Dimension: 24.2 x 16.4 x 1.1 cm
||A Passable and Good Temperament. A New Methodology for
Studying Tuning and Temperament in Organ Music
by Johan Norrback
||Göteborg University (Göteborg, 2002);
x, 156p; SEK220
||GOArt Publications, Box
200, SE-405 30 Göteborg, Sweden.
Tel: +46-31-773 52 11; Fax +46-31-773 52 00. Email:
||A published dissertation on tunings methods and temperaments
covering from the 16th to 18th centuries. With a CD-ROM containing music
||BWV 540, 542, 544, 552, 588, 656 (examples)
||Scholars and organists studying the historical context of
Bach's organ works, esp. tuning.
||Critical review of both literature and instruments on the
issue of tuning systems in Bach's time; opening up an important discussion on
the relationship between the intonation of instruments and
Bach's organ music.
When we talk of the organs and their temperaments, however, we need
to consider a different set of issues. To start with, Bach did not tune the
organ by himself. Moreover, he played many different organs in various places,
and although there survive a few episodes in which Bach commented on the tuning of
particular instruments, it is difficult to identify what temperament Bach was
criticizing and what was Bach’s ideal temperament for the particular instrument.
Still, knowing (even approximately) what temperament Bach used for
particular pieces is very important for many performers.
e do not know exactly how Bach tuned his harpsichords. The
documentary evidence is scarce, and although some scholars such as John Barnes
and Herbert Anton Kellner attempted several decades ago to recreate their
versions of Bach’s tuning system (through the examination of the so-called ‘internal evidence’
in Bach’s works), the majority of scholars still consider that the issue is yet
to be settled.
Problem and aim; previous research; methodological considerations
Description of tunings and temperaments; related writings;
The "Bach organ"; discussion
||A New Methodology
Description of the methodology; critical discussion
Consonance and dissonance; music examples; discussion
In this book Norrback discusses several important issues relating to the
temperament and Bach’s organ works, namely identifying (1) the written sources
that are relevant in the study of Bach’s organ music, (2) the organs from which
we can learn about Bach’s tuning in the context of this study, and (3) how the tuning and
temperament affect Bach’s organ music.
refreshing discussion on this
Norrback’s discussion on the written sources (Chapter 2) is
both well-structured and informative, which can be used as a quick reference
book on the subject. His approach is thoughtful, unbiased, and sufficiently
critical, highlighting interesting facts and possibilities as to how Bach may
have been influenced by his contemporaries. It certainly has refreshing feel to
this oft-considered heavy and enigmatic substance to debate. The use of cleanly
reproduced facsimiles and diagrams further supplements its usefulness.
Likewise, his discussion of old instruments (Chapter 3) is cautious but
illuminating; his conclusion that Bach’s temperaments ranged from mean-tone to
different well-tempered tunings, and not restricted to a single system, seems
convincing to me.
Perhaps it is inevitable that the remaining portion of the
book reads like an ongoing project; the discussion on how specific pieces by
Bach fit the instrument and the temperament really needs stronger evidence and
justification. Yet the ideas that Norrback presented in this book have
effectively opened a new chapter in our better understanding of Bach’s organ music.
Published online on 23 June 2003