Festival survived!

We made it! It was a lot of work, but the 2008 Fredericton Baroque Music Festival pretty much all came together nicely this past weekend! Highlights included playing a quiet intimate harpsichord solo (Hezekiah’s Lament, from Kuhnau’s Biblical Sonatas) and being almost entirely drowned out by a huge rain and wind storm! At least the tornado warnings didn’t come true… and I hope at least the people near the front of the church enjoyed what they heard! Unfortunately, attendance was a little bit lower this year than last – probably due to the weather and Riverfest, which was happening the same weekend, along with many end-of-school-year activities. Next year, there isn’t quite so much happening at the same time, so more people should be able to come!

We’re already planning next year’s festival, and the Early Music Fredericton‘s other concert dates have been mostly finalized. I’m going to be doing three all-Bach concerts, featuring all six (possibly seven, if you count the G minor reconstruction) sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord, along with many solo keyboard pieces. It will be a great chance to hear some well-known masterpieces, along with some of the music by Bach that you might not be familiar with.

Mark the dates on your calendar!


Work towards the festival is coming along nicely, with programmes essentially finalized, rehearsal schedules tentatively ready, programme notes starting to get written, last-minute advertising going out, etc. With all that, it’s regrettably easy to forget about the whole reason for doing all of this: the music!

I’m going to be performing an early Mozart concerto with YEME – actually a J.C. Bach sonata arranged into a concerto by Mozart. It’s a nice little piece, full of sparkle without being overly fluffy, and interesting little quirks without being angsty.

One thing about it though, is that it calls for at least two cadenzas ­— I think I’ll add in a third as well, since I’m a big fan of them. However, I don’t actually have much experience playing cadenzas! It’s not too surprising, since this sort of cadenza is mainly a product of the later 18th century (with the very notable exception of some of the Bach harpsichord concertos), and I generally don’t play much of that repertoire. Actually playing a cadenza isn’t much trouble ­— as I said, I really like the sort of rhythmic freedom that it calls for, whether it’s in a prelude non mesuré or a Frescobaldi toccata. The tricky part is in coming up with something to play, since none of these cadenzas are notated, except with a fermata over a dominant 6-4 chord, implying that you’re supposed to do something there.

Many people, when performing concertos from this time turn to published cadenzas, sometimes coming from sources contemporary to the concerto itself, sometimes written by famous performers from later years. Many people do write their own, but as is often the approach taken with ornamentation, they carefully write out their own cadenza and then follow it every time they perform. I much prefer the idea of improvising a cadenza though. There’s no doubt that this was the usual approach in the 18th century (and much later as well — it’s only relatively recently that it has fallen out of practise). The problem with it is, well, it’s hard!

I’ve been experimenting with improvising cadenzas for the past few weeks, and, while I’ve had a lot of success at coming up with some interesting patterns and melodies, it’s not so easy to make something that hangs together. Generally speaking, I find I can either make something that’s harmonically coherent — starts in one key, moves through some others and gets back where it started without breaking too many rules of counterpoint and harmony — or else I can do something that’s dramatically/rhetorically interesting — builds in mood, and flows from one idea through another and then back to the original thought — but it’s extremely difficult to do both at once! Countless times, I’ve done some really neat twists through unexpected chords, and neatly got back to the home key, but without really making it sound like anything except a series of chords. Other times, I’ve made a spectacularly exciting switch of mood from one end to the other, but then run out of steam before I get back to the right key!

The solution for me, is to not improvise everything blindly, but to start with a road map, and improvise within those limits, so I know where I’m going and can pace myself. But it is awfully fun to just leap in without really knowing where I’ll take it this time! It’s all somewhat new territory for me, in any case, and I hope that soon I’ll be more comfortable with this style of improvising, and will be able to safely dive into something in the middle of a concert.

long time no see

Yes, it’s been a while. What have I been up to? Some gigs, some work, making some bread, tuning some harpsichords…

Work on ttuner has slowed down a little lately, since I’ve been busy with other things, but I’ve made a lot of progress on a GUI. This was a big task, since it involved rewriting everything in C++ (which also meant I had to learn C++). It does just about everything it used to, but I have a lot of cleaning up to do, and a few more things to add in – configuration files, keyboard shortcuts and so on – before another release. If you want to, the latest code is available at the git repository I’m using. On that note, I gave up on subversion, and switched to git. I heartily recommend it!

In other news, the Fredericton Baroque Music Festival will be happening June 6-8! We’re knee-deep in preparations for that. With four concerts and a masterclass and all the ensuing rehearsals and organization, there’s a lot to do!

