Mathematical ET vs. actual practical piano tuning
Someone on this forum recently asserted that pianos are not tuned to pure ET - they are biased in favour of the more common keys, and if a big concert were to be performed in, say Db, then a tuner would come and bias the piano in favour of that key. Indeed my old head of music claimed that for him a piece in Db resonated differently from a piece in A, and I assume that these biased intervals were what he was hearing.
If all this is true, it raises the question, does this system of biasing have a name? It strikes me that it could perhaps be related to Bach's well-tempered system (which may have been Werckmeister III), but a little bit tighter?
This is the first I've heard of this and I've had a lot of nerdy conversations with my piano tradesman who has probably 50 years of experience. I suppose it is *possible* to bias a piano, but I don't know why anyone would. "Pieces in A" don't remain in A very long unless it's Elizabethan music. I can't imagine anyone wanting the middle part of a Beethoven sonata to sound wretched just so that the first page of the exposition sounds a tiny bit brighter. Take the Waldstein for example. It starts out in C major but by the middle of the second page you're very solidly in E major.
Actually the OP is right, its common to bias piano temperament slightly towards the common keys, and piano tuners for big concerts will bias a piano tuning to the piece that is about to be played, I don't know where Paul gets his non information, but its not from experts.
I played with a synthesizer before and the synthesizer tune to my violin.
Again, I'm not sure where Lyndon is getting HIS information regarding piano tuning.
There is a rather interesting book "My Life With the Great Pianists" by Franz Mohr, who was a Steinway piano technician to the highest level of their performing artists.
Stretched tuning is used in tuning pianos. Octaves are not pure, but are made slightly wide. Thus they are not purely in equal temperament in a mathematical sense.
I have heard this, but it seems like more work than it's worth. A concert will be played in so many keys as to make it pointless anyway. Maybe if the pianist was going onstage to play solely Bach chorales in one key...
I'm no expert (like Scott is) but it seems to me that octave-stretching has little to do with temperament.
octave stretching does effect temperament. Imagine that the octave c4 through b4 were tuned in equal temperament. C5 was then stretched a bit higher. D 5 higher as well. We then examine the octave d4 through d 5. We would find that c5 would not be equal tempered with respect to the lower notes.
I am referring to how tuners used to tune by ear, I guess many now don't tune by ear but rely on electronic tuners tuned to ET, this is a shame, as to the Beethoven reference, obviously Beethoven wasn't writing for ET but rather a tempered tuning that emphasized C major to the detriment of C sharp major etc, Beethoven temperament would have been much more tempered than Piano tuning I was referring to And Bach's temperament even more pronounced.
"As to Scott, I wouldn't consider someone an expert on tuning that has to rely on electronic devises to tune."
You're actually way off, I'm a keyboard builder and know full well how to tune a harpsichord by ear as well as tune ET by ear if I have to. i admit what I was saying about Piano tuning comes from discussions with piano tuners in the 80s, I guess you modern guys with your electronic gizmos do things different.
This is an example of a clavichord I tuned by ear to historical temperament of the type Bach used
Scott, can a piano have internal resonances, from the soundboard and other non-string parts, that could "favour" particular keys such as C or G, but perhaps not so much keys such as F# or B minor (for example)?
I agree Scott that stretch tuning has little to do with equal temperament. I do want to make clear though that if octaves are not of equal size, then you cannot tune in equal temperament. It can be close to equal temperament, but it will not truly be equal temperament from a mathematical perspective.
I should admit that my accounts of slightly tempered, not ET tuning are from older piano tuners in the 80s, I guess things may have changed for the worse, given how horrid ET actually is.
My piano tuner is an old-time tradesman, he's a gentleman in his 70s who has been doing this all his adult life. He tunes pianos at both of the nearby universities. About two years ago, I asked him to tune my piano and I saw him using an app on his phone, and I had never before seen him using a device other than something to establish A=440.
