Iscoff, S. 2002. Temperament. London: Faber and Faber Limited.
This book has the subtitle ‘How Music became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilisation’, and is a fascinating perspective on the development of the equally tempered scale. The history of this development is intertwined with science, art, politics and even religion; I had no idea just how polarising the subject has been over the centuries.
As a pianist the story is especially interesting, since the keyboard played such an important role. I would love to get my hands on one of the prototype keyboards designed to try to overcome the tuning problems by having multiple keys per ‘note’ – as if playing the piano is not hard enough!
As a composer the subject opens up many pathways for exploration and research. Just what is it that makes the frequency ratios 2:1, 3:2, 4:3 etc sound so ‘right’? Many musicians from the time found even the slight deviations from these pure ratios required for equal temperament abhorrent; our ears are accustomed to them but are we missing out on something as a result?