Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Better tuba tuning

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Posted by Rick Denney on January 02, 2002 at 12:03:59:

In Reply to: Re: Re: Re: Re: Better tuba tuning posted by Chuck(G) on January 01, 2002 at 13:19:57:

But considering the tuba playing with a piano accompaniment misses the point. The point is that great wind ensembles (including singers who don't rely on vibrato to cover up their intonation) adjust their pitch so that their resolved chords resonate sympathetically. This requires a tuning arrangement that is specific to each chord and to each situation, and clearly won't work with equal temperament.

The solo player has a different objective, that of defining the melodic content in ways that make musical sense to the audience. Often, the unaccompanied soloist won't need precision at all in pitches except for those few audience members who have trained their ears to tolerate only one tuning concept. This does not apply to most non-musicians. Jazz and popular performers bend pitches radically in solo situations, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the sympathetic sound of an ensemble chord.

When playing with a piano, the soloist has to line up with the piano in ways that minimize pain to the audience. Joe mentions that the piano isn't stretched much over the range of the tuba, but to my thinking this does not help. The tuba contains harmonic content much, much higher than the written notes, and the piano parts often range over much of the keyboard. The key to a good blend between the piano and the tuba, it seems to me, is to use the piano for percussive rather than harmonic content, and let the tuba make the sonorous sounds. I offer the Hindemith Sonate as an example, where the piano part dances all over the place while the tuba establishes the main tonality. The tuning between a piano 16th note in the middle of a run and a tuba half note doesn't require the tuning precision that a brass quintet needs when resolving a major chord.

Also, the timbre of a piano is rich in all sorts of harmonics, making intonation less about precision and more about aligning parts of the harmonic structure with the soloist's harmonic structure. This gives the soloist more flexibility, it seems to me, as long as he and the pian(o)ist aren't playing a sustained unison.

When I went to Gil Corella's recent recital, I was most impressed by his use of the harp in lieu of the piano for accompaniment. The harp's timbre and tuning are much more compatible with the tuba, providing even more of the percussion and less of the sustain while still maintaining a simple, pure tonality. The effect was beautiful and musical.

The point is, of course, that the great players must be able to move their concept of intonation around depending on the context of the music and the ensemble. So, an instrument that plays perfectly in tune with equal temperament will still have to be bent in many playing situations. To me, equal temperament is merely a starting point.

But I also agree that a tuba can be unmanageable if some notes can't be bent to serve the music, and having a tuba that tends to equal temperament is probably easier to manage than a tuba with some partials 25 cents out of tune.

Rick "who can hear it and describe it, but who can't do it" Denney

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