William Byrd, Father of Music

Matthew J. Hall, harpsichord and organ

Music by William Byrd (c. 1539–1623)

Fantasia in C, BK 25
Fantasia in C, BK 27

Pavan and Galliard in a, BK 16

Pavan and Galliard: Ph. Tregian [in F], BK 60

Walsingham, BK 8

– pause –

Fantasia in d, BK 46

Clarifica me, Pater, BK 47–49
Gloria tibi Trinitas, BK 50

Lachrymae Pavan, BK 54, after John Dowland (1563–1626)
Galliard, BK 55, after James Harding (c. 1560–1626)

Callino Casturame, BK 35
The Carman’s Whistle, BK 36

Voluntarie: for my Ladye Nevell, BK 61

Quadran Pavan and Galliard, BK 70

“BK” numbers refer to the sequential numbering of Byrd’s keyboard works in Musica Britannica vols. 27–28.


William Byrd’s life spanned the reign of seven English monarchs in the most tumultuous century of that nation’s history; only the chaos of the mid-20th century matches the threat of utter destruction of that time. In the midst of this, Byrd single-handedly built Elizabethan musical culture, for, unlike Tallis before him or Morley after, none of his contemporaries were his equal. This was widely acknowledged in his time: John Bull said in 1597, “he is no Byrd, but an Eagle that soars high above us all.” In an apparent reference to the irony of a Catholic at the heart of Elizabethan musical culture, another contemporary called him the “Father of Music.” Besides his public service and musical path-blazing, he was loved and admired by his students, colleagues, and patrons, Protestants and Catholics alike—despite being frequently in cahoots with Catholic agitators and, by all accounts, a stubborn and litigious person.

In this concert, I play harpsichord and organ music from various periods in his life to trace his development as a composer and performer. In addition to works that seem to address his Catholic politics and faith, I will also perform works that evince Byrd’s special genius, present even in his earliest works: his flexible approach to imitation that balances cogency and variety, his elegant shaping of the rhythm of phrases and sections, and his “natural disposition to Gravitie and Pietie.”

The opening Fantasias in C show two examples of Byrd’s musical “prose,” one early and one late. Both works are transmitted in My Ladye Nevells Book. Copied in 1591 under Byrd’s close supervision, this source contains the best keyboard music Byrd had composed up to that date. The later work (25) shows Byrd writing in the motet style, having assimilated the latest developments in continental music of the 1570s and 80s (particularly the works of Clemens non Papa). The antiphonal exchange that opens the second paragraph of music alludes directly to vocal music with its canzona rhythm and striking elisions between the imagined choirs. A real vocal piece would intensify as the voices to enter in closer imitation at more extreme pitch levels, but this would not work nearly so well on the keyboard as in a choir. As the sections progress, the cadences become less well-defined and the counterpoint gives way to freer keyboard textures. By such means Byrd effectively translates the intensification effect of the motet form. The early work (27) is “a mean fancy,” that is, a fantasia in three strict parts in which the middle (“mean”) part is transferred from hand to hand. This type of piece was invented by the organist John Redford (d. 1547); it was revolutionary for the keyboard technique of the time, which favored chords of fifths and octaves or single melodic lines in each hand. While it may seem surprising that the idea to play two independent melodies with one hand was not sooner to arise, this was so because before c. 1550 organs had heavy actions and spinets and harpsichords were used principally for dance music, not polyphony. Byrd adopts a simple but compelling procedure for his “mean fancy”: most of the points are never transposed, but enter on the same pitch class in three different octaves. Each point in turn seems like a free elaboration of the last. All this creates an hypnotic, round-robin effect. Byrd makes a whole point of imitation out of the final cadence, piling them on with ever increasing variety and rhythmic foreshortening. The trajectory of this fantasia is not unlike the intensification of the later motet form, so it is easy to see why Byrd considered this early and relatively short work worth including in My Ladye Nevells Book.

