Temperament as Culture

(chairman, Japan Soundscape Association)

Along with the late HIRASHIMA Tatsuji, TANIMURA Kou has long researched temperament. Their findings were presented in academic meetings, and eventually published in a book they co-authored, Exceptional Music Education, Objectionable Music Education. While Hirashima set out to negate equal temperament from the perspective of natural science, Tanimura dealt with the issue of culture as it affects temperament, and became an outspoken critic of the way music is taught in Japan. In the second part of the Just Forum series, which deals with a variety of topics related to temperament, Tanimura offers his unique perspective on the subject.

"Temperament" refers to the standard used to regulate the correlative relationship between two or more sounds of different pitch and the theory therein. By producing a different sound from the sound of a voice or an instrument, a tension is created between these two sounds of different pitch. While this tension is on the one hand pleasing, on the other it creates an awareness of issues involving the length of strings and the frequency of sound, making this a theoretical issue. In broad terms, temperament is supported by a scientific basis and the aesthetic values of those working in the field. In addition, it frequently happens that some disparity between the theory of temperaments and the actual intervals arises. Conversely, a theory of infinite temperamental calculations also exists. The number of temperaments and theories concerning them are nearly as infinite as the number of languages that exist in the world.

When the number of sounds used is increased to five or seven, a standardized scale is formed from a particular temperament. These are called pentachords (five-note scales) or heptachords (seven-note scales). Even when the same five- or seven-tone scale is used, subtle differences appear according to the ethnic background, society, or historical period. The major scale, a Western heptachord more commonly known as "do-re-mi-fa," is not the only correct scale. In other words, the intervals of eighths, two identical tones, fifths, fourths, thirds, sixths, seconds, sevenths that occur in the "do-re-mi-fa" scale seemed to be self-evident to Westerners of the 18th and 19th centuries because these were the intervals of the piano, which was consistently tuned in equal temperament. But was this really the case? The beautiful reverberations of a harmonic choir don't exactly match the sound of piano accompaniment. By adjusting the sound of the choir to the pitch of the piano, the reverberations become less than beautiful. The same can be said when a string or brass instrument is used to accompany a piano. A scale refers to the order of notes and their pitches. The basis for this arrangement is temperament theory. The "do-re-mi-fa" scale is armed with the theoretical concept of twelve-tone equal temperament, in which all 24 major and minor scales are equally tempered. This falsehood is rooted in the concepts of modern Western natural science, but also functioned as a criterion for measuring the degree of civilization that music in the non-European world had achieved; a concept that emerged simultaneously with colonialism. Yet, Westerners have frequently found pleasure in intervals that were not based on equal temperament. These include in particular church music and a cappella choruses, in which a harmonic effect achieved through intervals very similar to Just intonation is desired.
In general, the precision and justification behind "temperament" and scale are cited as the main issues in this debate, but as has become clear from the things I have said thus far, the choice and use of "temperament" is directly linked to the culture of a society. In particular, because the argument surrounding the temperament issue is based on frequency, an illusion that there is some scientific, universal truth to this argument has been perpetuated. The temperament that is chosen and the theory behind it reflect the value system that the members of a certain society demand. Twelve-tone equal temperament corresponds to the values of natural science in modern Western society. However, there are more than a few people with different values in contemporary Western society. These people have an interest in music of the Renaissance or Baroque periods, or music of non-European societies.
Having studied musicology at Munich University, I continue to try and understand the essence of Western music, especially that of Germany. On the other hand, after doing fieldwork in Indonesian and Indian music, I also have a strong interest in musical traditions that are completely divorced from the West. To put it simply, music in Western societies harmonizes, while music of southeast Asia moanfully vibrates. In one world, sound is something that bounces back off a rocky mountain or stone wall and creates harmony brimming with overtones; in the second, sound is like a breeze flitting over a paddy that is a subtle vibration diffused in every direction. It is impossible to say that one is more correct or more beautiful than the other. The difference lies in the difference between a society of hunters and gatherers, and a society of paddy farmers. In the former, temperament is used as a standard for the relationship of overtones achieved, in most cases, with pure fifths and thirds, and a tendency toward theorization. In the latter, temperament is used as a type of social system, and sound is a slightly twisted vibration that reflects the complicated structure of the society.

