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

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9780375703300: Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization

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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Review:

Involving mathematics, philosophy, aesthetics, religion, politics, and physics, Stuart Isacoff 's Temperament invokes the tone of a James Burke documentary. However, the focus is not on a modern invention, but rather a modern convention: that of tuning keyboards so that every key is equally in tune--and equally out of tune.

With the existing literature tending to bog down in mathematical theory or historical tuning methods, Isacoff bravely attempts to make this seemingly arcane topic interesting to the general reader. He distills the mathematics and music theory into their simplest essences, and draws apt analogies from the everyday. He also generously peppers the text with the quirks and escapades of its more flamboyant central characters; the relevance of the information is often tenuous at best, but Isacoff has obviously done his homework, and he can be forgiven some frivolity.

Less forgivable is his neglect of "well-temperament." Namesake of Bach's masterful collection of 24 pieces (one each in all the major and minor keys), the well-tempered keyboard liberated composers from the howl of badly tuned keys in the way equal temperament did, while preserving the distinct quality of each key. It was a pragmatic and aesthetically rich solution that captivated composers and theorists for decades. Yet Isacoff reserves less than two pages for its description. (Perhaps he deliberately overlooked the topic since it doesn't fit well with his casting of equal temperament's opponents as rigid, dogmatic, and impractical.)

Despite its flaws, Temperament is an accessible guide to a fascinating topic seldom discussed outside musical circles. Though the book may not invigorate hard-core theorists, the amateur musician, armchair scientist, history buff, or plain old curious can glean plenty from it. The advent of digital keyboards--some of which can be tuned to historical temperaments at the flip of a switch--makes this an ideal time for the topic to be rejuvenated. --Todd Gehman

From the Back Cover:

“Isacoff . . . untangles the complexities . . . with the aplomb of a virtuoso pianist playing scales.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A thrilling story that is as accessible as it is absorbing. . . . This is a whirlwind tour through the history of Western culture, told with flair and grace.” —National Review

“Immensely entertaining, original and informative. [Temperament’s] most persuasive weapon is the unquenchable passion of its author.” —The Economist

“Admirable. . . . [Isacoff] writes engagingly. . . . [about] a time when there existed a glorious synthesis of music and mathematics, and in the imaginations of scientists and philosophers and musicians it wove the entire universe into a grand design." —The New Republic

“Charming. . . . As much a whirlwind tour of Western culture’s big ideas as it is a musicological investigation.” —Los Angeles Times

“The pleasure here is that it gives readers a glimpse of the oceanic depths of musical metaphors and mysteries still unsolved by cognitive science and evolutionary psychology.” —Wilson Quarterly

“A sweeping history of medieval and Renaissance European intellectual achievement, in which the question of tuning assumes a speaking part. . . . Temperament should appeal not only to music lovers but also to fans of cultural and scientific history.” —Time Out New York

“An astounding and accessible journey through the culture-defining narrative hidden in arcane music theory. Isacoff does a wondrous job.” —The Onion

“This lucid, humanist study is as much fun to read as a murder mystery.” —San Jose Mercury News

“[Brings] together aspects of science, philosophy, history, poetry, religion, and music in a compact yet compelling narrative.” —Library Journal

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, United States, 2003. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780375703300

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, United States, 2003. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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. Nº de ref. de la librería AAS9780375703300

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Descripción Random House USA Inc, United States, 2003. Paperback. Estado de conservación: New. Reprint. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. 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. Nº de ref. de la librería BTE9780375703300

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