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date: 24 January 2021

Short octave (Fr. octave courte; Ger. kurze Oktave)locked

  • Nicolas Meeùs


(Fr. octave courte; Ger. kurze Oktave)

A term to denote the tuning of some of the lowest notes of keyboard instruments to pitches below their apparent ones. The practice was employed from the 16th century to the early 19th to extend the keyboard compass downwards without increasing the overall dimensions of the instrument.

The short octave was not described in theoretical writings before the 1550s; the alleged description of it in Ramos's Musica practica (1482) results from a misinterpretation. However, the system originated earlier in stringed keyboard instruments. It was basically a variable tuning adapted to the requirements of individual pieces, comparable to the Scordatura of string instruments. It was first applied to keyboards showing F as the lowest key; the F♯ and G♯ keys, if present, were tuned to sound lower notes, usually C, D or E. By the middle of the 16th century an apparent E was added as the lowest key, but it was often tuned to a lower pitch. This soon resulted in the standard tuning known today as the ‘...

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