08.23.2008

Beethoven In The Temperaments, Enid Katahn

Posted by AJ Harbison at 2:50 am

While reading back over Kyle Gann’s website about historical tunings in research for my first post about tuning, I came across his recommendation for the CD Beethoven In The Temperaments. (The link is to the Amazon page, but Amazon is currently out of stock and will remain so indefinitely.) The CD is a recording of four Beethoven sonatas–the “Pathétique,” the “Moonlight,” the “Waldstein” and the creatively named “Op. 14 No. 1.” The twist is that they’re performed on a modern concert grand piano (a Steinway D, for those for whom that means something) that’s tuned in two different historical well temperaments common in Beethoven’s time: Prinz temperament and Thomas Young temperament. (The pianist is Enid Katahn, and the piano tuner is Edward Foote.) So, essentially, this is a recording of Beethoven’s sonatas as Beethoven might have heard them. (Had he not been deaf, of course….)

I thought it sounded intriguing (no pun intended), so after failing to find it on iTunes, Amazon, or anywhere else I finally ordered it from ArkivMusic. It arrived on Thursday evening, and I listened to the Pathétique, which is performed in the Prinz temperament. The liner notes said that this temperament was chosen for the great contrasts between keys: pure and consonant for the “home keys” of the piece, and more and more dissonant the further the tonality went from “home.”

(Minor digression: I love Steinways. I’m a huge fan of dark, mellow and rich when it comes to sound, and Steinways are the epitome of that sound in a concert grand. Yamahas, while more popular and much cheaper, tend to be much brighter. If you play guitar, you’ll understand: Steinways are like Martins–sigh–while Yamahas are like Taylors. The latter are good, maybe even really good, but ultimately just can’t compare. For me, at least.)

I have to say that I didn’t notice a world of difference–the difference was certainly there, but it wasn’t nearly as pronounced as I anticipated (or perhaps hoped). In the opening chords of the sonata (click here and push the play button twice–although of course it’s in equal temperament), I could hear slight differences in the resonances of the chords–they were somewhat richer. But the most notable were the dissonances, especially in big chords: they really stood out, almost uncomfortably in places, because of the temperament. It’s interesting, and a foreign concept to those of us raised on equal temperament, that dissonances in other tunings can be dissonant not only because the notes themselves clash (like minor ninths, for example), but also because the notes aren’t quite in tune with one another. As I mentioned, the Prinz temperament showcases differences in keys, and gets more dissonant the further afield the piece roams; so some of the dissonances in the “further afield” keys can get positively crunchy. (Yes, that’s a technical term.)

Overall, it was a rich sound, certainly more colorful and vibrant than an equal-tempered piano. Another interesting temperament experience. It’s no wonder musicians who work in just and well temperaments all the time consider equal temperament so bland.

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Comments

  1. Gravatar

    Anonymous on 01.28.2009

    Just a question, does this CD provide recordings of the same pieces in two different temeraments? Or, just a single recording of each piece?

  2. Gravatar

    AJ Harbison on 01.28.2009

    Hi Anonymous,
    There are two different temperaments that are used on the CD, but each piece has a single recording in one or the other (not both). Thanks for stopping by!

    AJ Harbison

  3. Gravatar

    Ed foote on 04.03.2009

    AJ Harbison writes:
    “There are two different temperaments that are used on the CD, but each piece has a single recording in one or the other (not both). “

    Greetings,
    Our followup recording is “Six Degrees of Tonality. It has 6 temperaments for the six pieces, and then we recorded the Mozart fantasy in three different tunings.
    The record company(Gasparo) has gone out of business, so I am now, it seems, the only source for these two recordings of temperaments. You can contact me via email at A440A@aol.com

    Regards,
    Ed Foote RPT

  4. Gravatar

    Ed Foote on 04.27.2010

    Just an update, both of the temperament CD’s are once again available through Amazon.com
    Beethoven In The Temperaments
    Six Degrees of Tonality
    Ed Foote

  5. Gravatar

    Johannes on 09.30.2014

    Hi,
    I just came across these recordings and I wonder where you found out, that the pathétique is played in prince temperament, as in my version, bought from “cdbaby” there is no information on which tuning was used for which particular piece.

    I would be interested, if you also know, in which tuning the other sonatas are? (either young or prince)

    Johannes

  6. Gravatar

    AJ Harbison on 10.01.2014

    Hi Johannes,
    Unfortunately I don’t have the information on this CD anymore, but since Ed Foote (the piano tuner for the recording) was kind enough to comment on the post above, you could find out by emailing him at A440A@aol.com. Thanks for stopping by!

    AJ Harbison

  7. Gravatar

    Marc on 08.12.2015

    Having become rather interested in temperaments, I was delighted to find your post here (consequent to discovering Kyle Gann’s pages, I think). Thanks! At least the Mozart Fantasie that Katahn/Foote recorded and that Ed Foote mentions above is on Facebook, licitly or not, I don’t know– only have just realised that YT has lots of examples of use of the different temperaments.

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