[Smt-talk] Quarter-comma meantone and augmented sixth chords

John Snyder JLSnyder at uh.edu
Thu Aug 26 08:07:05 PDT 2010

Prof. Meeùs has framed the question incisively and insightfully. But I 
think that one might look at
Gesualdo's music in this connection. "Io pur respiro," for example, has 
an augmented sixth ("German,"
effectively) at m. 29 (in the edition I have here), but it is spelled as 
a B-flat dominant seventh; it is
followed by a d minor six-four, and an A major triad, so it sounds just 
like later practice--except,
possibly, for the issue of precise intonation. Gesualdo uses g-sharps in 
this piece also, and could have
spelled the chord as an augmented sixth had he chosen to do so. Again, 
the issue of
temperament/intonation might or might not be in play. I believe Gesualdo 
also used the French sixth,
spelled in the typical manner, in at least one other composition, but I 
don't have time to hunt for it just now.



Nicolas Meeùs wrote:
> ....
> Your question then boils down to (1) whether augmented sixths may have 
> been written at all in ordinary music (vocal or instrumental) before, 
> say, the late 17th century. and (2) whether, once allowed, augmented 
> sixths were still played on instruments tuned in meantone.
> I'd suggest the following answers:
> (1) No, probably not as long as intonation theory did not allow 
> enharmonic equivalents;
> (2) Yes, certainly, as long as instruments were – and are still today 
> – tuned in meantone.
> To say all this in other words: I believe that the problem of spelling 
> an augmented sixth in musical notation was by far more important than 
> playing it in any specified tuning.

John L.Snyder
Moores School of Music
University of Houston
JLSnyder at uh.edu

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