hits counter Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization - Ebook PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization

Availability: Ready to download

Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. Indeed, from the time of the Ancient Greeks through the eras of Renaissance scientists and Enlightenmen Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. Indeed, from the time of the Ancient Greeks through the eras of Renaissance scientists and Enlightenment philosophers, the relationship between the notes of the musical scale was seen as a key to the very nature of the universe. In this engaging and accessible account, Stuart Isacoff leads us through the battles over that scale, placing them in the context of quarrels in the worlds of art, philosophy, religion, politics and science. The contentious adoption of the modern tuning system known as equal temperament called into question beliefs that had lasted nearly two millenia–and also made possible the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, and all who followed. Filled with original insights, fascinating anecdotes, and portraits of some of the greatest geniuses of all time, Temperament is that rare book that will delight the novice and expert alike.


Compare

Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. Indeed, from the time of the Ancient Greeks through the eras of Renaissance scientists and Enlightenmen Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. Indeed, from the time of the Ancient Greeks through the eras of Renaissance scientists and Enlightenment philosophers, the relationship between the notes of the musical scale was seen as a key to the very nature of the universe. In this engaging and accessible account, Stuart Isacoff leads us through the battles over that scale, placing them in the context of quarrels in the worlds of art, philosophy, religion, politics and science. The contentious adoption of the modern tuning system known as equal temperament called into question beliefs that had lasted nearly two millenia–and also made possible the music of Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, and all who followed. Filled with original insights, fascinating anecdotes, and portraits of some of the greatest geniuses of all time, Temperament is that rare book that will delight the novice and expert alike.

30 review for Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization

  1. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book but found myself wishing for a companion CD with proper musical examples. YouTube was an utter failure as a resource.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dorai

    Temperament is interesting enough that the author could have concentrated on it. However, he wants to talk about lots and lots of other things. The book does mention the arithmetic of temperament a bit, but I wish it had been more focused. This isn't the only book with the following problem: Books that aren't primarily mathematical texts but nevertheless use the occasional math expression tend to have some pretty grievous math-typographic errors. I wish they'd follow perfectly valid linear typese Temperament is interesting enough that the author could have concentrated on it. However, he wants to talk about lots and lots of other things. The book does mention the arithmetic of temperament a bit, but I wish it had been more focused. This isn't the only book with the following problem: Books that aren't primarily mathematical texts but nevertheless use the occasional math expression tend to have some pretty grievous math-typographic errors. I wish they'd follow perfectly valid linear typesetting. The fact that that this may be a bit more verbose is OK, because there aren't many such expressions, and I'd think it's more important to get them correct rather than pretty. On page 147, for instance, the author refers to equal temperament's version of the fifth ratio (= 1.5). He means to say (the 12th root of 2) raised to the 7th power. However, his typesetter sets the 12th root of 2 (=~ 1.0595) as 12 times the square root of 2 (=~ 16.971), which would give a fifth ratio of over 400 million! The error happens because the typesetter put the 12 in front of, rather than in the bowl of, the root symbol. A very small rearrangement visually, but oh what a difference! Now, it is perfectly reasonable to refer to the 12th root of 2 using the existing symbols of prose text as 2^(1/12), or 2**(1/12), if the caret is unavailable. So, the fifth ratio approximation becomes the not-too-unwieldy (2^(1/12))^7. Alas, authors don't seem willing to accept such "plain" syntax.

