minstrel: My search for a period-looking guitar is over!

Patricia Yarrow yarrowp at mscd.edu
Wed Mar 22 14:13:57 PST 2000


<<medieval music was often out of tune and out of time and I would not like 
to see that.

Rowen Seer>>

Excuse me?  That's an extremely sweeping statement.  I will not say that it 
is necessarily inaccurate, as modern music is often "out of tune and out of 
time."  That's a matter dependent on the skill of the musician(s).

It is true that there is a different tuning system in use now than the ones 
that were in use during the medieval and renaissance periods. That doesn't 
mean that someone using an earlier tuning system is playing out of tune, any 
more than someone using our current system.  Our instruments would sound just 
as out of tune to a medieval ear as an instrument in Pythagorean tuning would 
to a modern ear.  Some of the earliest musicians viewed thirds and sixths as 
dissonant intervals; if you listen to them with some of the earlier tunings, 
they are.  I've long suspected that the British Isles used a slightly wider 
third than did the continent, and that this is part of what accounts for the 
early use of thirds in such pieces as "Sumer is Icumen In" and the "Hymn to 
Saint Magnus."  Modern usage holds certain perfect fourths to be dissonant, 
as they were not considered in pretonal music.

Please remember that "out of tune" means not in compliance with the expected 
tuning system of the time and location rather than not in compliance with our 
modern scale.

Thank you.

Vivien


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