It follows then that the issue of temperament is not merely limited to numerical theory in the relationship of intervals. The construction and nature of the instruments that are tuned in a particular temperament, the acoustic space where the instrument is played as well as the ears of the audience that is listening to the instrument must be understood as an indivisible part of a complex culture of sound. The piano is the instrument that best reflects the long tradition of Western music. How exactly do we go about approaching the essence of Western music using the piano?

The late HIRASHIMA Tatsuji, professor at Shoin Women's University in Kobe, was the person who really opened my eyes to this issue. In addition to his work as a chemist, Hirashima came early to the study of sound phases produced with recording devices, and left behind an outstanding body of achievement after researching the temperaments of many of Europe's most historically important organs in preparation for the pipe organ that was being installed in the university's new chapel. On May 30, 1982, the Sixth Chapel Concert was held at the refurbished university. At this event, I performed works by BACH, BEETHOVEN, SCHUBERT, CHOPIN, and FIELD on a Yamaha piano that was tuned to Werkmeister III without the aid of a tuning curve. The reverberations lasted for over two seconds. With Chopin's "Berceuse; Op. 57" in particular, the reverberations of the D-flat major scale that included a bit higher major third seemed to melt together with the light pouring through the stained glass in the space, creating a miniature universe of heavenly Western music. After being emboldened by this experience, I formed a temperament research group with Hirashima, which made its findings on classical tunings public in academic meetings. To help reintroduce this type of information to music education in Japan, the book Exceptional Music Education, Objectionable Music Education (by Hirashima Tatsuji, Tanimura Koh, MATSUMOTO Misao, MATSUDA Akira, and TABATA Hachiro) was published by the Tokyo Music Company in 1986, and received a very positive reception. In this work, from the perspective of a natural scientist, Hirashima persistently refutes equal temperament using a mathematical theory. This inspired me to consider the consistency of temperament as a cultural issue, and call for a change in the Japanese music education system for its lack of focus and uncritical stance.
Since then, I have continued to experiment through direct experience with the Western music foundation of harmony. I endeavor to perform experiments that conform to historically accurate performance conditions such as using flat tunings that make more beautifully resonating overtones similar to those of the pipe organ or cembalo, a high ceiling, a space with rich reverberations and a strong floor, and an instrument that reverberates like classical pianos of the 19th century and classical tunings, while making as little use as possible of the sustain pedal. Specifically, I have tried to address this issue by doing countless performances of "Salon; Erard et Pleyel" on a pleyel, the famous French instrument produced in 1907, and an Erard, another famous French instrument produced in 1903, which were recently acquired by Osaka University of Arts, and at the unveiling of a Beheistein piano, a famous German instrument produced in 1910, at the Sera Art Museum in Mikage, Kobe last December. In these performances, I also attempted to rekindle interest in the wonderful works of nearly forgotten19th-century composers such as Jan Ladislav DUSíK, John FIELD, and Stephen HELLER. At present, I am in the process of planning a wide array of musical activities at Leaves Hall, the newly opened space at Horakuji Temple in Minami Tanabe, Osaka, which holds 150 people and boasts a reverberation time of over three seconds. In the experiments that I conduct there, I will attempt to see how accurately I can recreate the music of the West with classical tunings and a reverberating space. In my own quiet way, I hope to deal with the issue of "temperament as culture" as the starting point for Western music, which has tended to be overlooked since the widespread acceptance of foreign music in Japan that began in the Meiji Period.

TANIMURA Koh Profile
Graduated from Kyoto University in 1951, where he studied Aesthetics and Art History, studied Musicology at Munich University from 1963-65, and received a Ph.D. in Literature from Kansei Gakuin University in 1968. Served as a teacher's assistant, instructor, and assistant professor at Kansei Gakuin University beginning in 1952, and became a full professor at the university in 1969. In 1976, became a professor of Musicology at Osaka University, and a professor emeritus in 1991. In the same year, became a professor at Osaka University of Arts, and a guest lecturer in 1998. From 1983-89, served as the president of the Musicological Society of Japan and has been the chairman of the Japan Soundscape Association since 1995. He has published many essays, academic papers, and translations, including The Structural Mentality of Viennese Classical Music (Ongaku no Tomo), An Analysis of Musical Grammar in Beethoven's Violin Sonatas (Department of Literature, Osaka University).

Back to this issue's Table of Contents

Back to Xebec SoundArts Issue Directory

Back to Carl Stone Home