The Pavan and Galliard in a and Pavan and Galliard: Ph. Tregian make another early-and-late juxtaposition. Both pavans are 16-bar stanza forms or “doubles,” which means each of the three stanzas and their respective repetitions is 16 bars long (=16x2x3). Byrd pairs both these pavans with “simple” or “single” galliards (=8x2x3). As is so frequently the case in pavan and galliard pairs, the pavans are the weighter compositions, while galliards ‘recompose’ musical ideas from the corresponding strains of their respective pavans in a lighter, breezier way. The Pavan and Galliard in a is an early work, perhaps from the 1570s. If there is some untidyness to its overall organization, it nevertheless shows that Byrd had already found a true keyboard idiom by that time. He does not write counterpoint in consort style (that is, one could not effectively transcribe it in open score); rather, even in polyphonic sections melodies and voices enter freely, underpinned by chordal, rhythmic accompaniments. To the eye, such intabulation-style writing can appear unsatisfactory as counterpoint, but the ear readily traces the polyphonic continuities. Polyphonic sections alternate with passages of treble figuration that account for the bulk of the work’s expressive power. In later pieces, Byrd found ways to integrate figuration and polyphony; the fact that these two textures/techniques remain separate in this work may suggest why it was not included in My Ladye Nevells Book.

The Pavan and Galliard: Ph. Tregian is named for Philippa Tregian, a daughter of Francis Tregian Sr. (c. 1547–1608). Tregian Sr. was convicted of recusant crimes in 1579, deprived of his lands, and held in Fleet Prison for over 20 years. Like most well-to-do Catholic convicts, he lived comfortably and maintained contact with the outside world. His wife and children were allowed to live with him and to move freely in and out of prison. His son Francis Tregian Jr. (c. 1574–1617) was an important music copyist, whose work includes the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, copied substantially in prison between 1614 and 1617. Byrd, a fellow recusant, knew the Tregians and indeed was one of Tregian Jr.’s sources for music. The pavan and galliard for Philippa appears in Fitzwilliam, and it appears to be one of Byrd’s last keyboard compositions. The first strain begins tunefully and openly; the second is more introverted, restricted in its range and melodic gesture. The third strain is a victory: it begins right away with energy as syncopes accompany a climbing scale motive in slower notes. As the climbing motives reach their summit at the top of the range of the instrument (f”), Byrd allows the contrapuntal interplay to dissolve triumphantly into homophony, the two “choirs” of the hands calling to each other in warm sonorities. Throughout, Byrd restricts himself to the traditional keyboard range (F–f”), reserving the extended range (down to C) that was available to him after about 1600 for the dramatic peroration of the pavan. The galliard retraces this rhetorical trajectory; its third strain recalls the climactic homophony of the pavan by being based on the strumming of warm, vigorous chords. This pavan and galliard pair is actually Byrd’s parody of an inferior pair by Morley. In his later years, Byrd frequently drew upon the works of his younger contemporaries and students, invariably improving them, or at least drawing out latent ideas and beauties. Was this a way of proving to himself or them that he could keep up with the latest styles? Who was learning from whom?

In 1061 in the village of Walsingham in Norfolk, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Lady Richeldis de Faverches. Lady Richeldis was given a vision of the house in Nazareth wherein the Annunciation had occurred, and was instructed to build an imitation. The “Holy House” of Walsingham became a pilgrimage site and Our Lady of Walsingham was widely venerated. In 1513, Erasmus visited and described the Holy House: “When you look in you would say it is the abode of saints, so brilliantly does it shine with gems, gold and silver. Our Lady stands in the dark at the right side of the altar, a little image, remarkable neither for its size, material or workmanship.” Catherine of Aragon was a patron and regular pilgrim, a fact that cannot ultimately have weighed in its favor. In 1538, the priory was dissolved, the buildings looted and burned, and the Lady statue taken to London and burned. The fact that the monks of Walsingham priory were notorious for their scandalous living can hardly justify the brutality with which the continued devotion of ordinary people to Our Lady of Walsingham was punished by the Crown. No clearer nor more poignant explanation than the ballad itself can be given for what Walsingham might have meant for Byrd or other recusants.

