning distinctions before writing her work A History of Key Characteristics in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. (Neither had J. Murray Barbour.) Yet she pronounced: “The variance between keys is so small that to perceive it requires a very fine ear or great experience with sound” (Steblin, p. 52). I find it astounding that Andreas Werckmeister’s name is nowhere to be found in her otherwise valuable book.

In a similar vein, why didn’t Andreas Werckmeister mention the Bachs in any of his books, a name practically synonymous with “musician?” Although Bach was indebted to Werckmeister’s published writings, why didn’t Johann Sebastian Bach credit Werckmeister directly? Why didn’t Kirnberger mention Werckmeister? Why didn’t Walther include Wender of M...

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