  3. 5 out of 5

    R.K. Cowles

    4 1/4 stars

  4. 4 out of 5

    Helen

    Those of you who are budding Lennon-McCartneys, Gershwin-Porters, Cohen-Dylans, Cobains, Sheerans, Bach-Beethoven-Mozarts, Paganinis, forced to practice that detested piano every single goddamn day by your hated parents, passionate easy listening fans, or just like to sing in the shower: have you ever stopped to consider how each note came to be exactly where it is in a musical scale? Think tuning is dry and boring, something only the white-haired piano tuner checked once a year back in the Dark Those of you who are budding Lennon-McCartneys, Gershwin-Porters, Cohen-Dylans, Cobains, Sheerans, Bach-Beethoven-Mozarts, Paganinis, forced to practice that detested piano every single goddamn day by your hated parents, passionate easy listening fans, or just like to sing in the shower: have you ever stopped to consider how each note came to be exactly where it is in a musical scale? Think tuning is dry and boring, something only the white-haired piano tuner checked once a year back in the Dark Ages before electronic keyboards put a huge dent in the sale and maintenance of that dinosaur, the family upright piano? You couldn’t be more (up)wrong! This book explains the history, math, philosophy, and practicalities behind the intervals used in the modern tuning of all instruments – which includes western history beginning with Pythagoras; several wars; scientific inventions; various religious schisms; greed; the licentiousness of popes; the Age of Exploration; the Orient; architecture; too many musical factions to count; and several other kitchen sinks besides. In the capable hands of Mr. Isacoff, the history of tuning – oh, the humanity! – turns out to be every bit as engrossing as a spy novel…and a true story to boot. If you have no music anywhere in your soul, then you can leave this one alone; otherwise, it’s not only instructive; it’s a lot of fun besides.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    This short book was surprisingly fun, given its esoteric and nerdy subject matter. Isacoff examines the tuning of the Western diatonic scale, the problem of obtaining pure, harmonious intervals across the scale and across keys, and the development of equal temperament. This examination puts these things into context, relating developments in tuning to concurrent developments not only in music, but in science, art, philosophy, and religion. Although this book didn't have much in the way of things This short book was surprisingly fun, given its esoteric and nerdy subject matter. Isacoff examines the tuning of the Western diatonic scale, the problem of obtaining pure, harmonious intervals across the scale and across keys, and the development of equal temperament. This examination puts these things into context, relating developments in tuning to concurrent developments not only in music, but in science, art, philosophy, and religion. Although this book didn't have much in the way of things I didn't already know, it did an amazing job of delving into relationships between music and other disciplines, which proved fascinating. Isacoff also did a great job of taking a potentially dry subject and making it incredibly interesting and even exciting. (I should note that the text is not very technical at all - the reader does not need to read music or have any background in music theory.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Estott

    Interesting if you like the subject and have some musical knowledge - and know your way around a keyboard. If you don't have these things this book will be incomprehensible. As someone else mentioned, this should have come with a CD of examples as the subtleties of character ascribed to various keys on various tuning systems are meaningless on the page and a modern keyboard won't help antirely.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Heather Parks

    My friend loaned me this book, promising that I would love it. He knows me all too well. Read it in two days and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is primarily a historical narative that follows the development of the Western musical scale from Pythagorus's early theories to the adoption of equal temperament at the beginning of the classical era. Along the journey, Isacoff weaves together the varied threads of scientific discovery, philosophy, musical theory, socio-political movements, artistic and My friend loaned me this book, promising that I would love it. He knows me all too well. Read it in two days and thoroughly enjoyed it. The book is primarily a historical narative that follows the development of the Western musical scale from Pythagorus's early theories to the adoption of equal temperament at the beginning of the classical era. Along the journey, Isacoff weaves together the varied threads of scientific discovery, philosophy, musical theory, socio-political movements, artistic and musical fads and fashions in such a way to paint a fascinating picture of how our modern intonation came to the accepted standard. The book never gets too technical and should be easy to understand for musicians and music lovers alike. Not a lot of theory involved, as the book really focuses on the historical narative rather then the technical aspects, while accessibly explaining the significance of each development. The reading experience is greatly enhanced by searching youtube and google for the all the cited musical examples, composers and innovators throughout the book as you read. The perfect soundtrack.