In the wracks of Walsingham
Whom should I choose,
But the Queen of Walsingham
To be guide to my muse?
Then, thou Prince of Walsingham,
Grant me to frame
Bitter plaints to rue thy wrong,
Bitter woe for thy name.
Bitter was it so to see
The seely sheep
Murdered by the ravening wolves
While the shepherds did sleep.
Bitter was it, O, to view
The sacred vine
(Whilst the gardeners played all close)
rooted up by the swine.
Bitter, bitter, O, to behold
The grass to grow
Where the walls of Walsingham
So stately did show.
Such were the worth of Walsingham
While she did stand;
Such are the wracks as now do show
Of that so holy land.
Level, level with the ground
The towers do lie,
Which with their golden glittering tops
Pierced once to the sky.
Where were gates no gates are now,—
The ways unknown
Where the press of peers did pass
While her fame far was blown.
Owls do scrike where the sweetest hymns
Lately were sung;
Toads and serpents hold their dens
Where the palmers did throng.
Weep, weep, O Walsingham,
Whose days are nights,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to despites.
Sin is where our Lady sat;
Heaven turned is to hell.
Satan sits where our Lord did sway;
Walsingham, O, farewell.

On 25 March 1563, Byrd was appointed “joker of the organs” (joculator organorum) at Lincoln Cathedral. To be eligible, Byrd would have had to swear the Oath of Supremacy. It is frequently overlooked that Byrd in fact came from a Protestant family, and there is even a composition from the 1560s attributed to “Birde” that sets an English version of the well-known Lutheran prayer: “from Turk and Pope defend us, Lord.” In 1568 Byrd married Julian Burley, a stubborn and unabashed Catholic; perhaps she was one of the movers behind Byrd’s increasingly Catholic convictions. The archdeacon and the dean of the cathedral were staunch reformers, and they objected to Byrd’s elaborate organ playing. In 1569 his salary was suspended, and was told to “play the organ only for the guidance of the choir” (tantummodo ad regimen chori…organa modulabitur). Another restriction— tempore psallendi le anthem una cum choro psallens idem—is ambiguous: it may instruct Byrd to accompany the anthem colla parte, without flourishes, or it may require him not to play at all and instead to sing with the choir for the anthem. Whatever the case, such restrictions would have chaffed, and animus toward the reform-minded authorities who imposed them could have been another factor pushing Byrd toward Catholicism during his tenure Lincoln. The feud with these authorities lasted and indeed grew: in 1577 the former archdeacon, by then Bishop of London, was the first to cite Byrd for recusancy.

Clarifica me, Pater (Enlighten me, Father) is a three-part setting of a Sarum antiphon. It may be well be Byrd’s earliest surviving work in any genre. It is catalogued as three separate compositions in all the major scholarly treatments, but it is really a single setting in three sections: the outer sections are on D and the middle section is on A, and there is one section each in two, three, and four parts. The antiphon in question is for first vespers of Palm Sunday in the Sarum rite, when the organ was not played, so the piece has no liturgical function. Instead—like the better known “Miserere,” “In nomine,” and “Gloria tibi Trinitas” cantus firmi—the antiphon simply provides a cogent tonal framework. Ordinarily, plainsong settings are two- or three-minute pieces; the three-section plan with a middle section in the dominant shows Byrd stretching for a larger form. The first two sections are firmly rooted in the medieval tradition of “breaking the plainsong,” in which florid counterpoint is woven against a cantus firmus in increasingly complex mensurations. Gloria tibi Trinitas (Glory to thee, Trinity), on a more well-known cantus firmus, is an interesting demonstration of a trick of learned counterpoint that was becoming rare by Byrd’s time: a horizontally shifting canon, in which the two parts combine at various time delays. Even though these pieces cannot have been used in the liturgy, they may give some indication of the kind of music that raised the hackles of the Lincoln authorities.

The intabulations of Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan and Harding’s Galliard belong together: the pavan is pitched a fourth higher than the original to bring it to the same key as the galliard, and the two appear together in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. Whereas in Byrd’s own galliards the rhythmic activity tends to be more even—not to say plain or square—in Harding’s the figuration lurches forward and back, rendering the underlying dance rhythm in an altogether different way than is usual for Byrd. The affinity with the “Lachrymae” tune are clearest in the third strain, although whether this was a deliberate paraphrase by Harding or Byrd’s Bloomian misreading is unclear. In the pavan, Byrd’s sympathy for Dowland’s popular song is unmistakable. The figurative flourishes are expressive and vocal, and the contrapuntal elaborations pay homage to the original by finding new beauties in it. By comparison with Byrd’s setting, Melchior Schildt’s is turgid, Sweelinck’s is cold, and Farnaby’s is mechanical.