Upgraded wordpress

I just upgraded to wp 2.5. So far so good! I’m very happy to see that it doesn’t mess with the html you enter like the old version did. I had resorted to hacking the php and then writing my own plugin to disable all the autoformatting. This seems to work well so far though! Let me know if anything goes funny.

ttuner 0.1.3

Yes, these releases are coming frequently. There was so little time between 0.1.2 and 0.1.3 that I wasn’t even able to update the web page in between!

The new version adds volume adjusting (with plus and minus keys) and pausing (with space bar) to the interactive mode. I found a pile of other bugs of course, too! There’s also a bit better information displayed when notes are playing, including a list of available key commands. I’ve also included a few different harmonics files which you can use with the -H option:

ttuner -h harmonics/simple_sine.harmonics

for example. They’re straightforward, but I hope they show how you can make your own files if you like.

As always, you can get it at the ttuner page.

ttuner .1.1

A quick bugfix to the original ttuner release. this version fixes:

  • Incorrect placement of dll files in the windows zip. You shouldn’t get any ‘missing dll’ error messages any more.
  • Corrections to Lehman and Sorge1758 temperaments
  • A few more messages output about usage – no more guessing what key should be used to quit the program!

As always, the latest version is available from my programming page.

EDIT:There’s also an ubuntu package now, so if you’re on that system, you don’t have to worry about compiling anything.

ttuner is released!

I’m very pleased to announce the initial release of ttuner (Temperament Tuner)! This is a piece of software I’ve written to help with tuning instruments – especially harpsichords, since that’s what I usually tune, but it’s very helpful for any instrument at all.

For the impatient, you can find the downloads in the ttuner page.

What makes ttuner different from most other tuning devices (both hardware and software) is the way that a temperament it loaded into the program. To begin with, most tuners are limited to equal temperament, and can’t tune other temperaments at all. Others, like the near-ubuquitous Korg have a few historical temperaments, but don’t let you modify them in any way. A small number of tuners let you enter your own custom temperaments to use, but this is usually done by specifying the deviation, in cents, from equal temperament, which really has nothing to do with how these temperaments are really constructed or used. As well, they usually only let you specify in units of one cent – there’s no way to make a note .2 cents higher, for example.

Enter ttuner! This program calculates temperaments in the same way you would if you were tuning by ear. Starting with a reference tone (a tuning fork, for example) intervals are specified as being pure, or tempered by fractions of commas. A = E means that there is a pure fifth between those two notes. For example, the common Valotti temperament is entered like this:

  • A = E-1/6P
  • E = B-1/6P
  • D = A-1/6P
  • G = D-1/6P
  • C = G-1/6P
  • F = C-1/6P
  • Bb = F
  • Eb = Bb
  • Ab = Eb
  • F# = B
  • C# = F#

For convenience, you can also specify a temperament as a series of cent deviations from equal temperament, but of course it’s not as good as specifying the intervals themselves! This flexible way of writing a temperament also means that there’s no problem specifying enharmonic notes – my standard meantone file, for example, has B = D# and G = Eb, so both those notes are generated.

Another benefit this program has over most others is the ability to specify different sets of harmonics in the audio output. Instead of the Korg’s nasty sound, you can combine different sine waves to make something that suits the instrument that you’re tuning to. There’s no real limit to the number of different partials the sound can have, as long as you have the processing power to generate them!

For now, the program is just a console application – there aren’t any pretty windows or anything like that for now. That said, it’s very easy to use. Just open up a console window, (in windows, go to the start menu, choose ‘run’ and enter ‘cmd’ into the box). Then change directory (using the ‘cd’ command) to the program location, and type the following:

ttuner -t <temperamentfilename>

I’ve included several temperament files in the package already, so, for example, to load the Valotti temperament I showed you above, enter this:

ttuner -t temperaments\valotti.temperament

The default setup will calculate the frequencies based on A=415Hz, but if you want to change this, just enter a new frequency on the commmand line:

ttuner -t temperaments\valotti.temperament -f 440

Other useful commandline options: -h for harmonics. A pure sine wave would be -h 1, and a simple sound with a few partials might be -h 8,4,2,1,.5. As you can see, you can use pretty much any number here. It just takes the relative strength of each partial to generate the total waveform.

There are several other commandline options you can use, but I won’t get into them yet. Proper documentation will be forthcoming! (that’s what they always say….)

Once the program starts, you can change notes using the comma and period keys, and jump octaves using ‘<‘ and ‘>’. Press q to quit.

Harpsichord repairs

As many people know, my harpsichord has always been a bit of a fixer-upper. When I got it, about 8 years ago now, it was completely unplayable, with erratically positioned strings, unusable plectra, and a huge crack running the length of the soundboard, which also caused the belly rail to bulge out, completely seizing up the registers, and blocked all the back register’s bass jacks with the edge of the sliding soundboard.