The Lehman Well Temperament (a.k.a. Bach Lehman Temperament)

I have been using Bill Bremmer’s EBVT on the Omega for the past four months. The piano sounds great. Some dissonant intervals are rather ‘spicy’ but EBVT (with the right stretch) is on the whole a very pleasing temperament.

Some time ago I read some intriguing comments on PW about the Bach Lehman Temperament (BLT), and decided that it was going to be the next one to try after EBVT. So today I used Verituner to help me put the BLT on my piano. I used Ron Koval’s ‘big’ stretch style. Ron also very kindly provided me with the temperament offsets for BLT. (Offsets for BLT and many other historical temperaments can be found at rollingball.com.)

Why is the BLT so interesting? This temperament was discovered by Bradley Lehman on the first page of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Read the fascinating story of the discovery here. If Lehman’s thesis is correct (and there is no reason to believe that it is wrong), then this is THE temperament that Bach tuned his harpsichords to, and which he had in mind when he wrote WTC. Here is a quote from Lehman’s web site:

“In J. S. Bach’s obituary it was reported: “In the tuning of harpsichords, he achieved so correct and pure a temperament that all the tonalities sounded pure and agreeable. He knew of no tonalities that, because of impure intonation, one must avoid.”

“I believe that Bach’s elegant diagram at the top of his Well-Tempered Clavier title page defines that “correct and pure” temperament. It establishes a specific set of sounds for every musical scale and for all harmonies. Every major scale and minor scale sounds different from every other. This allows music to project a subtly different mood or character in each melodic and harmonic context, with a pleasing range of expression as it goes along. It builds drama into the music.

“A tuner of harpsichords or organs, making the intervals very slightly compromised on purpose (as Bach’s drawing indicates), ends up with a keyboard tuned beautifully for music in all keys. This carefully balanced result was apparently Bach’s preferred system, and it solves all the practical problems in his music and the music of his sons. Indeed, it turns out to be an excellent tuning solution to play all music, both before and after Bach’s.”

That last sentence intrigued me. More descriptions of the character of the Bach temperament here spurred me to finally put in on my own piano. I’ll use this temperament for the next few months.

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4 responses

  1. Hi Digitus,

    Would love to hear a recording of the temperament – perhaps side by side one of the same piece with the EBVT? My piano gets its first tuning on 13th… am going to ask him about different temperament tunings but am pretty sure he just does ET by ear… 🙂

    • Hi Genaa,

      The short recordings I did previously were with EBVT 1992, and with a stretch style that was a little bit narrow for the Omega. EBVT III with a wider stretch sounds better. Unfortunately I didn’t make any recordings with EBVT III before re-tuning with BLT. I’ll see if I have time to make some new recordings with the BLT. I have some intensive preparation to do before a business trip to Tokyo next week.

      BLT is a mild WT, not far from ET, but with enough ‘juice’ so that key colours are evident. ET just makes all keys have the same character, and that defeats the whole purpose of writing in different keys. Some people are of the opinion that ET is just plain wrong for most kinds of music! I prefer to see temperament choice as a matter of personal taste — none better or worse, just different. 🙂

  2. Hi, I wrote to you previously on the BLT. I linked to this blog of yours through the Singapore thread on PW (as I’m Singaporean) as I found your comments studied and interesting. I am an Early Musician and part of my course at the Royal College included tempering keyboards. I have just bought a 1980 Kawai KS-3F and was wondering if you might assist me (as I do not have the tools) in tempering my piano in BLT. Would love to correspond with you on this.

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