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Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization (2001)

af Stuart Isacoff

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349573,915 (3.53)3
Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. 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.… (mere)
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didn't like it. His conclusions are totally off the wall and implausible and would be totally different if he had an ear. ( )
  ChrisBriden | Nov 19, 2013 |
A short book about tuning for keyboard insturments, and the struggles associated with establishment of the current equal temperment tuning. I did not realize the problem associated with tuning on the basis of perfect ratios of string length to establish the intervals of thirds and fifths in the octave. It is interesting to learn to begin with that the octave in tone is related exactly to the length of the vibrating string, in that halving the length of a string results in a tone that is one octave higher (although I knew that the C tones in tuning forks were related to one another by powers of 2). The smaller intervals are different rational ratios of the string lengths; an interval of 3rds is a ratio of 5/4; of fifths is a ratio of 3/2. Constructing a scale with string lengths leads to confusion, since some notes bear different interval relationships to others, and need to be "tempered" to fit.
The story is connected to the reformation and enlightenment, and to science and philosophy, and Isacoff does an excellent job of relating the problems. He is a bit discursive and gets off track on occasion. ( )
  neurodrew | Nov 12, 2008 |
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 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. ( )
  jwhenderson | Apr 13, 2008 |
A horrible, pointless waste of time.

The author goes on and on describing the lunatic musical theories of various twits from the past without ever condemning them or placing them in some sort of unified context.
Extraordinarily strong assertions are repeatedly (and I mean REPEATEDLY) made about how certain sounds are either beautiful beyond belief, or hideous beyond bearable (Isacoff's world incorporates little moderation) but we're given no guide as to whether these statements are unequivocally true (ie a property of the human nervous system), true in some cultures (ie learned behavior) or, quite simply, nonsense spouted by people who felt that music should be based on numerology.

I learned nothing whatsoever from this book. ( )
  name99 | Nov 12, 2006 |
A dicussion of the evolution of Western music into what we know modernly. It has nothing to do with India, but it's a great beginner intro to some of the concepts in music theory history. ( )
  bethlakshmi | Oct 2, 2006 |
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Few music lovers realize that the arrangement of notes on today’s pianos was once regarded as a crime against God and nature, or that such legendary thinkers as Pythagoras, Plato, da Vinci, Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Newton and Rousseau played a role in the controversy. 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.

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