I once read a book whose title, I believe, is simply "Piano". It was a woman's journey to discover why the grand piano that was delivered to her home in Montana during the winter did not sound anything like the piano she had fallen in love with at the piano store in NYC. Eventually she tracked down the person who had actually tuned the piano and he said, "Oh, that was my Shubert tuning." Based on the comments above, that sounds more like a sales gimmick than something a real performer would want their piano tuned as, but it does illustrate a tuning that compliments certain Western music.
Scott, thanks for that informative reply, it's consistent with what my technician said. All the pros in the area use him for their home pianos. And I agree with you about the unisons, that you'd hear those first, that seems kind of obvious to me. When Emanuel Ax was here for a solo recital my piano tech appeared on stage during the intermission with a few of his tools. He played a couple of intervals in the middle of the piano, but he didn't change anything. Afterward I asked him what was up and he said that Ax had asked him to check a couple of notes but he thought they were fine.
The husband of the last pianist I played with (weekly for about 5 years) used a computer app to tune her piano and he did an excellent job of it. This app accounted for variables such as the length of the strings (size of the piano) and other physical characteristics I now forget.
Normally I don't like it when people ask a question and then never come back in again, but it has its advantages - I find that whenever I respond to someone's comments it results in thread drift that doesn't help me.
Bach's student Kirnberger comes the closest to a Bach WTK tuning with his Kirnberger 3 temperament, a lot of tuning devices have it programmed in. by Mozart and Beethoven, a Valotti type temperament would have been more likely
Horowitz was reported to have had his favorite piano tech to tune the instrument to a slightly sharper pitch to make the piano stand out above the orchestra. I think Paganini may have did something like that on the violin for the same effect.
"Horowitz was reported to have had his favorite piano tech to tune the instrument to a slightly sharper pitch to make the piano stand out above the orchestra."
Are we singing now? Sorry for the contribution.
To my recollection, Ruggiero Ricci, in an interview for "The Way They Play", said that in the greenroom he would tune his violin a shade sharp of the orchestra's pitch out there on stage so as to get more projection.
Kurt Sassmannshaus's general advice to his students is "Tune to the highest A that you hear in the orchestra."
Joel, I think your last paragraph is great advice. On my D'Addario micro tuners those 6 cents seem to be about "2 ticks" to the right if I want Pythagorean tuning - at least that is what my ears tell me.
and,-- I have read that when working with a pianist, Primrose would tune to the piano D, then perfect fifths for the other strings.
When I play the viola in orchestra I often find that my open G and C strings sound flat. I don't know why that is. Maybe I am too accustomed to equal temperament or something.
Reminds me of a viola joke:
@Paul - me too. From the violin section you can't help noticing how the violas and cellos often make a grab for the C peg when they hear their open strings. Violins too with their open G although to a lesser degree, and it's because we all tune in perfect fifths down from the A string. It really beats me why most conductors don't seem to notice. The "close fifths" tuning that Trevor mentions isn't just for string quartets.
For me this video from Augustin Hadelich about intonation was very clarifying. This is video 1:
Yeah the Part 2 is especially relevant but the whole series is good.
Now I've started playing in orchestras again, my open D and G both sound out of tune. They aren't, but they definitely sound flat... don't know whether this is due to a complex point of temperaments, harmony, or just the rest of the orchestra being a bit out of tune...
In a less than top orchestra it's the winds that have the most problems..and they are loud! Each wind instrument has a different structure, and requires continual adjustments in the embouchure.
@Paul Deck, I noticed this too, many years ago. I read somewhere - I think it was in the book of interviews of the Guarneri Quartet, that Michael Tree talked about tuning the G "slightly tight" to the D, and then the C likewise to the G. Also Joel Quivley's comment about Primrose - I read that in the book "Playing the Viola". From there, I've taken to tuning the D perfectly to a tuner, then tuning the G ever so slightly sharp - maybe a 1 to 1.5 cents, and the C about 2 cents sharp. For the A to sound a perfect fifth above the perfectly tuned D, it ends up about 1.5 cents sharp. All this is with a tuning app set to ET. This method has served me well in quartets and orchestras. I don't play much with pianists - I would imagine having to adjust more in that case.