How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony: And Why You Should Care

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Overview

A captivating look at how musical temperament evolved, and how we could (and perhaps should) be tuning differently today.
Ross W. Duffin presents an engaging and elegantly reasoned exposé of musical temperament and its impact on the way in which we experience music. A historical narrative, a music theory lesson, and, above all, an impassioned letter to musicians and listeners everywhere, How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony possesses the power ...

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Overview

A captivating look at how musical temperament evolved, and how we could (and perhaps should) be tuning differently today.
Ross W. Duffin presents an engaging and elegantly reasoned exposé of musical temperament and its impact on the way in which we experience music. A historical narrative, a music theory lesson, and, above all, an impassioned letter to musicians and listeners everywhere, How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony possesses the power to redefine the very nature of our interactions with music today.
For nearly a century, equal temperament—the practice of dividing an octave into twelve equally proportioned half-steps—has held a virtual monopoly on the way in which instruments are tuned and played. In his new book, Duffin explains how we came to rely exclusively on equal temperament by charting the fascinating evolution of tuning through the ages. Along the way, he challenges the widely held belief that equal temperament is a perfect, “naturally selected” musical system, and proposes a radical reevaluation of how we play and hear music.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and the ensuing mass production of musical instruments, equal temperament-the practice of dividing an octave into 12 equally proportioned half-steps-has dominated the way instruments are tuned and played in Western cultures. Noted early music scholar Duffin (Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music, Case Western Reserve Univ.; Shakespeare's Songbook) presents a meticulously detailed treatise on equal temperament and its impact on how we experience music as performers and listeners. He explores the origins of temperament, nonkeyboard tuning, acoustics, pure intervals, and leading tones. There are also profiles of influential philosophers, musicians, and physicists, including Pythagoras, Robert Smith, Leopold Mozart, Joseph Joachim, Pablo de Sarasate, Sir Donald Francis Tovey, and Pablo Casals, while Duffin proposes a radical reevaluation of how we play and hear music. Written for musicians with a strong interest in music theory and acoustics, this highly theoretical book is a challenging read. An accompanying CD with musical examples would have been very helpful. Recommended for large public and academic collections that specialize in music.-Elizabeth M. Wavle, Elmira Coll., NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Duffin (Music/Case Western Reserve Univ.; Shakespeare's Songbook, 2004) sets out to challenge the modern perception that equal temperament is the only way to tune an instrument for performance. This is a work geared toward musicians and musicologists, rather than the amateur symphony-goer. While the first chapter does try to give an overview, the author assumes a basic knowledge of acoustic principles. Readers should be familiar with intervals, semitones and frequencies of pitch to gain true meaning from the text. Equal temperament has been the overwhelming standard for instrument tuning since at least 1917. In the simplest terms, it is a method in which the octave is divided into 12 equal tones, such as in a modern piano. One of the downsides to equal temperament is that a G-sharp, for example, makes the same sound as an A-flat. By using alternative tuning methods, each sharp or flat is distinctive. Equal temperament was designed so a keyboard instrument could play in every key without being retuned, but opponents argue that convenience is gained at the expense of subtle coloring and variation. Duffin maintains that even after equal temperament was invented, composers and professional musicians still chose to use alternative methods-therefore, he says, performance in equal temperament creates a different sound than the composer originally intended. Duffin's history of tuning includes sidebars that explain concepts and brief biographies of some of the musicians and theorists he cites. Illustrations and reproductions of musical scores help shed light on complexities-and several hand-drawn cartoons poking fun at some of the author's ideas add a touch of humor. A comprehensive plea for morevariety in tuning methods, interesting but mostly inaccessible to the non-professional.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393062274
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/27/2006
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Ross W. Duffin, the Fynette H. Kulas Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve University, is the author of the award-winning Shakespeare's Songbook. He lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2009

    Great

    This was a very good book. Anyone that has a need or a desire to know more about intonation should read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2006

    Brief but informative

    A short but very informative book which covers the history of tuning practices in Western music. I admit I was surprised by just how recent true equal temperament is. May not be accessible to non-musicians. Especially recommended for players of keyboard and fixed-pitch instruments.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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