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Howard Mayer Brown


A word for improvised counterpoint, and especially for florid melodies added to a cantus prius factus, used in Germany from c1500 to the middle of the 17th century. The word first appeared in a German MS of c1476 ( D-Rp 98 th.4°) and shortly afterwards in Nicolaus Wollick’s Opus aureum (1501) and Enchiridion musices (1509), where sortisare (‘the improvised joining of various melodies to some chant’) was contrasted with componere, the premeditated combination of melodies interrelated by consonances but not necessarily with any reference to a cantus firmus.

The concept was described in varying degrees of detail by many 16th- and 17th-century theorists, including Andreas Ornithoparchus (1517); Heinrich Faber (1548), who divided musica poetica into sortisatio and compositio, but who rather disdained the former as more fit for the vulgar than the learned; Gallus Dressler (1563); Claudius Sebastiani (...


Edwin M. Ripin

(Fr. table d'harmonie; Ger. Resonanzboden; It. piano armonico, tavola armonica)

The thin sheet of wood in a piano, harpsichord, clavichord, zither, or the like, that serves to make the sound of the strings more readily audible and helps to form the characteristic tone quality of the instrument. A string presents so small a surface to the surrounding air that its vibrations cannot set the air into vibration with any great efficiency; as a result, the sound produced by a string in the absence of a soundboard, although it may well sustain for an appreciable time, is hardly loud enough to be used for any musical purpose. The soundboard, coupled to the strings by means of one or more bridges over which they pass, provides a larger vibrating surface so that the air can be set into vibration more efficiently and a louder sound can be heard. The soundboard does not serve as an amplifier in the same sense as an electronic circuit or device, since it adds no energy from an outside source; rather, it enables the energy already imparted to the string by a hammer, plectrum, tangent, or the like, to be dissipated more rapidly, so this energy is converted to a sound of higher intensity that lasts for a shorter time. The particular resonance and vibrational characteristics of the soundboard determine which components of the complex vibration of the string will be given particular prominence, and the rate at which they will be dissipated; consequently the shape, thickness and ribbing of the soundboard are of primary importance in determining the quality of the instrument of which it is a part....


Peter Williams

revised by Martin Renshaw

Term currently used by organ theorists to denote a list of the speaking stops, accessories and compass of an organ. To a builder, however, ‘specification’ would include technical information on the bellows, action, pressure, chests, case, façade, placement etc., as well as the pipes and stops. The term was used by Hopkins (Hopkins and Rimbault, The Organ, 1855) as an occasional alternative to such phrases as ‘a list of the contents’ or ‘the distribution of stops’. Previous English writers used only such phrases as ‘list of stops’ (J.A. Hamilton: Catechism of the Organ, London, 1842), ‘Catalogue of the Stops’ (Burney), ‘Schedule’ (Father Smith at the Temple Church, 1688), and ‘The Name and number of the stoppes’ (Dallam’s contract at York, 1632).

The term ‘disposition’ (see Disposition), which is sometimes used synonymously with ‘specification’, properly refers to the arrangement of different stops among the keyboards or divisions of a harpsichord or organ, whereas ...


Philip Bate

In the terminology of organ building, a flue pipe in which the end remote from the mouth is closed by a movable stopper or airtight cap. This provides a means of tuning.

In general, a stopped pipe is any tube that communicates freely with the ambient air at one end and is completely closed at the other. The Air column in such a tube will vibrate with an antinode at the open end and a node at the closure. The fundamental is approximately an octave lower than that given by a pipe of equal dimensions open at both ends, and its wavelength is four times that of the tube itself. The harmonic series of a stopped pipe lacks the even-numbered partials; Overblowing begins a 12th above the fundamental. Because it shows this characteristic the clarinet is sometimes loosely termed a stopped pipe. Among folk instruments the stopped pipe is represented by many end-blown flutes of varying degrees of sophistication....