Callino Casturame was a popular love song, but the title is an enigma. What does it mean, and what language is it? Scholarly consensus is that it is some form of currupt Irish Gaelic. The words were a mystery in the sixteenth century too, as a comic episode in Shakespeare’s Henry V shows. In Act 4, Scene 4, an English soldier, Pistol, addresses a Frenchman on the battlefield:

Pistol: Yield, cur.
Frenchman: Je pense que vous êtes gentilhomme de bonne qualité.
Pistol: Qualtitie calmie casture me! Art thou a gentleman? What is thy name? Discuss.
Frenchman: Ô Seigneur Dieu!
Pistol: O Seigneur Dew should be a gentleman. Perpend my words, O Seigneur Dew, and mark: O Seigneur Dew, thou diest on point of fox, except, O Seigneur, thou do give me egregious ransom.

The Carman’s Whistle begins with what must have struck Byrd as he heard the whistle from his window: a demonstration that the two halves of the scale are exact transpositions of each other. The material is such that Byrd does not always have to state the theme explicitly for it to come through clearly. It is an informal piece, and moreover because the material is so bare Byrd is less concerned than usual to pursue a single vein in each variation. Instead, each is firmly characterized at the outset and then allowed to wander. Overall the music is cheery, but the melancholic 6-5 progressions of the ‘minor’ variations bring an unexpected earnest melancholy to the work.

The Voluntarie: for my Ladye Nevell is a grand piece that closes the first main section of My Ladye Nevells Book. It is loosely composed, and one could imagine that it reflects Byrd’s improvisatory practice. After a short introductory intonation, the piece procedes vaguely along a pavan plan—three sections each in two halves. The opening contrapuntal section has two main points; the middle section treats its points more homophonically and antiphonally. The third section is a loose series of figurations over a sequential harmonic progression, a procedure that is typical in the last section of keyboard fantasias from 1500 to 1700. The coda is a stock one for Byrd, and it appears in several other compositions.

The Quadran Pavan and Galliard is Byrd’s longest keyboard work, and it is undoubtedly his greatest. It is not in My Ladye Nevells Book, a circumstance that must mean he had not composed it before 1591. Its basis is the passamezzo moderno (I–IV–I–V | I–IV–I-V–I), the progression that Peter van der Merwe and others have argued is origin of the twelve-bar blues. The ground-bass framework supports an expanded four-stanza form, each stanza encompassing a weighty eight 4-bar periods, so that the pavan and galliard each stretch to 32x2x4. The immensity of the work is felt from the very beginning: it begins as an oceangoing ship leaves its port—churning slowly, seeming not to move at all at first, but inexorably gaining momentum that soon becomes overwhelming power. The language is doggedly polyphonic, even when obligatory flourishes enter to punctuate the unfolding large form. The tight opening exposition over a tonic pedal (the first chord of the ground stretched out over four bars) contrasts with the florid counterpoint at the core of the work. There, Byrd dares to write the most audacious dissonances, yet remains totally in control of texture and polyphony. A hint of what is to come appears at the end of the first stanza, but nothing can prepare us for the fireworks of the climax.

This rich and idiosyncratic language seems to refer to the florid style of early Tudor polyphony that before the Reformation had so delighted in thick textures, rhythmic variation, and above all cross relations. The style is perhaps most familiar from the Eton choirbook composers, such as William Cornysh and Robert Fayrfax. Erasmus, who was frequently in England between 1499 and 1517, described the style unsympathetically as “a somewhat laborous and theatrical music…a tumultuous, most elaborate chattering of diverse voices” (operam quandam ac theatricam musicam…tumultuosum modulatissimum diuersarum uocum garritum). Indeed, the reformers of the 1530s turned to Erasmus’s diatribes on the perceived excesses of this style to justify the disbanding of choirs and smashing of organs. A variation ground, a pavan and galliard, a fantasia, an evocation of the musical soundscape of pre-Reformation England—remarkably, the Quadran is all of these; in one monumental work Byrd synthesizes the whole of his keyboard art and suffuses it with a statement of his religious politics.

