By “3rd” I mean the sesquiquarta interval between the 4th and 5th harmonics, a proportion of 5/4, and most of what I say about 3rds goes for their 8ve inversion, 6ths, as well.

What is the special idiosyncratic personality of the 3rd, how different from the characters of the 8ve and 5th, and how might it be presented in music?

The Greeks knew of the 3rd, but didn’t mix it into the Pythagorean tuning derived from 8ves and 5ths. Introducing 3rds is a horror of complexity, and surpasses the limits of our notation, based on Pythagorean, which can be termed a “2-dimensional” tuning. Equal temperament is 1-dimensional, every interval a multiple of any other, and our notation is superfluous, with different symbols for the same note. Mean-tone is also 2-dimensional, combinations of 8ves and 3rds for 1/4-comma, and 8ves and tritones for 1/6-comma, so our notation fits. But with 3rds, 5ths, and 8ves all together, it’s 3-dimensional, and our notation is insufficient; especially in small ensembles, players will augment it with arrows showing which notes need to be lower or higher. The sad fact is that much of our music cannot have all simultaneous chordal and all consecutive melodic intervals “pure”, with simple ratios. 3rds, 5ths, and 8ves together do not make a concise tuning “system”, but more of an ever-branching tangle. Interestingly, a Pythagorean g-flat is an acceptable 3rd above d.

8ves and 5ths seem morally pure, inspiring, and their harmonies can feel spiritually uplifting. But 3rds just sound good; instead of ennobling justness, they only offer sensual pleasure. The sentimental interval. Very many of them render music cheap and schmaltzy, as in the stereotype of Bavarian music, or “How much is that doggie in the window?”. Chains of them have a recognizably sweet texture, cloying, saccharine.

Did renaissance musicians share this impression of the 3rd? Was the new “contenance angloise” music of a different affective temperament, as well as a possibly different tuning? Were 3rds performed with a special softness and sweetness? Studies suggest that about this time, life became softer and sweeter for many; was music a parallel? Sentimentality progressed through the baroque, and the new recorder, with its in-tune 5th resonance, was perhaps the specialist (“The 3rd Man”?), il flauto dolce in character as well as volume.

Without any firm conclusions, there might be enough possibility of special consideration for 3rds in the renaissance to deserve some attention and experimentation in performance.

Bob Marvin, XII 2014

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Bob Marvin interview

An excerpt containing some previously unpublished footage from the documentary ‘Ricercata’ by Daniël Brüggen (MusicFrame, 2011).

“On a journey covering three continents, Daniël Brüggen explores the soul of the recorder and the attraction it held for him from the very beginning. Full documentary features recorder maker Bob Marvin, the Yamaha company, a Korean school class, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, the Dordrecht Recorder, and recorder celebrity Frans Brüggen.”

Thanks to Daniël Brüggen for allowing us to publish it here.

Video | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

List of Available Instruments


Ganassi type alto recorder by Bob Marvin (detail). Photo credits

4-foot Praetorius set (6 instruments)
8-foot Praetorius set (4 instruments)
cylindrical set (6 instruments)
ganassi in g meantone, a460
GANASSI in g meantone, a411
Wollick tenor in c meantone, a460
flauto doppio in f and cc meantone, a460
Bassano alto in g meantone, a411
van Eyck soprano in cc meantone, a411

*: The 8-foot Praetorius set is only available along with the 4-foot set.

Prices are towards the high end of the market, and change each year with inflation.

Instruments description

  • cylindrical set: 6 instruments in f,g,cc meantone, a460; f,g,cc pythagorean, same c. For 14th-15th c. music, especially Spanish and Italian (villancicos and laude into the 16th c.)
  • 4-foot Praetorius set: 6 instruments in F,c,c,f,g,cc meantone, a460. For 15th-16th c. music.
  • 8-foot Praetorius set: 4 instruments in FF,C,C,G meantone, a460. Available with 4-foot set.
  • ganassi in g meantone, a460. For 15th c. songs, frottole, solos with tenors, etc.
  • GANASSI in g meantone, a411. Lusher, less “Italian” sound for more general use and with low-pitched lutes.
  • flauto doppio in f and cc meantone, a460. cc-ccc a sinistra, f-d a destra.
  • Wollick in c meantone, a460. Narrow-bore version of Praetorius tenor.
  • Bassano in g meantone, a411. For early baroque music.
  • van Eyck in cc meantone, a411. For early baroque music.

Read more about my instruments here.

Posted in List of Instruments | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Welcome to my website

I’m lately thinking about:

  • The physiological basis of the semitone.
  • The vulgarizing influence of the 3rd.
  • Vicente and I were wondering about style in playing renaissance dances, much of which is highly ornamented with divisions and glosas, and we imagined what the dancers were actually doing, flirting, gossiping, with political intrigue.. Perhaps the musicians reflected all this varied activity in their playing, with what might be called “glosas mariposas,” ways of turning phrases to suggest light and dark, and many other humors and intents.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments on the above topics.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments