It was troubling to read Julia Werntz's "Adding Pitches" in your issue 39:2. What might have been a valuable introduction to the remarkable and subtle 72-tone-equal-temperament music of Joseph Maneri was disturbingly compromised, I felt, by a lengthy introductory section that did little more than disparage just tuning and the many composers who have used and are using this musical resource. ("Just intonation, as an idea,.... ignores and devalues the music of all the great composers,.... and it denies the beauty of human complexity--the humanity--that is art" (169).)
I limit myself to a couple of remarks. (A lengthier rebuttal by David Doty, who composes in and promotes just intonation, is "From the Editor: A Response to Julia Werntz," 1/1 11:2 (Winter 2003): 2, 17-8.) Werntz's contention that "historically ... just intonation never took hold" (168) is simply wrong, as anyone with knowledge of music theory of the Renaissance and experience singing music of that era in a small group with proper attention to the intonation--which is perforce just--can confirm. A later, important example is the Tonic Sol-fa method of John Curwen, based on just intonation, that was a great popular and musical success in training choral singers throughout the British Empire in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Second, I know of no just-tuning composers who would accept Werntz's imaginary "credo" (168) that "just intonation ... limits the composer stylistically to a sparse, simple triadic idiom." My own recent music, for example, isn't harmonic or triadic at all, but uses a variety of 13-limit just intervals for their melodic expressiveness (much as Maneri appears to me to use the third-, quarter-, sixth-, and twelfth-tones of 72-equal).
And third, there is a noteworthy irony in setting 72-equal in opposition to just tuning: 72-equal contains the best approximations, as I recall, to just intervals of the 3, 5, 7, and 11 identities of any double-digit equal temperament (cf. my "Tuning Systems," American Grove 4: 423, Table 1). About this aspect of 72-equal Werntz is silent.
To me one of the most gratifying aspects of alternative tunings is that the field has been open and welcoming to every sort of approach and idea, and remarkably non-judgemental. Yes, we just-tuning composers have attacked the deficiencies of 12-equal (one complaint about equal temperaments that echoes Werntz is that they are an arbitrary, "scientific"--thus "inhuman"--way of producing musical intervals, themselves ipso facto "inhumanely" irrational), and there may be a natural impulse to counter-attack just tuning in response. But I don't think we have attacked the great heroes of 12-equal: Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez, Babbitt, and many others--either their music or their philosophy. It is unbecoming to belittle just intonation by demeaning its heroes, mainly Partch, Harrison and Johnston, as Werntz has done: it diminishes her arguments, and clouds her championing of her mentor, Joseph Maneri.
3 May 2003
I wish that Doug Leedy had devoted more of his response to explaining his enigmatic statement about equal temperaments being "scientific" and "inhuman." Then we might have had a stimulating discourse about, for example, what is "human" in music, or the role in art of "irrationality" (in either its mathematical or psychological sense). As it is, he focused so much on correcting what are misquotations from my article, that I now feel obliged to devote precious space to correcting his corrections--which is much less interesting.
The ellipses Mr. Leedy used in his quotations from my PNM article distort the meaning of what I wrote. For example, what I actually wrote on page 169 was:"... to insist that something that is not abstract (the special sonorities of the overtone series) be always directly represented, for correctness' sake,.... disregards the ability of the human mind alone ... ignores and devalues," etc., and not that "just intonation, as an idea" does all of those things. (That phrase came four sentences earlier.) To the casual reader it could seem to indicate more or less the same thing, but this different subject really has a very different meaning, and demonstrates an important distinction I took great care to make in my article. It is this insistence by certain JI practitioners on scientific correctness in music, this mentality, which I reacted to with this particular statement, not the simple idea by itself of tuning to just intervals.
And again later, Mr. Leedy has omitted the very part of a sentence which gives it its meaning, a meaning that is quite different than the one he wishes to portray. In the "just intonation ... limits the composer" quotation from page 168 of my article, please fill in Mr. Leedy's dots with "if truly adhered to in order to maintain the indisputably simple consonant harmonic language that is the credo (i.e., using the ratios 2/1, 3/2, 5/4 and maybe 7/4)." Of course, many JI composers, such as Ben Johnston, Harry Partch, Lou Harrison, Ezra Sims and others, never have limited themselves to these simplest of ratios. Indeed, on the following two pages (170-1) I went on to discuss this, and to posit (controversially) that to go beyond these simple ratios seems to be taking "liberties" with the model of consonance and simplicity which is a cornerstone of JI theory itself-liberties I applaud. (Incidentally, nowhere did I demean Partch, Harrison or Johnston, as Mr. Leedy claims. I challenged their ideas and theories, but praised Harrison's and Johnston's music.)
To Mr. Leedy's third point: I am very aware of 72-equal's usage to approximate just intervals. My articles on Ezra Sims, who is in my view the most accomplished and compelling practitioner of this particular tuning method, may be found on the websites of the Sonneck Society Bulletin and the Boston Microtonal Society. My "silence" on that aspect of 72-equal in this article was because of its superfluity to the issues I was addressing. But yes, in my mind it is, perhaps not ironic, but certainly fascinating to see how Ezra Sims and Joe Maneri arrived at the same 72-note chromatic from such extremely different musical routes.
As for the rest, for now Mr. Leedy and I will have to agree to disagree about whether the historical examples of just intonation he cites constitute JI "taking hold," and about whether or not "we just-tuning composers" (in his words) have "attacked Schoenberg, Webern, Boulez, Babbitt and others." (Although on this last point I, too, might refer readers to David Doty's Just Intonation Network website, and recommend reading there the first chapter of his famous just Intonation Primer--especially the section titled "The End of Common Practice"--in addition to Mr. Doty's rebuttal.)