Nov

19

I've never heard anyone correlate market success with perfect pitch, although the people I've known with the ability to identify pitches have all shown superior talent, intelligence, intuitive ability and imagination in music. My piano teacher regarded it as such importance that in my initial interview with him, he had me turn around and identify a note.

Some thoughts on the musical aspects:

1) The imperfection of pitch. Only if a melody is limited to a diatonic scale is it possible to attain perfect fourths and fifths — leaving out entirely the question of just what is a major third, etc. But we live in a musical world of chromaticism, and this means compromises. Natural philosophers such as Pythagoras, Da Vinci, Descartes and Galileo were absorbed by the problem of tuning, and debate raged over the proper proportions of pitch. The development keyboard instruments with 12 tones in the scale — e.g., harpsichord and piano — were a nodal point in musical science and philosophy. Bach arrived at the great compromise and celebrated with the great "Well-Tempered Clavier," two sets of preludes and fugues in each of the 12 major and minor keys. A fascinating philosophical history of musical science was given to me by the directors of the New York Chamber Music Society, and I highly recommend it: Stuart Isacoff's "Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization."

Because of the compromises of equal temperant, different keys carry different emotional connotations for musicials. Beethoven's compositions in C minor have a meaningful continuity. Brahms D minor concerto could simpy not be played in F minor, nor could the B-flat have been in C, even though it would have been physically possible for them to be played in those keys.

When I was studying music at the university, one of the musicology professors told me that he amused himself at home by transposing the preludes and fugues of the Well-Tempered Clavier into all 12 keys — a sort of idiot-savant feat both astonishingly difficult and astonishingly useless. But the skill can be useful accompanists for top singers can transpose at sight into any key.

And all this is not to mention the intentional, artistic pitch-bending and microtonal language of the master violinist with vibrato, the singer of blues or Cuban music, the artistry of a Mideastern stringed-instrument master like Keihan Kalhor.

2) Sensitivity to bad singing. While I love the hollow-reed sound of Japanese and Cuban singing — attaining the proper hoarseness is a part of the art –incompetence in singing is another matter. I have been to many operas and orchestral concerts with the Chair, and he will turn to me with a pained expression at the least hint of an indiscretion from a trumpet or French horn or a wobbly vibrato for a soprano. I'm often able to ignore such slippage if the rest of the playing is good — but I can't bear an out-of-tune tenor or baritone.

3) Timbre. Different instruments play pitches differently. A minor third, a major third… a world of difference on a violin, a horn, a piano. A master violinist can break your heart with vibrato.

4) Taking off from the question of pitch, the recent discussion of counterpoint in markets is a good scaffolding for a consideration of the harmonic developments of later music and its relation to markets. For example, a parallel-fifth step from A major to A flat major is integral to the structure of a certain harmonic progression in the scherzo of a Brahms trio I have been practicing. Sure, it breaks the rules… but the trading in the market breaks all the rules just about every day now! One might say counterpoint is two-dimensional, while harmonic progression and combinations of different timbre bring in the third and fourth dimensions, and the market is a subtle mistress.


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