Tuning Recipe

There’s tuning and there’s tuning. Sometimes, I will be asked to tune a specific temperament. Though there are official recipes for such things, usually I just tune according to the following method.  By simply adjusting the size of the fourths or fifths, I can achieve a gradient of tunings ranging from 1/4-comma meantone to (nearly-)equal temperament, with everything in between, including 1/5- and 1/6-comma meantones with or without specific enharmonic accidentals and circulating well-temperaments of various stripes. Notice that there are no beat counts here.  They’re hardly ever necessary*.

I’ve annotated this procedure meticulously. I wish when I was learning how to tune someone had given me such precise advice rather than just beat counts. Pitches are designated according to the Helmholtz system. Intervals will be specified in tuned–tuning order; this is the order that one staggers the interval when playing it (playing the reference pitch before the pitch to be tuned).

Phase I: Setting the Temperament, Sharp Side (8 strings, 1 minute)

  1. Set a to the desired pitch standard.
    • This is the a below middle-C (c’), thus an octave below the normally cited reference pitch a’. Tuning in this octave is important because the intervals beat slower and it is therefore easier to make finer gradations.
  2. Tune a tempered (narrow) fifth a–d to the required size.
    • For 1/4-comma meantone, Praetorius advises that the fifths be tuned “as narrow as is tolerable”; this is good advice.
    • For a well-temperament that will circulate, temper them but slightly.
    • For 1/6-comma meantone and other in-between-ish tunings, choose an in-between-ish size of fifth.
  3. Tune a tempered (wide) fourth a–e to the required size.
    • Remember that a tempered fourth will sound more out of tune than an equivalently tempered fifth.
      • This is because the the fifth is wider than a fourth, which means the same amount of tempering is a greater proportion of the size of the interval for the fourth than it is for the fifth. In other words, the percent difference between a pure fourth and a ∂-tempered fourth is greater than the percent difference between a pure fifth and a ∂-tempered fifth.
    • For 1/4-comma meantone, tune the fourths very wide.
    • For a well-temperament that will circulate, the tempered fourths should beat similarly to 1/6-comma meantone fifths.
    • For 1/6-comma meantone, they should be about halfway or so between 1/4-comma fourths and pure fourths.
    • Getting used to knowing where the fourths should sit can be difficult at first. Remember, you can always tune a pure octave down from the reference pitch and then tune the relevant note as a fifth from below. Thus Step 3 becomes:
      • Tune a pure octave a–A.
      • Tune a tempered (narrow) fifth A–e to the required size (see notes to Step 2).
  4. Tune a tempered fifth e–b to the same size as the fifth in Step 2.
  5. Tune a tempered fourth b–f# to the same size as the fourth Step 3.
  6. Check the size of the major third d–f#.
    • For 1/4-comma meantone, this should be pure (without beats).
      • If it isn’t, your fifths from Steps 2 and 4 weren’t narrow enough; or your fourths from Steps 3 and 5 weren’t wide enough; or both. Go back and adjust. Try tuning the fourths as fifths from below as described at the last bullet under Step 3.
    • For 1/6-comma meantone, this third should be sweet but slightly wider than pure.
    • For a well-temperament, this third should be zingy but not too wide. Wider than the major third on an equal-tempered piano would be “too wide.”
  7. When you’re happy with your fourths and fifths in Steps 2–5 and the size of the third in Step 6, memorize the size of the major sixth d–bThis interval will be an important check for the rest of the tuning procedure.
    • Memorizing the size of an interval is really an exercise in memorizing the timbral quality of an interval as it relates to the timbral qualities of adjacent intervals. For example, it may be helpful to play the intervals d–b, d–a, d–g in quick succession in various orders to get an intuitive, aural sense of just where the pitches g, a, and b lie in relation to each other and in relation to the reference pitch d.
    • It is useful to memorize permanently the quality of variously tempered fifths and fourths to make Steps 2–5 proceed quickly and accurately; the sizes of fifths and fourths should be the same every time one tunes. The size of the interval check at Step 7 can be a bit more flexible at first; as long as it remains the same within a tuning (rather than between tunings) it will serve its function as a check interval.  In time, however, it is good also to memorize the size of various tempered sixths to increase accuracy and speed.
  8. Tune a tempered fifth f#–c#’, checking a–c#‘ and e–c#’.
    • The qualities of a–c#’ and e–c#’ should match those of d–f# and db.
    • If you started with a 1/6-comma-ish fifth and wish your temperament to circulate, make this interval ever-so-slightly closer to pure (wider).
  9. Tune a pure octave c#’–c#.
  10. Check c#–e and c#–a; memorize the size of the minor third and minor sixth.
    • Again, this advice should at first be construed as “memorize the idiosyncratic size of the minor third and sixth for the purposes of this tuning session” and in time should be construed as “memorize the special size of the minor and major third for a specific temperament or tuning, to be called upon from memory each time one tunes.”
  11. Tune a tempered fifth c#–g#, checking e–g#.
    • The minor third g#–b is narrow interval high in the tempering octave (d–d’). Consequently, it is (correctly) one of the noisier intervals and therefore less useful as a check.
    • If you’re trying to circulate, make this interval closer to pure (wider).
  12. You have now tuned the sharp side of the circle. Congratulations.
    • Play some fourths, fifths, thirds, and sixths (from among the notes you’ve tuned, naturally).  Make sure they’re still right. Adjust them if they aren’t. If you’ve taken a long time to get to this point (five minutes or more), you’ll almost certainly have to retune something.
    • Ideally, you should be able to do Steps 1–11 in about a minute or two; certainly no more than three.