  8. 4 out of 5

    MICHAEL

    This book has been on my shelf for years, it was one of a long line of these narrative history type books (Longitude, Brunellesci's Dome, etc.). This one fell far short of the two mentioned. It is full of historical and technical information, but never got into a narrative, and lacked a protagonist that I could relate to, and I was never drawn into it. If you are really into music, and the history of music, you may find it compelling, but, otherwise it was a struggle.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bill Dearth

    Absolutely fascinating This is one of the most compelling books on music that I have ever read! The author takes through the art, architecture, philosophy, theology, science and everything else behind the tempered scale. It completely blew me away, the breadth and depth of the long history of temperament. I was totally engaged throughout the book, and appreciated the extensive bibliography, which has given me many more roads to explore.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tweedledum

    Fascinating history of the piano -how and why it came to be just so....

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

    This was an amazing book. It is a musical book, but not a textbook on temperament, so no long dry passages to worry about that in regard. The history covered is spiraling and complex, and the way its written as intertwined thorough that period makes the book seem to project, in a bizarre and beautiful sense, that the world is just a frame to hold the debate on temperament and its journey to its current position. The renaissance approach the author takes with including the different philosophers an This was an amazing book. It is a musical book, but not a textbook on temperament, so no long dry passages to worry about that in regard. The history covered is spiraling and complex, and the way its written as intertwined thorough that period makes the book seem to project, in a bizarre and beautiful sense, that the world is just a frame to hold the debate on temperament and its journey to its current position. The renaissance approach the author takes with including the different philosophers and schools of thought to temperament, brings a deep richness to the book. Though, I'll provide a fair warning, with the richness of the added philosophers, is a brief passage or two where the philosophers describe their viewpoint in analogy to more corporal form. Having said that and set aside, I can give an unreserved recommendation of this book to my friends. I loved the discourse on the ratios and how those ratios appear all around us in life. I've been made aware of those connections through various math and biology courses, however, as I traveled through the book, the experience of how I arrived at those points made the rediscovery awe inspiring. Especially, the chapter that ended with Kepler. I found the journey to that point of the book incredible. The tie in to string theory was good too, and while I appreciate string theory, the fact Kepler's discovery ties into the ratios so beautifully makes it that much cooler. Rousseau makes an appearance. Luckily the book didn't include any passages where we have to read him describe himself at length. It was focused on his part as a wave in the foaming sea that was the debate on temperament (and art in general). I also really enjoyed the exploration on how the freedom of art vs discovery of art embedded in nature played out across the various mediums (not just temperament), when considering that and combing it with the discourse on the ratios, it really draws in the depth of mathematics. And while the book wasn't broad enough to include more math, it really brought to mind the same debate that mathematics faced. Is math created (art) or discovered (nature)? The parallels between the difficulty in advancing math compared to the difficulty with changing art (due to Roman Catholic Church) was interesting to me. For instance, the concept of zero or negative numbers used to be dangerous or even heretical. Though the zero controversy was a good bit earlier than the debate of temperament, it still took till the 12th century to get a copy of a zero from Arabia.... Faxing the negative numbers proved slower and took another 300 years to arrive in the west and longer still before its meaning was clearly defined. This book was a very good read, and I'm getting a copy of it for myself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    Instrument temperament is something that even music dorks consider something out there even by music dork standards, but Temperament attempts to put the debates over how to tune an instrument into historical context. For a little background: All of the common intervals can be expressed as a ratio of frequencies of small whole numbers. An octave is twice the frequency of the initial pitch and an fifth is 3/2nds the frequency of the initial pitch. There's a problem, though, if you take 12 fifths, Instrument temperament is something that even music dorks consider something out there even by music dork standards, but Temperament attempts to put the debates over how to tune an instrument into historical context. For a little background: All of the common intervals can be expressed as a ratio of frequencies of small whole numbers. An octave is twice the frequency of the initial pitch and an fifth is 3/2nds the frequency of the initial pitch. There's a problem, though, if you take 12 fifths, you don't wind up with the same pitch as if you took seven octaves. The two differ by about a percent. This gap is called the Pythagorean comma and is quite audible. The same problem pops up if you want 3rds (4:3) to add up to 5ths (3:2). Historically, there have been differing ways of modifying these intervals to deviate from these pure ratios in such a way to hopefully minimize dissonance. For instruments with variable tuning like string instruments, the human voice, and some woodwind/brass instruments, you adjust the written pitch so that it fits the part in the chord. For instruments where tuning is non-trivial like the harpsichord then the piano, a tuning needs to be set. The supposed answer to the problem of "best" tuning is offered by the author to be equal temparament which was widely known by the end of the 18th century. In equal temperament, each semitone is the 12th root of 2 higher than the previous, so 12 semitones gives you a doubling of frequency or a perfect (just) octave. The author outlines the path from music without harmony to equal temperament tracking the developments in both theory and technology along the way. The author outlines how other arts shifted over time, particularly painting and theater, as well as the various responses to tunings from the church. These strands are interwoven but in reading, the crossovers felt haphazard. Things move roughly chronologically but sometimes things jump around in time or space. Additionally, the author treats equal temperament like it's "right"; the obvious and nearly self-evident solution to the problem of tuning which is far from true. The author ignores the persistence of chromatic and microtonal tunings as well as the historical music movement which saught to recreate pieces as first consumed. The book is a good introduction to the problem of equal temperament as well as the history of fashion in some of the arts. As for a definitive treatment on temperament, far from.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Forrest

