Microtonal music

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Not to be confused with Microsound.
Composer Charles Ives chose the chord above as a good candidate for a "fundamental" chord in the quarter tone scale, akin not to the tonic but to the major chord of traditional tonality (Boatwright 1971, 8–9). About this sound Play  or About this sound play 

Microtonal music or microtonality is the use in music of microtones—intervals smaller than a semitone. Microtonal music can also refer to music which uses intervals not found in the Western system of twelve equal intervals to the octave.

Terminology[edit]

Quarter-tone accidentals residing outside the Western semitone:
quarter tone sharp, sharp, three quarter tones sharp;
quarter tone flat, flat, (two variants of) three quarter tones flat

Microtonal music can refer to any music containing microtones. In the second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001), Paul Griffiths, Mark Lindley, and Ioannis Zannos define "microtone" as a musical rather than an acoustical entity: "any musical interval or difference of pitch distinctly smaller than a semitone" (Griffiths, Lindley, and Zannos 2001).

The term "microtonal music" usually refers to music containing very small intervals but can include any tuning that differs from Western twelve-tone equal temperament. Traditional Indian systems of 22 śruti; Indonesian gamelan music; Thai, Burmese, and African music, and music using just intonation, meantone temperament or other alternative tunings may be considered microtonal (Griffiths and Lindley 1980; Griffiths, Lindley, and Zannos 2001). Microtonal variation of intervals is standard practice in the African-American musical forms of spirituals, blues and jazz (Cook and Pople 2004, 124–26).

Many microtonal equal divisions of the octave have been proposed, usually (but not always) in order to achieve approximation to the intervals of just intonation (Griffiths and Lindley 1980; Griffiths, Lindley, and Zannos 2001).

Terminology other than "microtonal" is used by some theorists and composers. In Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia in the 1910s and 1920s the usual term was Viertelton-Musik (quarter-tone music; Möllendorff 1917), and the type of intervallic structure found in such music was called Vierteltonsystem (Hába 1921,Hába 1922), which is now considered just one (though widespread) kind of microtonality. [clarification needed] Ivan Wyschnegradsky used the term ultra-chromatic for intervals smaller than the semitone and infra-chromatic for intervals larger than the semitone (Wyschnegradsky 1972, 84–87); this same term has been used since 1934 by ethnomusicologist Victor Belaiev (Belyaev) in his studies of Azerbaijan and Turkish traditional music (Belyaev 1971a; Belyaev 1971b). A similar term, subchromatic, has been used recently by theorist Marek Žabka (Žabka 2014). Ivor Darreg proposed the term xenharmonic. (See xenharmonic music). The Austrian composer Franz Richter Herf and his colleague at the Salzburg Mozarteum, the music theorist Rolf Maedel, preferred using the Greek word ekmelic when referring to "all the pitches lying outside the traditional twelve-tone system" (Hesse 1991, 216–17). Most modern Russian music dictionaries (Anon. 1990; Anon. 2007; Akopyan 2010), the universal Great Russian encyclopedia (Lebedev 2012), textbooks (e.g., Tsenova 2007, 65, 123, 152, etc.; Anon. 2006, 86, etc.; Kholopov 2003, 172, etc.), and musicology dissertations (Klishin 2010; Gurenko 2010; Polunina 2010; Rovner 2010; Nikoltsev 2013, more references can be located here) use the term микрохроматика (microchromatics), coined in the 1970s by Yuri Kholopov (Kholopov 1976), to describe a kind of 'intervallic genus' (интервальный род) for all possible microtonal structures, both ancient (as enharmonic genus — γένος ἐναρμόνιον — of Greeks) and modern (as quarter-tone scales of Alois Haba); this generalization term allowed also to avoid derivatives such as микротональность (microtonality, which could be falsely understood in Russian as "a very small"—that is barely perceptible—"tonality") and микротоника (microtonic, "a barely perceptible tonic"). A few Russian authors borrowed from English the adjective 'microtonal' and rendered it in Russian as 'микротоновый', but not 'microtonality' ('микротональность') (Adèr 2013; Pavlenko, Kefalidi, and Ekimovskij 2002). Some authors writing in French have adopted the term "micro-intervallique" to describe such music (e.g., Criton 2010; Jedrzejewski 2004). Italian musicologist Luca Conti dedicated two his monographs to microtonalismo (Conti 2005; Conti 2008), which is the usual term in Italian, and also in Spanish (e.g., as found in the title of Rué 2000). The analogous English form, "microtonalism", is also found occasionally instead of "microtonality", e.g., "At the time when serialism and neoclassicism were still incipient a third movement emerged: microtonalism" (Chou 1971, 218).

