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They couldn't, it sounded terrible in their tuning.(There were a few purely vocal early works that went through triads in diverse keys, such as Josquin's motet A pure minor third is supposed to have a frequency ratio of 6:5.The fifths would sound better at 702 cents, but at 696 or 697 you don't really notice the difference, especially if the chord is filled in with that perfect major third to smooth over the discrepancy.This is where the practice originated in European music of never having an open fifth sounding by itself without a third filling it in: the spare perfect fifth isn't quite consonant, and that fact becomes obvious if the third isn't there.So meantone tuning gives us eight usable major triads: on C, D, Eb, E, F, G, A, and Bb.If you're writing a piece in meantone, those are the major triads you have available. And if we change our tuning, that music would no longer be playable as it was intended to be heard, right? Equal temperament - the bland, equal spacing of the 12 pitches of the octave - is pretty much a 20th-century phenomenon. After all, the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al, was written for 12 equally-spaced pitches to the octave, right?
(I can confirm this from experience with my own Steinway grand, which I keep tuned to an 18th-century tuning.) The aesthetic motivation for meantone was that composers had fallen in love with the sweetness of the major third, and were trying to get away from the medieval austerity of open perfect fifths.(Not the one on G#, despite its OK minor third, because it has that wildly beating fifth.) If you think about it, these triads define the relative minor of the major keys implied by the major triads above: These 16 triads, 8 major and 8 minor, constitute the harmonic vocabulary of Renaissance and early Baroque music. Look through a 16th- or 17th-century keyboard collection, such as the ), Gibbons several times goes to the major triads on F, G, and C (which are in A natural minor), E (in the harmonic major), and D (not in A minor).He never, however, uses a B major (V/V) or F# major (V/ii) triad, even though V/V is not rare and V/ii not unthinkable in a minor key.If you want to use I, IV, and V chords in your piece, you can write in the keys of C, D, F, G, A, or Bb major.If you're writing in A major, you can't go to the V/V chord (B major), because it sounds awful.