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Old 05-19-2007, 05:17 AM
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Default The Piano Tuned for Bach???

How might Johann Sebastian Bach tune his pianoforte if he were alive today?

The pitch standard in the Baroque era was 415 Hz for the A above middle C, almost a semitone lower than the modern concert-pitch convention (in theory) of 440 Hz (USA) for the A above middle C. Modern pianos (in addition to the A440 pitch standard) are generally also tuned along some methodology of 'equal temperament'. (12 semitones over the octave).

The instrument-calibration rule in Bach's day was 'well temperament'. "Well tempered" means that the twelve notes per octave of the standard keyboard are tuned in such a way that it is possible to play music in any major or minor key and it will not sound perceptibly out of tune. In music theory, I would really not know how to compare today's equal temperament to the well temperament of Bach's time. I understand that equal temperament is some version of well temperament, even.

I think the piano has great potential for Bach's works. I have heard Invention 13 on "the tickled ivories" as well as some Well-Tempered Clavier Book I assortment of preludes and fugues (written in many various keys) and it sounds rather splendid. I can also imagine organ works as Bach's six trio sonatas, Concerto in A minor/Vivaldi and Concerto in G major/Ernst (organ transcriptions by Bach) in some small ensemble with a pianoforte as the central instrument. I have heard a rendition of the "Vivaldi A minor Concerto" in an ensemble with piano. Much of Bach's works were composed for organ and thus were of 3 voices or parts. In order to be adapted to three-voice pieces as the Bach organ works, a piano, I conceive, needs to be accompanied by at least one or more other instruments (woodwinds, strings possibly) because it is a 2-handed instrument (lacking bass pedal) capable of only playing two lines. A violin or cello, perhaps, could fill in the 3rd voice as in a duet. I could be wrong though. On the "other two hands", the piano can handle (or be adapted to handle through modification of the sheet music) two-voice (2-part) Bach pieces originally for solo harpsichord as the 2-part Inventions and Well-Tempered Clavier Book pieces quite well as a solo instrument.

Speaking of Bach trio sonatas, the Antonio Vivaldi/G minor and Johann Ernst/G major (Grave, 2nd movement in E-minor) concertos are much like the trio sonatas in form: 3 movements: fast-slow-fast (and 3 voices): they complement the Bach trio sonatas well. The great, late E. Power Biggs recorded them together on several of his Columbia Masterworks-label records: both organ and John Challis pedal harpsichord versions. Unfortunately, I cannot find these (with the Vivaldi/Ernst concertos) in CD print. My mother owned these on vinyl.

In conclusion, should the modern piano be left tuned according to the current norm for playing Baroque-period pieces or should it be tonally-calibrated to fit the Baroque period standard?

Last edited by Data_Jon : 05-19-2007 at 11:02 PM.
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