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Re: A missed opportunity (for Alison Monteith)

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  • mschulter
    Hello, there, Alison. If you re playing lute music from the approximate time of the reign of Queen Mary of Scots (1561-1567), then I have curious news for you:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 12, 2001
      Hello, there, Alison.

      If you're playing lute music from the approximate time of the reign of
      Queen Mary of Scots (1561-1567), then I have curious news for you: the
      leading historical _lute_ tuning of the later 16th century -- and please
      note that I said _lute_, not keyboards -- turns out to be 12-note equal

      Various theorists discuss this, starting by around 1545, for example
      Vicentino, Zarlino, and Vincenzo Galilei. In 1567, the year of Queen
      Mary's forced abdication while in captivity at Lochleven (24 July), an
      Italian composer named Gorzanis published a collection of 48 dances, two
      with each of the 12 notes of the chromatic lute gamut as a modal final.

      Galilei, interestingly, regarded the lute an especially
      "perfect" instrument because of its equal semitones, making a diminished
      fourth and major third identical -- and considered keyboard instruments
      "defective" in this regard, although when he tried 12-tET (or the closest
      equivalent he could accurately tune, Ed Foote might add, although maybe a
      lute could serve as a guide), he found the results less pleasant.

      Writing around 1600, Giovanni Maria Artusi takes this equivalence as
      natural on the lute, and considers it "older than the cuckoo
      birds," although Mark Lindley concludes that the widespread
      "standardization" of 12-tET may have occurred around 1550, during Mary's
      childhood in France in terms of your performance situation.

      Your mention of Milan, however, is an illustration of another of Lindley's
      points -- that 12-tET was not a _universal_ standard throughout the 16th
      century, especially the earlier part. Specifically, he recommends a
      meantone interpretation for some compositions by Milan dating to around
      the 1530's. He _likes_ the beating of meantone fifths, and finds that it
      gives the music a "warm" quality.

      This is discussed in his book, entitled something like _Lutes, Viols, and

      Thus judging by what Zarlino and Vicentino say in the 1550's, I might
      guess that David Rizzio, at least, might have used equal semitones (or a
      close approximation) on his lute.

      Since so much of Queen Mary's cultural background was shaped in France,
      one might want to investigate the literature there, to see if lute
      intonation was discussed.

      Anyway, while as people have mentioned, there were various tuning schemes
      for lute, 12-tET seems to be the "standard" lute temperament of the later
      16th century.

      I might add that there were "alternative fretters" back then, too: Galilei
      describes how they would add _tastini_ or extra "little frets" for purer
      thirds, and complains that this is outside the proper diatonic and
      chromatic genera, and also that in practice the sensitivity of these
      people's ears can be judged by the number of "imperfect" (i.e. Wolf)
      fifths they play in navigating those extra frets.

      Anyway, this is a quick summary. One reason that 12-tET may have been not
      to hard to approximate is that the "18 rule" -- fretting with semitones of
      18:17 -- happens to get an assist from the physics of the actual fretting
      so that it can be more accurate than the "correct" logarithmic fretting.

      Most appreciatively,

      Margo Schulter
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