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Durham e-Theses
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The temperament of keyboard instruments in England during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries

Meffen, John (1973) The temperament of keyboard instruments in England during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Meantone is reputedly the temperament for early keyboard instruments. General references are made to it as one of the pre-cursors of equal temperament, and "Das Wohltemperierte Clavier" is often cited as one of the main turning points in the history of keyboard temperament, Bach being held as a champion of equal temperament at a time when meantone was the accepted temperament. Looking further back into the history of keyboard music we would expect to find meantone firmly established as the standard temperament, but the issue is complicated by a Fantasia by John Bull, the difficulties of which can only be explained by reference to equal temperament. If equal temperament is accepted as necessary for the Bull Fantasia, certain questions immediately spring to mind. How strongly was meantone the established temperament for keyboard instruments if equal temperament was known to one of the earliest schools of keyboard music? How can "Das Wohltemperierte Clavier" be considered as such an important milestone in the history of keyboard temperament if equal temperament was conceivable at the beginning of the seventeenth century or even earlier? Finally, if equal temperament was known at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and firmly established in the first half of the eighteenth, why did a firm such as John Broadwood and Sons only make equal temperament its standard keyboard temperament as late as l846? Dr. J. Murray Barbour has cast serious doubts on the assumption that Bach intended "Das Wohltemperierte Clavier" for an equally tempered instrument, whereas a glance at mid-nineteenth century keyboard music, with its enharmonic changes, makes anything other than equal temperament impossible, but the question of the chromatic notes in the works of the English virginalist composers has yet to be fully investigated. This study is an attempt to bring together information about the music of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and the temperaments and instruments available from which to draw conclusions about the most likely temperaments to have been in use. The available material strongly suggests quarter comma meantone as the standard temperament, and there is sufficient evidence in the music to support the notion that the dissonance caused by the occasional substitution of an E flat for a D sharp was tolerated, while at the same time it seems clear that the Bull Fantasia was written for a clavicymbalum universale, an instrument which offered exactly the nineteen different notes which Bull required for this piece.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:1973
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:40

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