The search for the missing Harrison manuscript (continued)

The following letter to the editor appeared in the New Scientist Magazine in May 97 submitted by James Iliff.


Unnatural tunes

I hope that Charles Lucy succeeds in his attempt to reconstruct John Harrison's experiments in tuning (Letters, 19 April p. 55). However two quite different questions are involved.

An alternative for deriving mathematical intervals may be of great acoustical and mathematical interest in itself. But its musical significance may be slight. Music as it has developed over the past five centuries has become an entirely artificial system with an elaborate logic of its own. This depends on a hierarchy among pairs of related keys in which each key as being on an equal footing with all others as a starting point, it being only the direction of departure from it that matters. to make this equally physically possible, all intervals other than the octave are very slightly "cooked".

For most of us, the difference between the "cooked" and the "natural" version of any interval is so slight that it becomes quite lost in the idiosyncrasies of performance.

I rather suspect that, whether one considers Harrison's or any other basis for tuning, the same may prove to be true.

James Iliff, Llandovery, Carmarthenshire.

To Lucy's original letter in New Scientist March '97

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