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.
Feb 18, karen foley rated it really liked it. 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. Aug 21, Jamie Magee rated it it was amazing. 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. 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!
Temperament by Stuart Isacoff (ebook)
Super important to understand how music became what it is today. Sep 15, William rated it did not like it Shelves: music , 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. Aug 09, Rose Carpenter rated it it was amazing. This is one of my favorite books. Nov 25, Robin rated it really liked it. 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. 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.
ISBN 13: 9780375703300
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 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 revised paperback edition of a book originally published in Among the changes in the 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 book A Natural History of the Piano. Nov 01, Jessica rated it really liked it. 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. 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. 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. 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. Aug 10, Thomas rated it it was ok. 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.
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 s 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. The second edition also includes a weirdly defensive - and egotistical - piece of apologetics of rather remarkable length.
Mar 08, Ben rated it really liked it. 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.
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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. 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".
I don't think Partch is the greatest composer ever but then who is? 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. View 1 comment. Feb 04, Heather Parks rated it it was amazing.
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.
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. Aug 04, Dan Vine rated it really liked it Shelves: music. 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. 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. 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. 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 textbook Why do we listen to classical music? What makes great music great? The author, Stuart Isacoff, explores the principles that underly truly great music. Explaining the scientific principles behind the music, he takes the reader on a journey from the classical thoughts of Euclid through Newton with even a section on the important contribution of the Chinese.
Focusing on the piano he brings his conclusions home with principles both poetic, scientific, and philosophic. The details of the secrets of m Why do we listen to classical music? The details of the secrets of musical harmony are laid out in several chapters that include thinkers you may have never associated with music.
The story is akin to the history of science, an area of thought that has long intrigued me. The conclusion is that the genius of musical art rests on a very scientific foundation. A generous bibliography enhances the volume for those who wish to pursue the subject. Isacoff has made a unique contribution to music literature that exudes virtuosity. Jul 02, Michelle rated it liked it Shelves: never-finished , non-fiction , music. Music is what occupies most of my free time now. Reading feels like a waste of a day to me now-- whenever I start a book, I have to finish it, and there goes half of the day.
If I read before bed, I can't put the book down, and I stay up half the night, then I'm super tired the next day. But practicing my saxophone, clarinet or piano, every minute feels well spent. I don't waste half my day on it. Plus it's a lot of fun. I used to read books during breakfast and dinner; now I read the newspaper, because it's shorter and doesn't take up as much time. This whole paragraph is very off topic from the review, so on to the review. This book was very interesting. I only read about half way through because I felt it was getting sort of repetitive. Perhaps would have fared better as an essay?
Aug 12, Adam rated it really liked it Recommends it for: musicians. Shelves: music. This book is a quick read, and I realized that right off the bat. Isacoff makes an extremely intricate and complicated topic such as the development of tuning systems in Western Music seem easy.
The author covers the history, math and science behind music in great detail and manages to keep the reader engaged, whether they are musicians or not. There is not a facet of music history that is not touched upon, and always used to present some larger point, or to connect ideas that have been prese This book is a quick read, and I realized that right off the bat. There is not a facet of music history that is not touched upon, and always used to present some larger point, or to connect ideas that have been presented.
It is great to see this "behind-the-scenes" of music history that is seldom talked about. It is great to read about the greatest philosophers, scientists and musicians of the day arguing about music. The book begs the question "why do we not argue about these things anymore? We moved your item s to Saved for Later. There was a problem with saving your item s for later.
You can go to cart and save for later there. Average rating: 2. Stuart Isacoff. Walmart Tell us if something is incorrect. Book Format: Choose an option. Add to Cart. Product Highlights Featuring a new Afterword, this narrative explores the reinvention of the piano--a story that encompasses social history, religion, philosophy, and science as well as musicology--in a concise and sparkling narrative.
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See our disclaimer. 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. Customer Reviews. See all reviews. Write a review. Average rating: 4 out of 5 stars, based on 0 reviews. See more. Written by a customer while visiting librarything.
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