Mark Lindley

Tunings of the scale in which some or all of the concords are made slightly impure in order that few or none will be left distastefully so. Equal temperament, in which the octave is divided into 12 uniform semitones, is the standard Western temperament today except among specialists in early music. This article traces the history of temperaments in performing practice and in relation to the main lines of development in the history of harmony; for additional technical and historical details see Tuning, Pythagorean intonation, Just intonation, Microtone, Mean-tone, Well-tempered clavier, Equal temperament and Interval, especially Table 1.

Since the 15th century, tempered tuning has characterized keyboard music and in Western culture the art music of fretted instruments such as the lute. Its prevalence is due mainly to the fact that the concords of triadic music – octaves, 5ths and 3rds – are in many cases incommensurate in their pure forms. Three pure major 3rds (e.g. A♭–C–E–G♯) fall short of a pure octave by approximately one fifth of a whole tone (lesser diesis); four pure minor 3rds (G♯–B–D–F–A♭) exceed an octave by half as much again (greater diesis); the circle of twelve 5ths, if the 5ths are pure, does not quite cumulate in a perfect unison; and, most important of all in the context of Renaissance and Baroque music, the whole tone produced by subtracting a pure minor 3rd from a pure 4th (C–F–D) is about 11% smaller than the whole tone produced by subtracting a pure 4th from a pure 5th (C–G–D). These discrepancies are summarized in ...



Warren Anderson

revised by Thomas J. Mathiesen


A triple kithara said by the historian Artemon of Cassandrea (fl 2nd century bce), probably following Aristotle’s pupil Dicaearchus (fl c326–296 bce), to have been invented in the 5th century bce by the music theorist Pythagoras of Zacynthus (Athenaeus, xiv, 637b–f). It had a revolving base, and a touch of the performer’s foot made the Dorian, Phrygian or Lydian mode instantly available. Whether or not the instrument (or indeed its inventor) actually existed, Artemon’s account of it has importance for modal theory and organology. Sachs pointed out the most obvious inference: the idea of such a multiple instrument can be based only on the assumption that even at this early period modes differed radically from one another. Light is also thrown on the disputed question of the function of the left hand in lyre playing: the placing of the left hand somehow within the upper part of the tripod remains inexplicable, unless it is seen in relation to a standard technique whereby the fingers of this hand damped strings rather than plucked them....


Douglas Leedy

revised by Charles Corey

Systems of organization of the pitch scale. Such systems are either “just” or “tempered.” Just systems consist entirely of pure intervals, and though literal transposition of patterns or scales may be very limited, other musically useful symmetries are available. Tempered systems are those in which the purity of some or all intervals is deliberately compromised in order to render other intervals less impure, and thus increase the number of musically serviceable intervals. Over the course of centuries countless tunings and temperaments have been proposed, but few have been of practical importance; of these, 12-tone equal temperament has become the standard in Western music since the 19th century.

Until about 1850 many organs in New England were tuned to some practical variant of meantone temperament, while in areas of German influence (such as the Moravian communities) equal temperament prevailed. The universal acceptance of 12-tone equal temperament as standard from the mid-19th century nearly silenced discussion of alternative systems; only a few isolated composers and theorists advocated or experimented with non-standard tuning systems before about ...



Guy Oldham and Mark Lindley

The name given to two undesirable and unpleasant sound effects which may occur in musical performance, one having to do with temperament and tuning, the other with a structural peculiarity in an instrument that sometimes gives rise to intonation difficulties.

On keyboard instruments with tuning systems that do not provide a note intended for use as A♭, playing G♯ instead, with E♭ in the same chord, produces an unpleasant effect, supposed to resemble the howling of a wolf. In Pythagorean intonation the wolf 5th is smaller than pure by 23½ cents, a quantity known as the Pythagorean comma. But the wolf 5th in any regular mean-tone temperament (where the ‘good’ 5ths are tempered two or three times as much as in equal temperament) is considerably larger than pure (see Mean-tone). The tuner who follows a scheme containing a wolf 5th might choose some other location for it than G♯–E♭. C♯–A♭ was occasionally used in the 15th century and D♯–B♭ in the 17th for mean-tone temperament; B–F♯ was favoured, or rather disfavoured, by many 15th-century practitioners of ...