History[edit]

Greek Dorian mode (enharmonic genus) on E, divided into two tetrachords. About this sound Play 

The Hellenic civilizations of ancient Greece left fragmentary records of their music—e.g. the Delphic Hymns. The ancient Greeks approached the creation of different musical intervals and modes by dividing and combining tetrachords, recognizing three genera of tetrachords: the enharmonic, the chromatic, and the diatonic. Ancient Greek intervals were of many different sizes, including microtones. The enharmonic genus in particular featured intervals of a distinctly "microtonal" nature, which were sometimes smaller than 50 cents, less than half of the contemporary Western semitone of 100 cents. In the ancient Greek enharmonic genus, the tetrachord contained a semitone of varying sizes (approximately 100 cents) divided into two equal intervals called dieses (single "diesis", δίεσις); in conjunction with a larger interval of roughly 400 cents, these intervals comprised the perfect fourth (approximately 498 cents, or the ratio of 4/3 in just intonation) (West 1992, 160–72). Theoretics usually described several diatonic and chromatic genera (some as chroai, "coloration" of one specific intervallic type), but the enarmonic genus was always the only one (argumented as one with the smallest intervals possible).

Guillaume Costeley's "Chromatic Chanson", "Seigneur Dieu ta pitié" of 1558 used 1/3 comma meantone and explored the full compass of 19 pitches in the octave (Lindley 2001a).

The Italian Renaissance composer and theorist Nicola Vicentino (1511–1576) worked with microtonal intervals and built a keyboard with 36 keys to the octave known as the archicembalo. While theoretically an interpretation of ancient Greek tetrachordal theory, in effect Vicentino presented a circulating system of quarter-comma meantone, maintaining major thirds tuned in just intonation in all keys (Barbour 1951, 117–18).

In 1760 the French flautist [Charles?] De Lusse published a treatise, L ’Art de la flute traversiere, all surviving copies of which conclude with a composition (possibly added a year or two after the actual publication of the volume) incorporating several quarter tones, titled Air à la grecque, accompanied by explanatory notes tying it to the realization of the Greek enharmonic genus and a chart of quarter-tone fingerings for the entire range of the one-keyed flute. Shortly afterward, in a letter published in the Mercure de France in September 1764, the celebrated flautist Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin mentioned this piece and expressed an interest in quarter tones for the flute (Koenig 1995, iii, 1, 9–10, 52–55, 116–19; Reilly and Solum 1992, passim).

Jacques Fromental Halévy composed a quarter-tone work for soli, choir and orchestra entitled "Prométhée enchaîné" in 1849.

In the 1910s and 1920s, quarter tones (24 equal pitches per octave) received attention from such composers as Charles Ives, Julián Carrillo, Alois Hába, Ivan Wyschnegradsky, and Mildred Couper.

Alexander John Ellis, who in the 1880s produced a translation of [Hermann Helmholtz]]'s On the Sensations of Tone, proposed an elaborate set of exotic just intonation tunings and non-harmonic tunings (Helmholtz 1885, 514–27). Ellis also studied the tunings of non-Western cultures and, in a report to the Royal Society, stated that they did not use either equal divisions of the octave or just intonation intervals (Ellis 1884). Ellis inspired Harry Partch immensely (Partch 1979, vii).