 Phase II: Setting the Temperament, Flat Side (7 strings, 1 minute)

  1. Go back to d and tune a pure octave d–d’, checking f#–d’ and a–d’.
    • We tune the flat side of the circle from d so that any error in tuning aggregates at the wolf interval (e–g#)—thus sweeping it under the rug. If we tuned in one direction straight through the circle of fifths, any error would aggregate between d–g, awkwardly in full view.
  2. Tune a tempered fifth g–d’, checking e–g and g–b.
  3. Tune a tempered fifth g–c, checking c–e and c–a.
  4. Tune a tempered pure octave c–c’, checking g–c’, a–c’, and e–c’. For circulating temperaments, also check g#–c’ (explained below).
    • Strictly speaking Step 16 is redundant but it is an important fail-safe. It ensures that the C is placed precisely. Make sure you are happy with the quality of the major third c–e (which should match d–f# in 1/4-comma or be ever-so-slightly sweeter than d–f# in other tunings), the minor third a–c’ (which should match f#–a or be a little dirtier), and the fifth c–g before proceeding.
    • If you are trying to tune a circulating temperament, you should have tuned purer (or even pure)—that is, wider—fifths in Steps 8 and 11. Check how well you did by seeing if g# can function enharmonically as an a♭ by playing g#–c’. The purer you make the fifths f#–c#’ and c#–g# (Steps 8 and 11, respectively), the better the major third a♭–c’ will be and the worse the major thirds ac#’ and e–g# will be. This is the point in the method where you choose between a circulating well-temperament and a non-circulating meantone tuning. Adjust the tuning of the pitches or octaves c#–c#’, g#/a, and c–c’ in that order until you are satisfied with the all the relevant major thirds before proceeding.
      • A quick way to make a tuning retain much of its meantone quality and accommodate certain enharmonic usages is to “split the difference” between g#/a♭ here in Step 17 and e/d# (below, Step 20). To do this, tune g#/a♭ smack-dab in between where true g# and a♭ lie using the major thirds e–g# and ac’ as reference points: the idea is to make these major thirds equal in size, or, if you choose, to make the g# sufficiently high to make ac’ minimally tolerable and e–g# minimally intolerable.
  5. Tune a tempered fifth c’–f, checking c–f, f–a, and d–f.
  6. Tune a tempered fourth f–b♭, checking d–b♭, g–b♭, and b–d’.
    • If you want your temperament to circulate, make this interval purer (narrower), taking care to check for a tolerable third b–d’.
  7. Tune a tempered fifth b–e, checking e–g, ec’, and c–e♭.
    • For circulating temperaments, make this interval purer (wider), checking also e–g#/a♭.
    • Even in meantone, you may wish to tune the fifth b–e♭ purer (wider) to accommodate the enharmonic use of e♭. To do this, first tune a pure octave b–B. Having tuned a tempered fifth b–e♭, lower e♭ to make B–d# minimally tolerable and e–g minimally intolerable. Note that if you split e/d# and g#/a♭ exactly down the middle, the wolf interval e–g# will become nearly tolerable. This is because splitting e/d# and g#/a♭ moves these notes with opposing tendencies. You can further mitigate the wolf in meantone by making e♭ still closer to d#, or g# still closer to a♭, or both. Remember to check the relevant thirds and sixths as you do so.
  8. You have now tuned the flat side of the circle. Congratulations.
    • Play fourths, fifths, thirds, and sixths between c–d’ (or perhaps as low as A or B if you’ve tuned those notes as suggested provisionally above). It is useful to play through the tuning recipe with all the tuning intervals and checks in order as a final check of the temperament. As you go along, adjust anything that is out. This step effectively directs you to go back to Step 1 and start all over again. If you’ve done everything accurately and quickly, you won’t have to adjust anything. If you didn’t, now is the time to catch it before you go and tune the rest of the keyboard.
    • When you believe an interval is wrong, check two other intervals: each of these intervals should share exactly one pitch with the offending interval and be as close to d (by fifths) as possible. This will enable you to determine quickly which of the notes in the offending interval is out, or indeed whether both are out. For example, if f#–a offends, check d–f# and d–a; if e–a offends, check d–a and c–e; and so on. Once the offending pitch is identified, revert to the appropriate step in the tuning recipe and retune from that point all the way to the end, with all the checks (usually only a minor adjustment is necessary).
    • Play various major and minor triads and check that you are satisfied with their qualities. If you aren’t, identify the offending interval within the triad, then the offending interval within the pitch as described above, and then revert to the appropriate step in the tuning recipe to retune (with checks).