    Isacoff tries to tell parallel stories here, comparing the intellectual progress through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment with the "progress" from just intonation to equal temperament. Here's a quote that illustrates the general tone: After Newton, earlier philosophers of nature seemed, like the residents of Laputa in Gulliver's Travels, prisoners of of a rigid, geometric fantasy. [ ... ] Newton's universe was a different sort of place: [ ... ] His descriptions of things as they are overwhel Isacoff tries to tell parallel stories here, comparing the intellectual progress through the Renaissance and the Enlightenment with the "progress" from just intonation to equal temperament. Here's a quote that illustrates the general tone: After Newton, earlier philosophers of nature seemed, like the residents of Laputa in Gulliver's Travels, prisoners of of a rigid, geometric fantasy. [ ... ] Newton's universe was a different sort of place: [ ... ] His descriptions of things as they are overwhelmed the old picture of what they logically ought to be. He proceeds with the attempt to force this analogy, even when it doesn't really work. Of Newton, he was later forced to concede Nevertheless, his solution to the temperament problem was, in the end, unremarkable. [ ... ] Newton remained convinced that the simple ratios governing musical concords had indeed been consecrated by nature. After praising Newton's ability to value his faculties of observation over theory, it doesn't seem to occur to him that perhaps Newton actually listened to musical intervals and found that just intonation actually sounded better. After continuing to tell the tale until, at the end of the Enlightenment, equal temperament is almost universally accepted, he ends by talking about modern composers who still haven't accepted it, describing his delight at a special concert by Michael Harrison he was privileged to attend. (So, maybe his entire thesis didn't work? He doesn't conclude this.) Then, there is another chapter, which he added to the paperback edition, responding to his many critics. He states that he's surprised that everyone who read the book thought he was such an advocate for equal temperament. Duh, that was the conceit around which the entire book was structured! Equal temperament is "progress". Yet, as his critics pointed out to him (some not so nicely, I take it), that's not really the case. Yet, despite the fact this book is structured around a failed thesis, I still have to recommend it. The only other sources for this information are dry and academic; Isacoff manages to keep things interesting with all sorts of anecdotes about the very colorful characters who had a part in this development, and descriptions of the different keyboards that tried cramming more and more keys into the octave in quest of perfect harmony.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kiersten

    I really wanted to like this, but unless you've graduated with a degree in music, this is VERY murky reading. After finishing the book, I'm still not sure what the difference is between equal temperament, mean-tone tuning, and perfect tuning. Isacoff, while thorough, wanders off on a myriad of historical tidbits which are perhaps related to temperament in loose ways. In the beginning of the book, wonderful tuning occurs due to the vibrations matching up at particular coordinated times, and yet l I really wanted to like this, but unless you've graduated with a degree in music, this is VERY murky reading. After finishing the book, I'm still not sure what the difference is between equal temperament, mean-tone tuning, and perfect tuning. Isacoff, while thorough, wanders off on a myriad of historical tidbits which are perhaps related to temperament in loose ways. In the beginning of the book, wonderful tuning occurs due to the vibrations matching up at particular coordinated times, and yet later in the book he claims that this can't be true because notes that begin at different times STILL ring true. And later, he says that the overtones and surrounding vibrations somehow get in sync with the original initiation of the sound. So is THAT what's happening? I really wanted an easy-to-digest explanation of the physics of sound and tuning, and I wanted a bit of backstory on the history of tuning. I really didn't want to slog through all the debate and characters surrounding the problem for centuries. To be honest, it doesn't sound like we've really solved music's greatest riddle at all.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cam

