CONCORD SONATA by Charles Ives "transcendentally" played by Gabriel Zucker & Erica Dohi, pianists in extended Pythagorean tuning, String Quartet #2 by FLUX Quartet, THREE PAGE SONATA played by Joshua Pierce in Moscow: AMERICAN FESTIVAL OF MICROTONAL MUSIC

by Johnny Reinhard

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American Festival of Microtonal Music

Performed live November 11, 2016 - Veterans Day
Le Frak Concert Hall, Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College, NYC

Both pianos are to be tuned to an extended Pythagorean scheme of tuning
There are no duplications between the pianos (no redundancies in pitches).

Piano I tuning:
C# D# F# G# A#

Piano II tuning:
Db Eb Gb Ab Bb
B# Cx Fb E# Fx Gx Cb

Ives’s Extended Pythagorean scale:

A Gx Bb A# Cb B C B# Db C# D Cx Eb
0 24 90 114 180 204 294 318 384 408 498 522 588

D# Fb E
612 678 702

F E# Gb F# G Fx Ab G# Bbb
790 816 882 906 996 1020 1086 1110 1176


released September 23, 2018


Concord, Massachusetts was the apex for four Americans made manifest in music with Charles Ives’s second piano sonata, the Concord Sonata. The first movement honors Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), a profound American philosopher and a major influence on Ives’s thinking; it resounds with Emerson’s cerebral depth.

The second luminary, Nathanial Hawthorne (1804-1864), was an author most remembered for his portrayal of the accused witches of the infamous Salem witch trials. His ideas were among the most “transcendental” according to Ives. The third movement features the Alcott family, Especially Amos Bronson Alcott, father of the more famous Louisa May Alcott. It is a portrait of Mr. Alcott as a force for good.

Finally, we have a movement devoted to Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). Ives scholar Kyle Gann believes it was Thoreau who first inspired the four-movement epic piano work, inspiring the composer to request a flutist to perform at the end of the piece alongside the piano(s). As our performance is microtonal, so too must the flute play microtonally in order to properly match pitch.

These four movements together constitute a formidable solo work for piano. Ives felt it warranted a lengthy examination entitled “Essays Before a Sonata,” which gave depth to the composer’s beliefs, positions, and concerns.

Typical modern responses to listening to the “Concord Sonata” usually describe a thick, yet rhythmic tour-de-force. Sudden rhythmic changes, radical complexities, and deep symbolism join to demand respect of the listener, while at the same time taking the listener through lugubrious textures. Traditionally, it could be argued that the atonal “Concord Sonata” received more respect than love.

In simple terms, Ives, at least with intellectual intent, tossed temperament out the window in exchange for the intonational model of a pure spiral of pure fifths, practicality be damned.

The Instrument!—there is the perennial difficulty—there is music’s limitation. Why must the scarecrow—of the keyboard—the tyrant in terms of the mechanism (be it Caruso or a Jew’s harp)—stare into every measure? Is it the composer’s fault that man has only ten fingers? (Charles Ives, Essays Before A Sonata).

Hermann Helmholtz, author of On The Sensation of Tone, established Ives’s notation protocols. Helmholtz laid out three different ways to interpret contemporary notation based on its underlying tuning system. This recordings’ use of two pianos, tuned with no common pitches between them, constitutes the full manifestation of Ives’s microtonal hopes and dreams.

Much has been made of how Ives conceived of the “Concord Sonata,” with its acknowledged sense of impermanence. The composer would play this piece for visitors, and was notorious for improvising upon the material. Ives had the audacity to expect the same of his interpreters. To pianists, the piece is hard enough to play without being challenged to further improvise on the material in front of a live audience.

And yet, with all the talk of impermanence, if there was one issue in which Charles Ives would not budge, it was his decisions regarding music notation, his spelling of the notes. For Ives, the note C# must ever remain written as a C#; and a written Db must ever be notated as a Db. It was the one constant. There was to be no allowance for changing notation. None. Period.

While pianist John Kirkpatrick famously tried to rewrite the piece by changing Ives’s notation to exaggerate chromatic-pair sameness primarily as an aid to his memorization ease, Ives objected in a tirade. After all, why use both C# and Db when they are the same note with the same sound? Of course, in a spiral of pure fifths, Db is heard lower than its neighboring C#, by about an eighth of a tone (24 cents).

