Well Temperament

Historical Tunings on Modern Pianos

I was at Symphony Center a few years ago and I noticed a poster for a concert in which a famous pianist would be playing the entire Well Tempered Clavier. I couldn’t bear to go to the concert, because I was quite certain that the piano would have been tuned to Standard Equal Temperament. I just shook my head and thought to myself; how ludicrous to play an entire concert with a piece that was intended to demonstrate the amazing varieties and colors of a Well Tempered tuning, but instead tuning the instrument to Equal Temperament, which totally removes any key color or variety.

Tuning Repertoire

Below is a menu of some of the types of tunings I have available for my clients upon request. I have tried to list the characteristics of each tuning, and how it might be used in the musical literature, so that if you should decide to choose one for your piano, you may do so knowing better what to expect, or knowing better what to request from your piano technician.

There is more than one way to tune a modern piano. In fact, the possibilities are limitless. And yet in this century only one tuning, Standard 20th Century Equal Temperament, has dominated almost all Western music.

Battle of the Temperaments

The competitive spirit between temperaments is unfortunate. Clearly, there are merits to both Standard and Classical temperaments, depending on what music is played and who is doing the playing. Not everyone's taste is alike, just as all music is not alike. Equal Temperament works better on some music than does Well Temperament. Well Temperament works better on some music than Standard Equal Temperament.

Historical Temperaments: A New Trend in Piano Tuning

It may be that in the next decade or so you will see a change in the temperament of piano technicians.

Recently I went to the Piano Technicians Guild seminar put on by the Madison chapter on historical tunings. The first part of the program was a lecture / demonstration by Owen Jorgensen, with whom I'm sure many are familiar. Owen had two pianofortes, three verticals and two Mason & Hamlin grands, all tuned to differing temperaments, however this time his lecture had a little different and quite unexpected twist.