    Very good. Although at times it did seem to ramble about historical events rather than music. Though I guess If Mr. Isacoff had just talked about the way the piano came to be, it would be a rather short book. The history ramblings were pretty cool too. Talking about Voltaire and how he pushed for the use of condoms. Or how Coffee sort of came into prominence and was in a way the crack for philosophers to get them "talking". Or reading about cranky old curmudgeons argue about tunings as if the fa Very good. Although at times it did seem to ramble about historical events rather than music. Though I guess If Mr. Isacoff had just talked about the way the piano came to be, it would be a rather short book. The history ramblings were pretty cool too. Talking about Voltaire and how he pushed for the use of condoms. Or how Coffee sort of came into prominence and was in a way the crack for philosophers to get them "talking". Or reading about cranky old curmudgeons argue about tunings as if the fate of their souls depended on it. I liked it a lot! I wish I would of gotten in on Kindle but oh well. A good book and well written. Anyone that is a history junkie will appreciate this book and it's fun trip through time!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Rebecca

    This book is an interesting introduction to the development of equal temperament in European music. Its best usefulness is a resource that will send the reader to primary sources and scholarship on the topic; a bibliography is included. The author relates musical developments to painting, literature, political and intellectual developments in a way that isn't really satisfying. He does not go into enough depth on any one theme, preferring to suggest connections and move on. The book is also marr This book is an interesting introduction to the development of equal temperament in European music. Its best usefulness is a resource that will send the reader to primary sources and scholarship on the topic; a bibliography is included. The author relates musical developments to painting, literature, political and intellectual developments in a way that isn't really satisfying. He does not go into enough depth on any one theme, preferring to suggest connections and move on. The book is also marred by a few sexist jokes. If you're an amateur musician beginning to explore the history of temperament, this book is a possibly useful resource to get the lay of the land.

  17. 4 out of 5

    KennyO

    Spoiler alert! The tuning of musical instruments has changed across the years. Here’s an excellent, enlightening treatise about the evolution of western instrument tunings through those years. Although I’d studied it and knew about it already, his exposition on the why of songs sounding better in one key than in another was particularly lucid and edifying. If you have little musical learning or little inclination, I will suggest that you give this book a bye. If music is something you enjoy more Spoiler alert! The tuning of musical instruments has changed across the years. Here’s an excellent, enlightening treatise about the evolution of western instrument tunings through those years. Although I’d studied it and knew about it already, his exposition on the why of songs sounding better in one key than in another was particularly lucid and edifying. If you have little musical learning or little inclination, I will suggest that you give this book a bye. If music is something you enjoy more than simply listening to Spotify or Pandora then you’ll probably learn something here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    LeeAnn Heringer

    This is just the sort of romp through history that I love, tying all the names together in one big stew of connectivity. And because I’m not a keyboard player, because I’m a horn and string player who the book describes as “left to find their own grammar”, I had not even been exposed to the concept of temperament or the idea that notes were, at some point in our history, not equal distance apart. I found this book fabulously interesting in the best geeky way.

  19. 4 out of 5

    karen foley

    This book gives an excellent and understandable explanation of musical temperament for the (somewhat) general reader, against the background of connected historical events. At least a basic knowledge of music theory and familiarity with the keyboard will render it much more comprehensible. I found it immensely readable for a rather obscure topic.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amber Drake

    Very interesting This book was very interesting, and it put the ideas of music, art, philosophy, history and science all together. I can't believe all of this isn't covered in required history classes! Super important to understand how music became what it is today.

