Ed Zubrow writes, concerning new thoughts on Bach's tuning systems:
>I don't understand the details or mathematics of the various styles of
>tuning. And my ear is not good enough to distinguish among them. I do
>understand the reasons that equal temperament prevailed. Still, along
>with Catalano, I think that having all the keys sound basically the same
>is the "price of progress." It feels to me like a heavy price to pay.
>It is beyond me why this doesn't bother more musicians. Isn't it robbing
>music of an essential component that composers surely took into account
>and prided themselves on managing?
Well, I can think of several reasons, some based on actual experience.
First, very few musicians are that sensitive.
Second, in the tunings I know first-hand, most of them sound "out of
tune," like someone's playing the music on a fraternity-house piano.
Third, the equal-temperament system (which, by the way, isn't strictly
"equal"; piano tuners fudge all the time) has led to music which changes
key much more frequently and over a greater range than music of Bach and
before. This music would sound awful in any other tuning.
Fourth, the keys of equal temperament, to many musicians, do NOT sound
alike. Rimsky-Korsakov was extremely sensitive to key-color, as was
Scriabin. To Rimsky, for example, Eb was the "key of great cities." He
begged Mussorgsky to change the progression in Godunov's map scene, so
that the climax of the text -- "cities" -- ended on Eb. Mussorgsky
probably thought Rimsky was crazy, but he made the change.
Fifth, the problems of which tuning system to use come up in a practical
way, only with keyboard music. String and wind players, vocalists, all
make constant adjustments of tuning. Left to their own devices, most
professional symphony orchestras tend to go slightly sharp in the course
of a piece. Most professional or semi-professional choirs go flat or
sharp, depending on factors like fatigue and atmospheric conditions.
That's one of the reasons why they constantly listen to one another and