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Comment: Condition: Very good condition., Binding: Paperback / Publisher: Vintage / Pub. Date: 04 February, 2003 Attributes: 277 p. : ill. ; 21 cm. / Stock#: 2039967 (FBA) * * *This item qualifies for FREE SHIPPING and Amazon Prime programs! * * *
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Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization Paperback – February 4, 2003

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Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization + How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care) + Tuning and Temperament: A Historical Survey (Dover Books on Music)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375703306
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375703300
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Involving mathematics, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, politics, and physics, Stuart Isacoff 's Temperament invokes the tone of a James Burke documentary. However, the focus is not on a modern invention, but rather a modern convention: that of tuning keyboards so that every key is equally in tune--and equally out of tune.

With the existing literature tending to bog down in mathematical theory or historical tuning methods, Isacoff bravely attempts to make this seemingly arcane topic interesting to the general reader. He distills the mathematics and music theory into their simplest essences, and draws apt analogies from the everyday. He also generously peppers the text with the quirks and escapades of its more flamboyant central characters; the relevance of the information is often tenuous at best, but Isacoff has obviously done his homework, and he can be forgiven some frivolity.

Less forgivable is his neglect of "well-temperament." Namesake of Bach's masterful collection of 24 pieces (one each in all the major and minor keys), the well-tempered keyboard liberated composers from the howl of badly tuned keys in the way equal temperament did, while preserving the distinct quality of each key. It was a pragmatic and aesthetically rich solution that captivated composers and theorists for decades. Yet Isacoff reserves less than two pages for its description. (Perhaps he deliberately overlooked the topic since it doesn't fit well with his casting of equal temperament's opponents as rigid, dogmatic, and impractical.)

Despite its flaws, Temperament is an accessible guide to a fascinating topic seldom discussed outside musical circles. Though the book may not invigorate hard-core theorists, the amateur musician, armchair scientist, history buff, or plain old curious can glean plenty from it. The advent of digital keyboards--some of which can be tuned to historical temperaments at the flip of a switch--makes this an ideal time for the topic to be rejuvenated. --Todd Gehman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Isacoff, editor-in-chief of Piano Today magazine, tells the worthy tale of how musical temperament the familiar, seemingly fixed relationships between notes on an instrumental scale came to be taken for granted. After centuries of an accepted belief in the mathematical and divine governance of music, the 17th century saw the growth of a fierce debate over experimental new tuning methods. In the 18th century, the modern keyboard allowed for a new kind of tuning, known as equal temperament, whereby each pitch is equally distanced. New musical possibilities opened up, changing composition forever. Isacoff traces music theory contributions by da Vinci, Newton, Descartes, Kepler and Rameau. Unfortunately, he sometimes clumsily attempts to keep his audience's attention with irrelevant, if salacious, gossip e.g., philosopher Robert Hooke "recorded his orgasms in a diary," and King Louis XIV refused to eat with a fork. Meanwhile, he gives relatively short shrift to Kepler and Galileo. His ambitious historical canvas uses extensive secondary sources, but there are research gaps, such as his outdated portrait of Isaac Newton as a total "ascetic." Nevertheless, this harmonics drama will excite music geeks and music historians. (Nov. 24)Forecast: Knopf's prestige guarantees sales to major music collections, and Isacoff's national media appearances (NPR, etc.) may mean good general sales.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

There is so much irrelevant material here that I gave up reading the book eventually.
Michael Casey
Stuart Isacoff has written an accessible, fascinating and engaging book about a surprising subject.
Jordan Wouk
This book deals with the very complicated subject of temperament or tuning in the musical scale.
Dr. John Wilson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 113 people found the following review helpful By P. Vogel on February 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and, for the first time in my life, feel that I actually understand the issues around temperament. I would recommend this book to a lot of people but not everyone, as the number of negative reviews illustrates. The negative reviews for this book seem to fall into four categories-if you are in one of those groups then you may want to buy a different book:
1) The lunatic fringe: Examples here are: The review that castigates the book for abusing non-Western music (It's hard to see the point of this complaint since the intent of the book is to discuss the role of temperament in Western music--no real mention is made of any other kind of music); The review by the person who read only a 2 or 3 page excerpt of the book (apparently ignorance is no impediment to opinion); The person who hadn't read the book yet but would post a review when they had (see previous); The reviewer who felt that the book was all about sex (I missed that). And so on.
2) People who were unhappy about the lack of technical detail. While I am obviously disparaging the previous group, these reviewers have a valid complaint. These readers were looking for (as examples): actual scores; more math with more explicit discussion of the exact size of the differentials between similarly named tones; more technical terms (e.g. "hertz"). I have a good grounding in math, read a lot of technical material, but would probably best be described as a "music lover". I'm just not in these reviewers league. Since I don't read music, for instance, a score would be useless to me. For the audience that I represent, the level of technical detail worked very well and is appropriate for a "general interest" book. The author's description of the music met my needs and the prescence of a score wouldn't have helped.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By bgarfink on January 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
Isacoff has tried to write a book on musical temperament for the general public, and parts of it are fun to read. It does have two major flaws: 1) he greatly overstates his case and deliberately omits a whole lot of information that contradicts his central thesis, and 2), he bends over so far backward trying to keep things non-technical that he not only falls down but ties himself up in knots in the process.

As a harpsichordist, I'm perhaps a little more flexible on the subject of an ideal temperament that is all things to all people, because my experience says there's no such thing. Of the various solutions that have been tried along the way, most of them served the needs of those who used them at the time. In fact, I was disappointed that his website sound samples included Chopin in just intonation and equal temperament, but no Byrd or Frescobaldi in meantone or Faenza Codex in Pythagorean, just to show us what all of those systems CAN do--especially on instruments other than the Steinway grand piano. Believe me, it's a revelation! Suddenly a lot about how that music was written in the first place begins to make sense! Which is one reason that I found myself objecting to the sweep of the presentation. In the 21st century, unlike in the 16 and 17th centuries, we DO draw a distinction between music and science, and part of that distinction is that science is a cumulative discipline (meaning that the state of the art does in fact get better as time goes on), and music isn't.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By ED FOOTE on January 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Isacoff has managed to skip a hugely important period in the development of tuning, specifically the era between 1700 and 1900, in which he believes equal temperament was in use on pianos. The evidence from Jorgensen and Barbour would indicate otherwise. It is also naive to believe that tuning went from the restrictive Meantone to today's Equal Temperament in one step.
ET requires certain tests, checks, and balances to occur, and we know that those were not widely available before at least 1830.
I have tuned ET on pianos for many years, I know exactly what it sounds like, but by following the pre 1800 instructions that purportedly create equality, I find something far different than what we call ET today. Given the recalcitrant nature of piano tuners,(whose trade didn't really exist before the early 1800's), adoption of this more difficult temperament certainly didn't happen overnight.
It is one thing to simply say that people started using ET, but quite another to show that it was possible From the various Kirnberger tunings to Thomas Young, there was a generic shape to the tuning that caused the progression of "color" to be universally recognized. This common genre provided a basis for "key character". It is also interesting that in 1885, Ellis found that the master tuners at Broadwood's were not using ET.
Making a temperament "non-restrictive" does NOT make it "equal". There is far more harmonic activity in the work of these composers than ET will create but a "well-tempered" piano is required to hear it. To gloss over everything from Bach onward with modern tuning is to miss a huge part of the art. The book misses the basic and the finer of these points. Interesting read for the context, but it missed describing the true art of tuning.
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