meantone E tuning for John Adams' Absolute Jest

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  • Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #209974

    I am starting to work on the harp part for John Adams’ piece for string quartet and orchestra called Absolute Jest. It calls for the harp to be tuned in “meantone E tuning”. Has anyone on this list played this piece? I tried to download the tuning app supplied by the publisher, but it vanished into the recesses of my Iphone. I thought it would show up as an app on the desktop. I can’t drag my big computer onstage with me to tune the harp. Any advice? My brain hurts.

    Participant
    charles-nix on #209975

    I can’t help with the music–but if you need a chart of cents variation for each note from equal temperament, I can probably get that for you. Is meantone-e the whole description?

    Is the piece also in E major? Are there pedal changes in the part? One thing that bothers me on first thinking about the concept is that the harp would have to be tuned to the key with all strings open. Any discs you close would immediately put that interval out of meantone because the discs are set to equal temperament semitones.

    Would any of that help?

    Charles Nix

    Participant
    Tacye on #209981

    You can tune a string to pitch with the disks engaged, it just takes a lot of pedal moving. Check pitch, raise pedal, tweak tuning, engage pedal, check pitch. Very useful when faced with a harp whose regulation you don’t like.

    Participant
    elizabeth-motter on #209985

    Hi Elizabeth,
    I have had to explore this due to learning baroque triple harp, which is usually tuned to 1/4 or 1/6 comma Meantone. I have used several apps – Cleartune offers this option, but I’ve been told it will go away soon, and a friend told me there’s a new app called Tunable (pink icon). I downloaded it yesterday but haven’t had a chance to use it much yet. It’s a place to start, anyway. One thing about using apps, though, is that I have found that it isn’t easy to tune in noisy environments. If you come up with a good solution to that, please let me know! Oh, and one other thing – in Meantone, there are no enharmonic notes – for instance, a D# does not equal E-flat, there is a difference in pitch of couple of commas. To have a better understanding of these issues, I can recommend a book called “How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony (and Why You Should Care)” by Ross Duffin. I’m not sure why Adams would have specified “E” Meantone…my understanding is that Meantone is Meantone.

    Participant
    charles-nix on #209987

    So, assuming he means quarter-comma meantone (which is most common), I would assume the specification of “E” means that the E-G# major third is pure (without beats), and the E-B-F#-C#-G# sequence of fifths are altered enough to space that syntonic comma equally among the four intervals of a fifth (hence quarter-comma).

    Any and all unequal temperaments end up different depending on where you start the sequence. In meantone, the largest problem would be where the “wolf” interval ends up. Hence my question about what key the piece was actually in. The most common quarter-comma meantone is centered on D, so the wolf is G# to Eb, there being no Ab note. I’m guessing he means to construct it two semitones higher, centered on E. So instead of the “black” notes being C#, Eb, F#, G#, and Bb, they would be C#, D#, F#, G#, and A#, and there would be no flats available at all. Seems an odd thing to do to a pedal harp.

    Charles Nix

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #209988

    Thank you! This is all really helpful. I should have mentioned that, on top of the first page, it specifies that piano and harp are specially tuned to meantone E scale. Frequencies are tuned to multiples of the following scale: E3 = 330.500 hz, F3=352.799 hz., F#3 = 352.700 hz., G3 = 394.700 hz., G#3 = 412.799 hz., A3 = 441.899 hz., B flat 3 = 472.799 hz., B3 = 494.700 hz., C4 = 528.799 hz., C#4 = 553.599 hz., D4 = 590.400 hz., E flat 4 = 632.000hz., E4 = 661.000hz.
    It would be one thing if I had an hour of silence to tune, but I have to tune between pieces while the audience sits and waits!
    Another Adams piece we have played is “Dharma at Big Sur”, which requires “just intonation”. Again, I had other pieces on the program, which meant that I had to re-tune twice per concert.

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #209991

    Can you bring in a second harp that is tuned to the composer’s specification?

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #209993

    I discovered that my Strobosoft tuning app has choices which will make it possible for me to do this. If you select Manual instead of Classic, and Hertz instead of cents, then you can tune it to mean intonation. I just need to find a pick-up that will work with my Iphone, so that I can tune when there is noise around me.

    Participant
    elizabeth-motter on #209999

    Please let us know if you find a good pick-up for using the Strobosoft!

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #210015

    Elizabeth- Retuning between pieces in the middle of the concert is going to be useless. It will be impossible to keep the tuning where you put it. Strings want to go back to where they were. If you tune a harp down a quarter or half step, a couple of hours later it will be sharp of where you put it. If you tune it up, it will go down very quickly. So really the only solution is to have a second harp that has been tuned for several days the way the composer wants it.

    Participant
    Tacye on #210032

    I suspect you want your normal pick up and an adaptor plug to fit the iPhone.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #210055

    Exactly as Carl says. I don’t think composers should ask for altered tunings. In too many cases, it won’t hold, and it alters the structure of the harp. Does it make any real difference to the ear? Lou Harrison asks for special tuning, but is there any real difference? Of course, we all used to do that before we had inexpensive tuners, tuning by ear always produced results that were natural, but off.

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #210333

    Since I only have five minutes to re-tune the harp in between pieces, it was taking too long to set up my tuner for each note, so I devised this cunning plan: get everyone to stay quiet, and simply tune to the piano, which is also tuned in E meantone tuning. It worked! It’s a pain, but I would rather not haul another harp from home for this. I also tried an adaptor plug to fit my pickup into the Iphone so I could use my Strobesoft app, but I found that it still wasn’t picking up the notes well unless everyone was quiet.

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #210334

    Another thing: it is great if you can get your hands on a score before the first rehearsal. There is an incorrect timpani cue, and many of the other cues are not audible, or only give you a partial picture of what is being played.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #210335

    OH MY GOSH!!!!! After all these years, Saul agrees with me on something!!!!

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