Phase III: Tuning the Compass (<50 strings, 5–10 minutes)

  1. Starting from b, tune pure octaves b–B, b♭–B, a–A, chromatically downward to the bottom of the compass, checking fifths and major or minor sixths.
    • Tune downwards first because these strings are longest and heaviest and therefore have the greatest potential to change the shape of the case and soundboard as they pull against the hitchpin rail and bear down on the bridge and the nut, thereby affecting the tuning. Once the fine-tuning of the highest strings is complete, we don’t want to move the great lumbering strings of the bass.
    • Choose whether to check a major or minor sixth according to what makes most diatonic sense; put another way, the second note in the check interval should be as close to D (the center of the tuning) as possible. Thus when tuning a C#, check a minor sixth; when tuning a C, check a major sixth. When playing check intervals, play both notes of the octave simultaneously (e.g., C–A–c). If something offends, then play the simple diad on either side of the check note (e.g., C–A, then A–c) to isolate which note offends. Retune the appropriate octave(s).
    • It is less useful to check thirds and fourths as these rumble vociferously in the lower register; but occasionally they may prove useful as a double or triple check.
  2. Starting from e♭ and through about g, tune pure octaves chromatically upward to the top of the compass, checking fifths and major or minor sixths and thirds using the “St. Anne Check.”
    • Taking g’ as an example:
      • Tune g–g’.
      • In tempo and in order, play g–d’–g’, g–b–g’, g–e’–g’, g–d’–g’, g–g’.
      • If something offends, play diads to isolate the offending note. Retune the appropriate octave(s).
    • The St. Anne Check checks the tuning of d’–bb–e’, and e’–in a melodic context, each of these constituent pitches in the important g–g’ harmonic context, and, crucially, g–g’ in three distinct harmonic contexts. Thus the St. Anne Check attunes the ear to both the melodic and harmonic components of the tuning, ensuring that it will be musically satisfying (not merely acoustically correct).
    • Iterated over the chromatic compass of the keyboard, the St. Anne Check makes it very difficult to miss a mistuned interval.
  3. From about about c (the top one-and-a-half or two octaves of the compass), start checking fourths systematically too using the “Birdland Check.”
    • Taking g” as an example:
      • Tune g’–g”.
      • In tempo and in order, play g’–b’–g”, g’–c”–g”, g’–d”–g”, g’–g”.
      • If something offends, play diads to isolate the offending note. Retune the appropriate octave(s).
    • You should also continue to check sixths using the St. Anne Check in tandem with the Birdland Check for fourths as you tune c” through about g” as octaves from below.  Above g” sixths are less are a less useful check and you can dispense with the St. Anne Check.
  4. From about g”, that is, the top octave of the keyboard, do not tune octaves. Rather, tune the notes of this octave as tolerable fifths from below, checking fourths, thirds and sixths below using the “Westminster Check.”
    • Taking a” as an example:
      • Tune d”–a” such that is is qualitatively similar to d’–a’ (the fifth an octave lower).
      • In tempo and in order, play c#”–a”, e”–a”, f#”–a”, d”–a”, a’–a”.
      • The sixth, fourth, third, and fifth should not offend. If any does, retune the offending octave(s).
      • The octave a’–a” (“Big Ben” if you like…) should be fractionally wider than pure. “Stretched” octaves from about g” to the top of the compass sacrifices harmonic tuning in favor of melodic tuning for the highest register (where one is unlikely to play octaves anyway).
  5. You have now tuned one whole choir.
    • Play triple or quadruple chromatic octaves up and down the keyboard to find any stray notes out of tune and indeed to try to knock the instrument out of tune. If it’s liable to slip, it might as well slip now when you’re there to fix it.
    • If something offends, play left hand and right hand separately to isolate the offending octave; then play fourths or fifths to isolate the offending pitch. Retune the false note as a pure octave from below, using the appropriate checks.