  21. 4 out of 5

    William

    Interesting subject matter, but this book has a lot of filler and meanders all over the place. It's light on both music theory and the mathematics of the subject. Also would have been greatly improved with a CD providing examples you can listen to.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Magee

    You could read Temperment quickly, but it's better to linger within its deeply researched and well written pages, where, like a good tune, you can re-read the mindblowing passages and appreciate then all the more.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Couldn’t finish it. The author includes an overwhelming and unnecessary amount of historical context. The development of tuning systems is addressed sporadically throughout the text. You lose the main thread. Try How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony instead.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rose Carpenter

    This is one of my favorite books.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robin

    The spine of this book has been staring me out of countenance about a decade from the "books about my favorite subject (music) that I've been meaning to read" shelf. The guilt finally became too much for me to bear, so I finally fitted it in between a couple of books borrowed from the public library, which I was going to have to renew anyway. Astoundingly fast, I found myself caught up in the book's compelling historical argument, and in spite of a busy week of long work-days and evening engagem The spine of this book has been staring me out of countenance about a decade from the "books about my favorite subject (music) that I've been meaning to read" shelf. The guilt finally became too much for me to bear, so I finally fitted it in between a couple of books borrowed from the public library, which I was going to have to renew anyway. Astoundingly fast, I found myself caught up in the book's compelling historical argument, and in spite of a busy week of long work-days and evening engagements, I knocked it off in about two nights of staying up later than I should have. The "temperament" of which Stuart Isacoff writes is a system of tuning the strings (or pipes) of a keyboard instrument so that music sounds pleasant and in-tune. If you thought this would be a simple matter of making sure notes a fifth apart are perfectly in tune, rinse and repeat around the whole circle of fifths, you might be a follower of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras, whose followers considered the concept of irrational numbers a thought-crime worthy of death. The practical reality, however, is that tuning perfect fifths all the way around the circle results in an out-of-tune octave, and that a tuning system that keeps octaves, fifths, and fourths perfectly in tune excludes music featuring the popular intervals of thirds and sixths. It would be a much shorter and happier history if it had been ruled by the practical necessity of allowing keyboard players to stay in tune with singers and other instruments without constantly having tuning problems, or by the artistic imperative of composers to explore more complex harmonies and far-flung tonal areas. But for centuries, during the middle ages and straight through the Renaissance, western art music was plagued by conflicts - conflicts between notes that produced "wolf sounds" (ugly intervals), and conflicts between philosophers, scientists, theologians, and music theorists. Some wanted to hold music to sacred ratios that bore witness to divine order in the universe, and that produced perfect consonances, albeit in music of a limited range. Others foresaw that nothing short of equal temperament - with the octave divided into 12 evenly-spaced half-steps, and the small acoustic compromises that entailed - would allow a smooth transition between any two keys, a necessary condition for keyboard instruments to come into their own. The battle was ideological as well as technological. The mathematics of an equal 12-note tuning were a long time in the finding, not only as a theoretical ratio of powers of the twelfth-root of two, but also as a practical matter of how to produce that tuning on an actual instrument. But as Isacoff shows, the battle was fought on the plane of theory, between intellectual hosts including some of history's greatest minds - many of whom were not known for their ear for music. Sharp words were thrown. Even deadlier weapons, at times, were drawn. Discoveries in other areas were called into evidence, bearing witness to the truth or falsehood of ideas long cherished. Isacoff relates the battle over temperament to other developments in religion, philosophy, politics, and especially art, drawing a remarkable parallel between the rediscovery of realistic perspective in painting and the slow advance toward equal temperament in music. And while he finally draws an ambiguous conclusion, he makes a pretty convincing case that much of the great art music you and I love could not have been without some approximation of equal temperament. This review is based on the 2003 revised paperback edition of a book originally published in 2001. Among the changes in the 2003 edition is an added afterword, responding to criticism of the first edition which makes it sound as though the temperament tempest has not yet passed from the teapot. Isacoff is a pianist, composer, lecturer, and writer whose other work includes the 2011 book A Natural History of the Piano.