During the Exposition Universelle of 1889, Claude Debussy heard a Balinese gamelan performance and was exposed to non-Western tunings and rhythms. Some scholars have ascribed Debussy's subsequent innovative use of the whole-tone (six equal pitches per octave) tuning in such compositions as the Fantaisie for piano and orchestra and the Toccata from the suite Pour le piano to his exposure to the Balinese gamelan at the Paris exposition (Lesure 2001), and have asserted his rebellion at this time "against the rule of equal temperament" and that the gamelan gave him "the confidence to embark (after the 1900 world exhibition) on his fully characteristic mature piano works, with their many bell- and gong-like sonorities and brilliant exploitation of the piano’s natural resonance" (Howat 2001). Still others have argued that Debussy's works like L'isle joyeuse, La cathédrale engloutie, Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, La mer, Pagodes, Danseuses de Delphes, and Cloches à travers les feuilles are marked by a more basic interest in the microtonal intervals found between the higher members of the overtone series, under the influence of Helmholtz's writings (Don 1991, 69 et passim). Emil Berliner's introduction of the phonograph in the 1890s allowed much non-Western music to be recorded and heard by Western composers, further spurring the use of non-12-equal tunings.[citation needed]

Major microtonal composers of the 1920s and 1930s include Alois Hába (quarter tones, or 24 equal pitches per octave, and sixth tones), Julián Carrillo (24 equal, 36, 48, 60, 72, and 96 equal pitches to the octave embodied in a series of specially custom-built pianos), Ivan Wyschnegradsky (third tones, quarter tones, sixth tones and twelfth tones, non octaving scales) and the early works of Harry Partch (just intonation using frequencies at ratios of prime integers 3, 5, 7, and 11, their powers, and products of those numbers, from a central frequency of G-196) (Partch 1979, chapt. 8, "Application of the 11 Limit", 119–37).

Prominent microtonal composers or researchers of the 1940s and 1950s include Adriaan Daniel Fokker (31 equal tones per octave), Partch (continuing to build his handcrafted orchestra of microtonal just intonation instruments), and Eivind Groven.

Digital synthesizers from the Yamaha TX81Z (1987) on and inexpensive software synthesizers have contributed to the ease and popularity of exploring microtonal music.

Microtonality in electronic music[edit]

Electronic music facilitates the use of any kind of microtonal tuning, and sidesteps the need to develop new notational systems (Griffiths, Lindley, and Zannos 2001). In 1954, Karlheinz Stockhausen built his electronic Studie II on an 81-step scale starting from 100 Hz with the interval of 51/25 between steps (Stockhausen 1964, 37), and in Gesang der Jünglinge (1955–56) he used various scales, ranging from seven up to sixty equal divisions of the octave (Decroupet and Ungeheuer 1998, 105, 116, 119–21). In 1955, Ernst Krenek used 13 equal-tempered intervals per octave in his Whitsun oratorio, Spiritus intelligentiae, sanctus (Griffiths, Lindley, and Zannos 2001).

In 1979–80 Easley Blackwood composed a set of Twelve Microtonal Etudes for Electronic Music Media, a cycle that explores all of the equal temperaments from 13 notes to the octave through 24 notes to the octave, including 15-ET and 19-ET (Blackwood and Kust 2005,[page needed]). "The project," he wrote, "was to explore the tonal and modal behavior of all [of these] equal tunings…, devise a notation for each tuning, and write a composition in each tuning to illustrate good chord progressions and the practical application of the notation" (Blackwood n.d.).

In 1986, Wendy Carlos experimented with many microtonal systems including just intonation, using alternate tuning scales she invented for the album Beauty In the Beast. "This whole formal discovery came a few weeks after I had completed the album, Beauty in the Beast, which is wholly in new tunings and timbres" (Carlos 1989–96).

