by Daniel Hathaway
On Friday, May 28, Dan Lippel’s program on this year’s all-online Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival will feature music by Johann Sebastian Bach played on a guitar tuned to a Baroque temperament. Most classical music fans know that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a collection of preludes and fugues in all 24 keys called The Well-Tempered Clavier, but if asked to explain why he did that, many would get it wrong.
It’s not that the composer wanted to demonstrate the wisdom of tuning a keyboard instrument in such a way that a piece in G Major would sound just as in-tune if you transposed it to E-flat. That would describe equal temperament. Instead, Bach was referring to a tuning compromise: a “well temperament” where all keys are more or less acceptable to the ear, but each is different in character from the other.
During the Renaissance, instruments were usually tuned in “just intonation,” a system that produced a handful of beautifully in-tune keys, but things began to get ugly if you wanted to move very far away from C or F major. That’s when “the wolf” raised its ugly voice, forcing musicians to make a compromise between moving freely from key to key and enjoying perfect in-tuneness.
“It’s a relatively new area of interest for me over the last three or four years. But I’m hooked,” Lippel said in a recent telephone conversation. [Read more…]