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    If you have an interest in understanding the underlying structures of music, this book is for you. Temperament will also appeal to readers interested in early modern Europe and the era of the Scientific Revolution given Isacoff's well-orchestrated, interwoven narrative of the role played by music (and its mathematical dilemmas) in the lives of Newton, Kepler, Descartes, and others. The gist of the story is temperament, which is the idea that each note in an octave on the modern piano (twelve keys If you have an interest in understanding the underlying structures of music, this book is for you. Temperament will also appeal to readers interested in early modern Europe and the era of the Scientific Revolution given Isacoff's well-orchestrated, interwoven narrative of the role played by music (and its mathematical dilemmas) in the lives of Newton, Kepler, Descartes, and others. The gist of the story is temperament, which is the idea that each note in an octave on the modern piano (twelve keys, including the sharps, etc.) is equidistant from every other note in that octave (and thus, all other keys on the piano). This allows for a 'standardization' of the sound to accentuate the largest number of harmonious third, fourth, fifth chords. It sounds appropriate to the human ear and makes playing and composing western music more intelligible and consistent. Isacoff traces this idea back to Greek culture and the concept that perfect mathematical relationships must underlay everything created by the gods, including music. But trying to fix the tuning of stringed instruments (e.g. the lute and much later the harpsichord) to the ideal ratios like 2:1, 3:2, and 4:3 never overlapped or worked quite right. As technology advanced, and the desire to write music like individuals could sing (think about how a barbershop quartet adjusts pitch constantly to harmonize with each other), the search for a solution to these dissonant dilemmas was on. It was only after the advent of modern scientific thought--which freed science and the arts from the control of the Roman Catholic church and the ancient and traditional forms--that musicians and instruments could base music on a rational and secularized division of the octave (after many more battles over preference that bring the story up to Bach). Although Isacoff goes off on many tangents, the connections between science, art, music, and the religious politics of European history are interesting to see brought together into one narrative. Isacoff also does an admirable job of illustrating the chords and intervals based on the familiar "do-re-mi" scale to help non-musicians read and follow along. It would have been useful to also include more explanation of the sound wave science behind the scenes, i.e. the frequencies of each key, to fully understand the science behind the sound.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    I picked this up on a lark and found it thoroughly engaging. The author explains something about the history of musical tuning systems, from Pythagoras through the 19th century, on into current times. It is amazing how vociferously various people fought over subtle differences in the way church organs and other instruments were tuned. One would think few people would have the ears to distinguish such things. But it's not even about that so much, as each party having a "school of thought" which t I picked this up on a lark and found it thoroughly engaging. The author explains something about the history of musical tuning systems, from Pythagoras through the 19th century, on into current times. It is amazing how vociferously various people fought over subtle differences in the way church organs and other instruments were tuned. One would think few people would have the ears to distinguish such things. But it's not even about that so much, as each party having a "school of thought" which they believe in and live by. The author paints Pythagoras as a cult leader, whose secrets were only known to a choice few. Not being a student of classical history, I found this all very interesting. There is an afterword chapter to the paperback edition, the author notes complaints that his book was written with laymen in mind, not trained musicians. I was never bothered by such things when I read this, it seemed very obvious to me. I even enjoyed his various attempts to describe the sounds of intervals and tunings, knowing well what they did sound like. I knock off at least half a star for his comment in the afterword about Harry Partch being a "thoroughly mediocre composer". Wha? I don't think Partch is the greatest composer ever (but then who is?), but I saw "Castor and Pollux" performed on the original instruments, and it was a more moving and interesting experience than at least 95% of any "new music" I've ever seen. But he does come around a bit at the end, being somewhat defensive of equal temperament, to mentioning a hypnotic just intonation performance. Read this for the history, not for the commentary.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    This managed to give me some background in the temperament debate, but was not all it promised to be. The facts are remarkable enough - it seems every great scientist and thinker of the 17th and 18th century had something to say about this, which I never would have guessed. But Isacoff begins badly, spending the first 20 pages advertising the rest of the book - an annoying habit that also sets him up for a fall by promising the book of the century. In the spirit of the spate of books that attemp This managed to give me some background in the temperament debate, but was not all it promised to be. The facts are remarkable enough - it seems every great scientist and thinker of the 17th and 18th century had something to say about this, which I never would have guessed. But Isacoff begins badly, spending the first 20 pages advertising the rest of the book - an annoying habit that also sets him up for a fall by promising the book of the century. In the spirit of the spate of books that attempt to tie all of civilization to salt or razor blades or what have you, he attempts to connect the whole train of western thought since the 1500s to keyboard tuning. Some of these connections, as you can imagine, are tenuous, and for all the breadth of his narrative, none of it ever catches fire. It never quite seems a LIVELY debate, particularly in the 19th century, when there is apparently reason to believe the issue remained quite lively, while for Isacoff modern tuning immediately became settled law. It is perhaps too expansive for a book of modest length. The author departs annoyingly from chronology without being explicit about it (apparently he decided or was advised to include as few dates as possible). He also repeats himself chapters apart, often using the same wording without any acknowledgement that he is doing so - a failure of editing that one can't help but find infuriating. In short, I would skip this one. If you want to know about the debate, read the wiki. The book is not worth it. P.S. The second edition also includes a weirdly defensive - and egotistical - piece of apologetics of rather remarkable length.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dan Vine

