Joan Albert Ban

Joan Albert Ban (1597/8-1644) (also: Joannes Albertus Bannius) was a priest and legal scholar from Haarlem, who also composed and wrote about music. He became canon in Haarlem in 1628. He was friends with Descartes, Hooft and Constantijn Huygens. He was self-taught in the area of composing. From his compositions everything, except three pieces, is lost.

At the beginning of the 17th century equal temperament was not yet in use. That made enharmonic changes not possible and was there a difference between c and b sharp, c sharp and d flat etc., so that keys on the keyboard could have only one meaning.
Sigtenhorst Meyer writes in his book about Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck: (translated here)

The most widely used tuning was the keys under as c, d, e, f, g, a, b and the upper keys as c sharp, d sharp (or e flat), f sharp, g sharp and b flat. This therefore excludes a great many scales and chords. For the music practice of the 16th and 17th century this however was not objectionable and the limitation would not have been felt by the composers. After all the musical space in which they roamed, was, with respect to the number of scales and chords, still very limited and the said tone rows of lower and upper keys were sufficient to build the tone system then in use: The 16th-century instrumental music was compatible with the vocal (a-cappella) music of the time and first gradually would it drift from it and start making use of the greater freedom and the larger number of possibilities, which it obviously was capable of, to finally go its own way. Only for the theoreticians it was annoying, that in their demonstrations where the harpsichord was used, they where so limited. It must therefore have been the theoreticians, who would first have tried to overcome this limitedness: So two manuals were built, wherein the upper keys (en sometimes also the lower keys) were split in two, so both halves sound for example d sharp and e flat. Naturally much was won with this and the number of playable keys and chords was much extended; in practice however the usability was rather limited.
Also in our country the Haarlem priest Dr. Joan Albert Ban in 1639 kept himself busy improving the harsichord in this regard. With no one less than the famous Descartes he made measurements for determining the right intervals and once found, he applied them to "Het Volmaekte Klaeuwier". This keyboard had, extending above the five black keys, another row of five red keys. The latter were positioned in a narrowed part of the black keys in the same manner as the black ones are in a cut out position between the white keys on our keyboards. This instrument now had to be tuned in the following manner: "To begin one sets all white keys to pure fifths" (this is not completely clear with regard to the second white key for d: d*, which according to the drawing is raised by a comma as pure fifth of g.)
"Afterwards one sets the black keys". These however are not tuned exclusively in fifths, but in a mixed fifth-third tuning: b flat as tonic of b flat-d-f (so as just subfifth of f); f sharp as third in d-fsharp-a (to d and a); c sharp as fifth from fsharp; and in the same way g sharp as third in e-g sharp-b and d sharp as fifth from g sharp.
"Lastly one sets the red keys": b flat as minor third in g-b flat-d' (to g and d'; this b flat is therefore somewhat higher than b flat with the black key); e flat as subfifth of this b flat: e flat-g-b flat; then g sharp (a flat) as minor third between f and c: f-g sharp (a flat)-c and as tonic of g sharp (a flat)-c-e flat, etc.
Some names written with sharps and not flats looks to us a bit unusual: c sharp and g sharp of the red keys we would name d flat and a flat, and likewise the naming of triads such as c sharp-f-g sharp, g sharp-c-e flat, etc. are not so clear. Finally the tones g flat and a sharp are absent in this system as well as the enharmonic spellings of the tones of the white keys. Nevertheless the expansion of the number of usuable musical keys and chords was important, even though a few remained excluded.
After Ban's model there should have been produced several more specimens. However none have survived. Whether the "Volmaekte Klaeuwier", as well as the harpsichord with split upper keys, was very usable in practice seems to be doubtful, because the added keys make quick grasping of chords more difficult. Also the mechanics are more complicated, which would not have stimulated builds.
Worth noting is further, that as a completely isolated case, there is a hexachord-fantasia in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book by Dr. John Bull, wherein the composer has written enharmonic changes in such a way, one can only think possible in the 18th century after the introduction of tempered tuning. People never knew what to think of it. Bull could have written it for a theoretical demonstration, or he had an instrument at his disposal with double keys for sharps and flats, but then for the whole range of the keyboard, for c sharp-d flat; d sharp-e flat, f sharp-g flat, g sharp-a flat, a sharp-b flat and b-c flat!! (all these notes occur in Bull's piece). Or - and this is the assumption of Fuller Maitland and Barclay Squire, who have let the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book be published in print in 1899 - that he already used a tempered tuning. The latter however is not so plausible, because this piece stands alone among all 297 pieces which the manuscript contains, while furthermore such enharmonic changes are extremely rare in that era. One can therefore conclude, that Bull has written such a piece for one or another particular reason; why else wouldn't there be more by him written in this manner?

