Notebook, 1993-



[In music] The adjustment of the imperfect sounds of the scale, by transferring a part of the defects to the more perfect ones, in order to remedy, in some degree, the false intervals of the organ, pianoforte, and similar instruments, whose sounds are fixed; that equalization of the intervals, in tuning, which brings their whole system as near as possible to that of the diatonic scale. That equalization, or tempering of the twelve sounds included in an octave, which renders all the scales equally in tune; the imperfection being divided equally amongst the whole. The division of the octave into twelve equal semi-tones, in defiance of the law of nature, which demands a different proportion. The introduction of equal temperament was a modification of the scale of nature that alone made music on keyed instruments practicable. The scale of true intonation, with its varying intervals, beautiful in progressions and harmonies, and eminently fitted for the vocalist, or violinist, could only be employed on the organ when modulation was absent, and the work remained entirely [or nearly so] in one key. By the simple device of dividing the octave into twelve equal semitones, Willaert [about 1550] solved a problem that, although not of vast importance in his day, when modulations were but sparingly used, became each century of greater dimensions. This reform, because of the reason stated, was but slowly adopted by the world. As the field of music began to enlarge, a system of partial temperament was adopted which allowed the organist to play in a few keys closely related to F and C, without getting discordantly out of tune, but such keys as F# major, Db major, etc., were deemed altogether unnecessary, and were not used until a much later epoch. The tuning which is at present employed by all civilized nations is a compromise. The octave which must always be taken as a true interval, its upper note vibrating twice as fast as its lower, is divided into twelve equal semi-tones, all a trifle out of tune but none distressingly so, and this tempered scale as it is called, admits of the use of all the twenty-four major and minor keys with equal facility. This system of equal temperament was advocated as early as the sixteenth c. by Willaert, Zarlino, and others; but it was not thoroughly adopted until J. S. Bach, in his noble collections of preludes and fugues entitle: The Well-tempered Clavichord,î proved the practicability of the system, by writing compositions in all of the different keys, where before only a very limited number had been employed. The ñWell-tempered Clavichcord,î Part I, was given to the world in 1722, and Part II, in 1742, and settled the matter of the division of the scale forever, for from this epoch dates the beginning of freedom of modulation . . . . [p. 257]

[Elson, Louis C. Professor of Theory of Music at the New England Conservatory of Music. ElsonÍs Music Dictionary. Boston: Oliver Ditson Co. MCMV.]



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