Aphex Twin has been making microtonal electronic music with software and various analog and digital synthesizers since his 1994 album, Selected Ambient Works Volume II. (Noyze and James 2014)

Microtonality in rock music[edit]

A form of microtone known as the blue note is an integral part of rock music and one of its predecessors, the blues. The blue notes, located on the third, fifth, and seventh notes of a diatonic major scale, are flattened by a variable microtone (Ferguson 1999, 20).

Musicians like Jon Catler have incorporated microtonal guitars like 31-tone equal tempered guitar and a 62-tone just intonation guitar in blues and jazz rock music (Couture n.d.).

The band Radiohead have used microtonal string arrangements in their music, such as on "How to Disappear Completely" from their album Kid A (Wilson, Penderecki, and Greenwood 2012).

See also[edit]

Western microtonal pioneers[edit]

Pioneers of modern Western microtonal music include:

Recent microtonal composers[edit]

Microtonal researchers[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Aron, Pietro. 1523. Thoscanello de la musica. Venice: Bernardino et Mattheo de Vitali. Facsimile edition, Monuments of music and music literature in facsimile: Second series, Music literature 69. New York: Broude Brothers, 1969. Second edition, as Toscanello in musica . . . nuovamente stampato con laggiunta da lui fatta et con diligentia corretto, Venice: Bernardino & Matheo de Vitali, 1529. Facsimile reprint, Bibliotheca musica Bononiensis, sezione 2., n. 10. Bologna: Forni Editori, 1969. Online edition of the 1529 text (Italian). Third edition, as Toscanello in musica, Venice: Marchio Stessa, 1539. Facsimile edition, edited by Georg Frey. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1970. Fourth edition, Venice, 1562. English edition, as Toscanello in music, translated by Peter Bergquist. 3 vols. Colorado College Music Press Translations, no. 4. Colorado Springs: Colorado College Music Press, 1970.
  • Barbieri, Patrizio. 1989. "An Unknown 15th-Century French Manuscript on Organ Building and Tuning". The Organ Yearbook: A Journal for the Players & Historians of Keyboard Instruments 20.
  • Barbieri, Patrizio. 2002. "The Evolution of Open-Chain Enharmonic Keyboards c1480–1650". In Chromatische und enharmonische Musik und Musikinstrumente des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts/Chromatic and Enharmonic Music and Musical Instruments in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Schweizer Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft/Annales suisses de musicologie/Annuario svizzero di musicologia 22, edited by Joseph Willimann. Bern: Verlag Peter Lang AG. ISBN 3-03910-088-2.
  • Barbieri, Patrizio. 2003. "Temperaments, Historical". In Piano: An Encyclopedia, second edition, edited by Robert Palmieri and Margaret W. Palmieri,[page needed]. New York: Routledge.
  • Barbieri, Patrizio. 2008. Enharmonic instruments and music, 1470-1900. Latina: Il Levante Libreria Editrice. ISBN 978-88-95203-14-0.
  • Barbieri, Patrizio, Alessandro Barca, and conte Giordano Riccati. 1987. Acustica accordatura e temperamento nell'illuminismo Veneto. Pubblicazioni del Corso superiore di paleografia e semiografia musicale dall'umanesimo al barocco, Serie I: Studi e testi 5; Pubblicazioni del Corso superiore di paleografia e semiografia musicale dall'umanesimo al barocco, Documenti 2. Rome: Edizioni Torre d'Orfeo.
  • Barbieri, Patrizio, and Lindoro Massimo del Duca. 2001. "Late-Renaissance Quarter-tone Compositions (1555-1618): The Performance of the ETS-31 with a DSP System". In Musical Sounds from Past Millennia: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Musical Acoustics 2001, edited by Diego L. González, Domenico Stanzial, and Davide Bonsi. 2 vols. Venice: Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
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