More on vibrato and temperament

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Borys Medicky

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Apr 6, 1994, 9:09:03 PM4/6/94
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God keep each and every one of you wonderful people complaining about
excessive vibrato!

I was at a concert not too long ago in which two violinists participated in
the ensemble. One of them, I was told, was studying baroque violin, and
her tone was wonderful. The other one used vibrato all the time. Although
he otherwise played nicely, his sound simply did not have the presence to
be heard. Interestingly enough, *her* instrument was blocked by her body
(from where I was sitting) and *his* was in line with my ear, yet I heard
her playing much more clearly.

In a similar vein, I was pleased to see the complaints about the ubiquitous
equal temperament all music students are exposed to. I study harpsichord
here in Toronto, and, naturally, I tune the instrument myself. After
learning how to tune the various well-temperaments, I quickly found that I
could not abide hearing the lack of key-colour that is the bane of equal
temperament. In fact, it's to the point that I tune the whole harpsichord
*every day* before practising, just so I can enjoy the sweetness of the
commonly used keys and the overall contrasts that result from modulation.

I am continually amazed by the difference that temperament makes when
performing early keyboard music. There is so much more expression in
unequally-tempered intervals: the more sour ones are deliciously
dissonant, while the pure ones are strong but peaceful. Every piece has a
meaning which is hidden when performed in equal temperament, but brought
out clearly in the unequal temperaments. Now I know why C major, for
example, is referred to as a "restful" key... all I have to do is perform
something like Bach's Prelude #1 from WTC vol. I. on the harpsichord.

Gosh, I could just go on about this for hours... any comments from you out
there?

Borys Medicky
Toronto, Ontario
Canada

Bradley Philip Lehman

unread,
Apr 7, 1994, 11:07:20 AM4/7/94
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In article <940407010902_732...@CompuServe.COM> Borys Medicky <73234...@COMPUSERVE.COM> writes:
>God keep each and every one of you wonderful people complaining about
>excessive vibrato!
>
...

>
>I am continually amazed by the difference that temperament makes when
>performing early keyboard music. There is so much more expression in
>unequally-tempered intervals: the more sour ones are deliciously
>dissonant, while the pure ones are strong but peaceful. Every piece has a
>meaning which is hidden when performed in equal temperament, but brought
>out clearly in the unequal temperaments. Now I know why C major, for
>example, is referred to as a "restful" key... all I have to do is perform
>something like Bach's Prelude #1 from WTC vol. I. on the harpsichord.
>
>Gosh, I could just go on about this for hours... any comments from you out
>there?
>

I second and third that! Try some of the temperaments on the far side
of well-temperament, too. Irregular meantone is not used often enough -
it's even more colorful than well-temperaments, and one can still use
all keys.

I just did a whole lecture on this a few weeks ago, where I played
Froberger's lament for king Ferdinand, Bull's "Ut re mi," and some other
things, in a:b comparisons between irregular meantone and some less
colorful temperaments. Incredible depth revealed in the music.

The music sounds so completely natural and expressive. One wonders why
anyone ever wanted to change it. (Yes, I think some well-temperaments
are too boring! And Equal? Barf.) I'm radical enough to think that
Bach's well-tempered clavier was actually an advanced form of meantone
(complete with a mild wolf), not what we now call well-temperament
(where no fifth is wider than pure). And I also played the Chromatic
Fantasy and Fugue in an irregular meantone. The place where he has a
C#-major chord, and notates it as the slowest arpeggio of the piece -
there's a reason for that! Poignancy!

I played a lot of Beethoven on a piano tuned in Young #2 well-temperament,
and it was magic. The F#-major sonata, WOW! And the D-major section in
the F-major sonata (#6), such an effect!
--
_____ _____ __ | "Pooh, who felt more and
) ) | Brad Lehman | more that he was somewhere
( | |__ b...@umich.edu | else, got up slowly and
) | | user...@umichum.bitnet | began to look for himself."

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