Phase IV: Tuning the Remaining Choirs (>50 strings, 5–10 minutes)

  1.  Engage a second register and tune chromatic unisons first down from f, then up from f#.
    • On a two-register instrument, I like to tune the back 8′ first and then tune the front 8′ second. On a three-register instrument I like to tune the front 8′ first, the back 8′ to the front 8′ and then 4′ to the front 8′ (with the back 8′ off).
    • Remember, it is important to tune the lower register before the higher register for the reason given in Step 22.
  2. Disengage the first register, and play checks throughout the whole compass of the second register only (the register just tuned). Adjust anything that seems out.
    • You should be aware of a curious phenomenon. Having tuned beautiful octaves, fifths, fourths, and thirds in your first register and having tuned beautiful unisons in your second register from the first register, you turn off the first register and check the fourths, fifths, sixths, and thirds in the second and find that they are all awry. This is because there is actually a fairly wide tolerance in the tuning of a unison: strings which are almost-but-not-quite tuned as unisons will pull each other into tune as they vibrate (this phenomenon is known as harmonic entrainment). But when played with strings of other piches, they are not so pulled into tune and sound funny.
      • One way to deal with this is to make very minor adjustments to the fourths and fifths of the second register independently. The kinds of adjustments that you may need to make will be minuscule. Sometimes it simply matters whether a note was moved down or up into tune. Once you move something in the second register, turn the first register back on to check the unison.
      • Another, slightly safer, way to correct any errors of this kind is to find the offending interval in the second register and determine which note needs to move, and in which direction by playing various check intervals. Then, turn the first register back on and retune the offending pitch as a unison to the first register. For example if a fifth needed to be slightly wider in the second register, retune the top note of the fifth as a unison to the first register by nudging it sharper without spoiling the unison. You will find that there is some play in the unison: you can move notes very slightly sharper or flatter without making them sound out-of-unison with the first register.
    • Scrupulous checks of the 4′ are often superfluous, but may be helpful in tuning a troublesome pitch. Sometimes a 4′ string will have a difficult timbre which obscures its pitch content. Other times the ear is fatigued by this stage in the tuning (usually you will have been tuning for about 15 minutes by this time). Doing something clever like turning off the 8′ choir and tuning an octave or a fifth directly in the 4′ choir could help get around some difficult corner. It’s never worth bashing your head against the wall; if something isn’t working, stop and simply do something else. Remember that for any given note on the keyboard, you can always tune it as an octave, sixth, fifth, fourth, or third from above or below, or as a unison or octave from another choir.

*Beat counts are necessary when hired to tune a specifically requested temperament to “textbook” standards (for example, if someone requests Vallotti centered on G with a raised F#). It is also useful as a way to set intervals perfectly as a starting point while learning to memorize the quality of the various intervals in the various temperaments.