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2/10: Helmholtz and Colleagues

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Heroic Efforts of Hemlholtz and Colleagues

Do not be afraid to be out of tune with the piano. It is the piano that is out of tune. –cellist Pablo Casals

By the early 19th century, the music world embraced the 12-eq tuning system. Some brave composers and the scientist Hermann Helmholtz rejected the inharmonicities inherent in the “modern,” Industrial-Age, standardized tuning system. Scriabin, Busoni and other composers who were cursed with perfect pitch railed against the 12-eq tuning system, but to no avail. Helmoltz extensively studied the 53-eq template, and his followers even built 53-eq keyboard instruments, but they never caught on. Even a Japanese scientist advocated for 53-eq tuning in 1880.

Scriabin composed chords that sound fantastic in just intonation but are indeed dissonant to our ears. An example is his “Mystic Chord,” which sounds like this in 53-eq:


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Next Page: 2/11 – India & Musical Imperialism