Bradley Lehman claims that the details of the intended tuning for the Well-Tempered Claivier are encoded in the squiggle at the top of the manuscript (related wikipedia link).

Are there other (claimed?) examples of common practice period manuscripts, or other documents that provide some indications on how to tune the instrument? (i.e. has someone found other similar cases?)

Alternately, have there been any papers that have research on how/where tuning indications were promulgated, but don't show anything similar to the squiggles approach? (i.e. has someone looked and failed to find similar cases?)

Basically, I'm somewhat skeptical of the claims made at the link above, but would be more convinced if there were other cases where tuning indications were included on score, so that the WTC wasn't a unique case.

  • The link is dead... Aug 13, 2014 at 14:25
  • The main link is slow, and may have a limit on the number of connections allowed, but it is alive.
    – Dave
    Aug 13, 2014 at 14:47
  • I don't have a full answer, but I'm fairly certain I've seen similar squiggles in Bach manuscripts (most of which were probably made by Anna Magdalena) regardless of instrumentation. I've only heard it second-hand from the harpsichord professor at my college, but I think we already know or strongly suspect that Bach was using Werckmeister III or something very close to it. Aug 14, 2014 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


"Are there other examples of common practice period manuscripts, or other documents that provide some indications on how to tune the instrument?"

I think you're mostly looking for examples of scores/manuscripts, but as far as "other documents" go, there are certainly period treatises that describe various temperaments. One such example is "Lettre touchant le cycle harmonique" ("Letter concerning the harmonic cycle") by Christiaan Huygens in 1691, which describes a 31-tone temperament, and contrasts it with what was called temperament ordinaire (the "ordinary temperament"). The later is described with sufficient mathematical rigor to correlate it to what we call quarter-comma meantone.

As a side note, there were also enharmonic keyboards that were invented during the Baroque, which have more than twelve pitches per octave (e.g. Nicola Vicentino's archicembalo). Inasmuch as these instruments use non-12-tone temperaments (and are often accompanied by a treatise describing how to tune them), any pieces written specifically for such an instrument could be considered a tacit indication of temperament.

As far as scores go, one of the earliest known pieces to specify an alternate tuning is the Renaissance chanson Seigneur Dieu ta pitié, written in 1558 by Guillaume Costeley (and inspired by Vicentino's archicembalo), which explicitly states that whole tones are to be divided into three equal parts, leading to 19-TET.

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