Joel Mandelbaum was born in 1932 in the United States. He received a Ph.D. at
the University of Indiana in Music Theory in 1961. Title of the dissertation:
"Multiple Division of the Octave and the Tonal Resources of 19-tone
Temperament". He taught at Queens College of the City University of New York
from 1961 to 1999 and was chairman of the music department.
His interest in microtones was first stimulated by a lecture by Hindemith
in which the noted composer first thrillingly presented various historical
theories of tuning and then unconvincingly debunked them. He began a
correspondence with Prof. Fokker which led to a six-week stay in Haarlem in
1963, during which he composed to Euler's genera under Fokker's tutelage.
The result was "10 Studies in 31-Tone Temperament" premiered at the
Fokker organ in Haarlem.
In his opera "the Dybbuk", the interrogation and exorcism scenes are in
31-tone temperament with Channon and
Leah singing in parallel natural sevenths. The interrogation scene was
premiered at Teylers Stichting on 1 Nov. 1970 on the occasion of the
introduction of the Archifoon.
Other microtonal works composed in or around the 31-tone system include "3
Dream Songs" (1971), "4 Miniatures for Archifoon" (1979), "Study on the 7th
Partial" for Woodwind Quintet (1979), "Xenophonies #1" (1966), "Sonata in
31-tone temperament for Two Violins" (1987), "Woodwind Quintet #2" (1991).
Substantial passages in his "Kaddish" and "The Village" also have a
microtonal basis. Though most of his works use ordinary instruments in
traditional tuning and a conservative, tonal style, he regularly calls for
true 7th partials for the French horn and, to match them, often has flutes
tune one third of a semitone flat. Solo string passages will often call
for matching such pitches as well.
Through his initiative a 31-tone variant of the Scalatron (a variable-pitch
instrument designed by Richard Harasek for the Motorola Corporation, the
variant designed by George Secor) has been installed at Queens College where it
is available for illustrations in the history of tuning and for performances