Technical Library

TEMPERAMENTS XIII: Marpourg

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Marpourg temperament ©2012 CBH 8K gif

Friedrich Wilhelm Marpourg (1718–1795) 56K jpeg
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Friedrich Wilhelm Marpourg (1718–1795)

Rameau’s temperament was all very well, with its chain of seven Quarter-comma narrow fifths in a row producing four pure Major thirds—if you didn’t mind his split wolf of two rather wide fifths.

In a temperament to be found in his Principes de clavecin published in Berlin in 1756, Friedrich Wilhelm Marpourg (1718–1795) started his chain of seven Quarter-comma narrow fifths from F. Instead of splitting the wolf in two and having a few pure fifths as Rameau suggested thirty years previously, though, Marpourg eliminated it by dividing the error equally in five slightly-wide fifths between F and F. As a result, the accidentals become true compromizes. There are still four pure Major thirds, but if you begin to stray from your pure keys, you’ll notice the color changes rapidly. At least there’s no wolf!

To change your usual Quarter-comma meantone to the Marpourg temperament, you need change only four accidentals:

1. Tune your b a pure fifth below f', then keep lowering the b until it has a clearly noticeable beat, not quite twice per second. The interval might be wide by perhaps a sixth of a comma—the same discrepancy as a Vallotti-tempered fifth is narrow. There’s no need to fuss or panic about this: Just so long as your interval is a wide with a good beat, you are probably just fine.

Marpourg temperament pure thirds ©2012 CBH 2K gif2. Find your e a pure fifth below b, then again expand the interval by lowering the e until you hear a lazy beat, about once per second. This will produce your E/D compromize. Tune up an octave to e'.

3. Now work from your f, and raise the c' above until the fifth is pure and then raise it some more so you have a definite beat, albeit a bit slower than your bf' because it is slightly lower on the keyboard. Tune down an octave to c.

4. All that remains is to determine your G/A compromize. Tune a pure fifth from c up to g and stretch the interval until it has a gentle beat, about once per second. It should have a similar flavor to the same-sized fifth you have just tuned only a tone higher, eb. Likewise, the ae' (or gd' if you prefer) must be wide. If necessary, juggle your accidentals a bit until you are happy that the fifths are equally wide, always bearing in mind that intervals the same theoretical size beat faster as you ascend the keyboard: cg, eb, fc', ae' and bf'.

Look, Marpourg—no wolf and still four pure Major thirds!

There are many other meantone possibilities: Let’s look next at a famous modern player’s version of an English Ord temperament.


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