An undoubted mathematical representation of Johann Sebastian Bach’s temperament of choice is unavailable. Was it a single temperament he used, or were there several he would have acknowledged when he sat down to compose? Researchers thirsty for a clear answer to the question of J.S. Bach’s approach to temperament have looked in vain for a hard and fast rule he would have followed. While the absence of such desirable information may be entirely bad news to some, this apparent tragedy can teach a valuable lesson on the nature of Baroque tuning theory.
It was a time of change. Various shades of mean-tone temperament, standard for keyboard instruments from the beginning of the Renaissance until well into the Baroque,1 were undergoing adjustments that would culminate in an array of circulating temperaments.2 In addition to the many keyboard tunings that were bound to conflict, there were instruments that would not necessarily sound well played together with a keyboard; namely, fretted string instruments such as the lute or viol. Though a great deal of attention has been given to Bach in conjunction with tuning keyboards, a study including his lute music could move scholarship toward a more widely applicable conception of how composers and players handled tuning issues in the late Baroque. Musical examples from Bach’s Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro in E flat major BWV 998 and the preludes in E flat BWV 852 and 876 from both books of the Well-tempered Clavier will support the primary argument of this paper…)