    Overall, I found this to be a fine book that explained the subject well but it also frustrated me at times. Some of his discussions of the history of non-musical art seemed like padding or name-dropping, and his occasional clangers (two of the oddest being 'a lute has 6 strings', Dufay and Brunelleschi were 'compatriots'). Mind you that second one occurs in the context of the revelation that Dufay wrote a motet for the dedication of Brunelleschi's dome (Nuper rosarum flores). One of several occa Overall, I found this to be a fine book that explained the subject well but it also frustrated me at times. Some of his discussions of the history of non-musical art seemed like padding or name-dropping, and his occasional clangers (two of the oddest being 'a lute has 6 strings', Dufay and Brunelleschi were 'compatriots'). Mind you that second one occurs in the context of the revelation that Dufay wrote a motet for the dedication of Brunelleschi's dome (Nuper rosarum flores). One of several occasions when I went straight to Spotify to listen to the music he was writing about! Now to read 'How equal temperament ruined harmony (and why you should care)'. Update on reading the other book: I am now convinced that some of my suspicions - that the book was either not well researched or highly selective - are confirmed. In fact, having done a little research on the internet and chatted to a couple of musicians who are not pianists (my lute teacher and a baroque violinist) the author is either unaware of or grossly misrepresents how things are for instruments that are not pianos. Still it was a good read. Just read something better informed afterwards.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    I may have oversold this book in my mind. As I re-read the copy on the jacket it is not quite as exciting as I originally thought. I think I was projecting things I'd read in other books onto my expectations for this one. There is one quote, on the back cover, however, that I guess set those thoughts into motion - "An exciting musical tour through Western civilization that read like a thriller, filled with intrigue, discovery, jealousy, failure, and triumph." Now, I have actually read a number o I may have oversold this book in my mind. As I re-read the copy on the jacket it is not quite as exciting as I originally thought. I think I was projecting things I'd read in other books onto my expectations for this one. There is one quote, on the back cover, however, that I guess set those thoughts into motion - "An exciting musical tour through Western civilization that read like a thriller, filled with intrigue, discovery, jealousy, failure, and triumph." Now, I have actually read a number of books about science that have been everything that quote suggests and more (see my reviews for Microbe Hunters, The Turk, and Seeing Further. While the riddle in question, that of "correct" tuning, is interesting, the tale is not, in my opinion, related in an exciting way. In fact, I would call the comparison's to the developments in other fields too convoluted. Everything educational doesn't have to be related in an adventurous way and I would say if the story really doesn't lend itself to that approach, just write a [email protected]

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.