Musical Tunings of the Baroque Period Essay

2140 WordsMay 8, 20149 Pages
Musical Tunings of the Baroque Period Vincenzo Sicurella Today, the primary tuning system used in traditional Western music is called Equal Temperament (hereafter, ET). In this tuning, all notes are perfectly divided into twelve equal intervals per octave. While this may seem like a reasonable, practical system, its use did not become standard until well into the 19th century. Along with nearly all other musical documentation, writings on tuning from the Ancient Greeks were lost or destroyed, eliminating this topic from detailed discussion and scholarship. However, some writings from Ptolemy discuss what he learned of ancient tunings. The writings describe groups of ratios based off of the perfect fifth referred to as Pythagorean tuning. The practice of system continued into the Middle Ages, as Boethius wrote of this tuning. As thirds and sixths become more prominent features of composition, the history of tuning becomes more interesting. Possibly the most important period to discuss tuning in, however, is directly following the Baroque period.. During the Baroque period, tuning theory flourished and made its mark in music history with its experimentation at its highest in history and thus being an integral part composition and performance. It may be of no surprise that the purest of tuning systems is deeply flawed within its practicability. Just Intonation (hereafter, JI) is the name given to the system of tuning all intervals to simple mathematical ratios. For example, the JI ratio for a perfect fifth is 3:2 meaning for every two oscillations of the bottom note, the top note oscillates three times. While this method creates pure, beatless intervals that are generally very pleasant to the ear, problems arise in modulation to different keys. Through multiplication of these ratios one can find that the perfect fifth G in the key of C major is not the same

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