Gabriel Zucker and Erika Dohi, pianists, and Erin Keppner, flute
Produced, Realized and Directed by Johnny Reinhard, AFMM
Recorded by Rick Krahn, LeFrak Concert Hall, ACSM, Queens College
Piano tuned to spiral of fifths Pythagrean tuning to 25 places
Special Thanks to the Maldeb Foundation and to the LLL Foundation


all rights reserved


Track Name: Ralph Waldo Emerson

Despite the widespread usage of the term “transcendental” for describing the poetry of Emerson and Thoreau, its appropriateness for music has been more distant. Certainly, one may understand the term transcendental to mean mere ephemera, or a dapper delving into the soul. However the term is difficult to apply, except perhaps in the realm of opinion, or as a catalyst for an insight.

With this recording of the “Concord Sonata” the transcendentalism in sound is glaring, and the distinction between untempered and tempered is profoundly perceivable. Without doubt, Ives signaled his readers for sympathy in this regard, and suggested a century of patience to continue to invest in his beliefs long after his passing, akin to a time capsule: “In some century to come, when the school children will whistle popular tunes in quarter-tones—when the diatonic scale will be as obsolete as the pentatonic is now”(Ives, Franco-American Music Society Quarterly Bulletin, March 1925).

While there was once a great benefit through temperament, its necessity has finally receded into the past. Temperament is now more often used as a crutch than it is a benefit, based on the reception of our collective ears. There no long needs to be a reaction such as this great fan of the “Concord Sonata,” Kyle Gann, who wrote confidently of “the Concord’s well-deserved reputation for complex dissonances and general atonality” (Gann, Charles Ives’s Concord: Essays After A Sonata, 2017).

The intentional untempered version envisioned by Ives unequivocally renders transcendentalism transparent, rather than emphasize atonality. To the musicologists among us, I ask each of you to listen afresh to the music coming out of your stereo speakers. Listen to this recording without the constant comparisons to the thick dissonances of earlier 12-tone equal temperament performances.

Untempered, in this particular case, explicitly means that only one size of perfect fifth is acceptable, two cents higher than its equal tempered stand-in, and added 24 times, one upon another, far past the range of human hearing. But through octave displacement, a single scale is produce-able for every octave range. This untempered approach is best shaped graphically as a spiral since it is doesn’t close in a circle, and may continue mathematically to infinity.

Extended Pythagorean Tuning - cycling fifths with A=440 at 0 Cents, 1200 cents per octave:

Bbb = 176 (used only once)
Fb = 678 Cb = 180 Gb = 882 Db = 384 Ab = 1086
Eb = 588 Bb = 90 F = 792 C = 294 G = 996
D = 498 A = 0 E = 702 B = 204 F# = 906
C# = 408 G# = 1110 D# = 612 A# = 114 E# = 816
B# = 318 Fx = 1020 Cx = 522 Gx = 24

The clarity of listening to Ives’s music untempered is transplendent, constantly providing an awareness of constantly intriguing counterpoint. One feels drawn back in time, a century ago to New York City in the early 20th Century. In repeated listenings, the listener enters deeper into the sound, the mind is molded.

New words spring to mind to describe this Ivesian unequal quartertonal system. Ives demonstrates his craft by producing a single Bbb (B double flat) to be inserted only one time in a single middle octave replacing the otherwise usual pitch Gx (G double sharp).

Here we are, more than a century later, and as Ives predicted, the composer’s rich imagination has indeed been set free. There is a profound quality of resonance experienced upon an attentive listen to this real-time performance enabled by a true spiral of pure 3/2 perfect fifths. If there was any doubt of the profound nature of the evolved tuning of the “Concord Sonata” it takes but a listen to recognize the phenomenon of the actualized transcendentalism imaginatively envisioned by Ives.

Additional releases by the American Festival of Microtonal Music by Charles Ives of music compositions in extended Pythagorean tuning include “Universe Symphony” (Stereo Society SS007), “Unanswered Question” (PITCH: Ideas P-200212), and String Quartet #2 (PITCH CD: Chamber P-200203). [See: and]

The sound achieved is largely ineffable, but try as one must, decidedly transcendental, kaleidoscopic, new dimensions revealed, new expressions resounding. My suggestion is to listen to this microtonal version on its own terms and merits and not by constant comparisons to its equal-tempered prototype.

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