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Temperament the Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle

by Stuart Isacoff

  • ISBN: 9780375403552
  • ISBN10: 0375403558

Temperament the Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle

by Stuart Isacoff

  • List Price: $23.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Edition: 1
  • Publisher: Random House Inc
  • Publish date: 11/01/2001
  • ISBN: 9780375403552
  • ISBN10: 0375403558
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Description: The piano is perhaps the most generous instrument ever invented. Its range, from bass to treble, is as large as an orchestra's. The 12 notes (each tied to a letter of the alphabet) are built in equal steps, like a well-made ladder; this is called equal temperament. The consistency of this pattern makes it possible for a melody begun on one note to be repeatable beginning on any other. It allows any harmony struck in one spot to be duplicated elsewhere on the keyboard, with utter reliability.

This is an eminently practical system for creating music, and none of the masterworks of late 19th-or 20th-century music -- that of Chopin, Brahms, or Debussy, for example -- could possibly have been written without it. But to European musicians before the 19th century, suggestions that it should be used were taken as a call to battle. Keyboard instruments could play harmonies of magical, uncorrupted sweetness in one moment -- and of uncompromising harshness the next, and that was that.

The conflict over whether or not to eliminate those sour notes is the heart of this book, as even such great thinkers as Rene Descartes and Johannes Kepler, not to mention kings and queens, held on to the ancient mathematical principles of Pythagoras and the "geometry of God, " while modernists fought passionately for temperament. This is a little gem of a book, telling a story that encompasses social history, religion, philosophy, science, and musical evolution, as well as some of music's most illustrious names, during a period when Europe was struggling to give birth to the modern age.

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