It’s tempting to think that it’s only the domain of modernist composers, theorists and ethnomusicologists to talk of anything but 12 notes in an octave. After all if it was good enough for Mozart and Beethoven it should be good for everyone, right? Well, as it happens, Mozart and Beethoven understood F# and G-flat as different notes. A manuscript survives for example of Mozart’s teaching notes to his English student Thomas Attwood showing the difference between a major semitone (e.g. E to F) and a minor semitone (Fb to F). Almost universally considered as identical today, in his they were pitched slightly differently.
Very few musicians are aware that even into the 19th century fingerboard diagrams and scale exercises existed with two types of accidental (e.g. g# as distinct from a-flat) as well as keyboards with split keys so that the player could choose between accidental types.
It’s remarkable how efficiently this has been filtered out of the system so that even professional classical musicians and teachers – let alone students – are unaware of our microtonal recent history.
2 replies on “A dozen of one, or not.”
I just wanted to say a massive thanks for the guitar day at Surrey Uni yesterday. I came with a friend for the whole day and our wives joined us in the evening for John Wheatcroft’s band’s performance.
We went to everything, from Thomas Leeb’s workshop, to Brigitte and Amanda’s fab performance, Craig, Gary, etc, the whole wonderful day.
It’s now opened my ears and eyes to different kinds of guitar music and to see such virtuosos in action was just breathtaking.
So, well done to you and all involved. It was a day to remember and we certainly intend to come again.
My late friend, Knud Brant Nielsen, studied what he called 12-tonality, not to be confused with twelve-tone music.
The basic 12-tonal structure is generated by perfect fifths and its keyboard has 12 white and 5 black keys.
We analyzed a recording of Hilary Hahn’s interpretation of J.S. Bach partita 2, d minor, courante, and it turned out that she very accurately intoned in accordance with this structure.