Musical scale and keyboard

musical scale

Ban's just 18-tone scale for his volmaekte klaeuwier (perfect keyboard), a design for a harpsichord keyboard with 5 extra black keys and extra D-key, see below. From: Kort Sangh-Bericht, Amsterdam, 1643, chapter 8 Van den volmaekten Zangh-leder (on the perfect musical scale), page 24.

The above string length ratios converted to frequency ratios are:

      18:         2/1                        C
      17:        15/8                        B
      16:         9/5                        B flat-plus
      15:        16/9                        B flat
      14:         5/3                        A
      13:         8/5                        A flat
      12:        25/16                       G sharp
      11:         3/2                        G
      10:        45/32                       G flat
       9:        25/18                       F sharp
       8:         4/3                        F
       7:         5/4                        E
       6:         6/5                        E flat
       5:        75/64                       D sharp
       4:         9/8                        D
       3:        10/9                        D-minus
       2:        16/15                       D flat
       1:        25/24                       C charp
       0:         1/1                        C


Musical terms

During 20 years Ban developed a system in which a text is expressed musically by means of certain intervals, harmonies and rhythms, the so-called musica flexanima, and applied it in the bundle Zangh-Bloemzel (Music anthology). Also he invented Dutch words for musical terms. But they received few imitation. The issue of Zangh-Bloemzel & Kort Sangh-Bericht contains the complete list. This is a selection from it with the contemporary terms:

zanghlievermusic lover
zanghstoelscale step
zanghwetinghmusic theory
snipzelcomma 81:80
minsten halven toonminor diesis 128:125
minderen halven toonchromatic semitone 25:24
meerderen halven toondiatonic semitone 16:15
minderen toonminor whole tone 10:9
meerderen toonmajor whole tone 9:8
minder drielinghminor third 6:5
meerder drielinghmajor third 5:4
twetoonditone 81:64
vierlinghfourth 4:3
vijflinghfifth 3:2
minderen zesselinghminor sixth 8:5
meerderen zesselinghmajor sixth 5:3
achtelinghoctave 2:1
gemene grondstembasso continuo

Various poets have dedicated a poem to Ban, among them Vondel:

Op de zangkunst van den Heere Joan Albert Ban (On the music of mister Joan Albert Ban)

Ay Ban, nu zegh my toch wat is 't?
Wat is 't? (ay zegh, ik zal u danken)
Dat ghy, in 't barnen van dien twist
En strydt van ongelyke klanken,
My hooren laet dien lieven pais
Der Engelen, in Godts pallais?

My dunkt, ik hoor, in eene wolk,
het paradys vol nachtegalen.
Hoe schiet dat schoongevedert volk
My in het oor zoo blyde stralen
Van toonen! kinders gunt my stilt.
Wie streelt myn hart? och Ban, het smilt.

Is nu de Blink in Thabors schyn,
En Godts Iordaen te zien in 't Spaeren?
Daer Iesus zangers bezigh zyn
Met galm van wint, en hemelsnaren.
Wie blaest dien galm? wie streelt die snaer,
Dan hoogh, dan laegh, dan middelbaer?

Ghy sult (zoo Haerlem, naer den Nyl,
Zich quyten gaet, voor 't zaligh teeken)
Met zulk een vyl en Englestyl
De Damiaetsche keten breeken.
Wat maekt de zaegh voor Haerlems boegh?
Een keel vol org'len is genoegh.



  • Ban, Joan Albert. Dissertatio epistolica de musicae natura, origine, progressu et denique studio bene instituendo. Isaac Commelin, Leyden, 1637, 60 pages. Also in H. de Groot et alii, Dissertationes de studiis instituendis. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1645.
  • Ban, Joan Albert. Zangh-Bloemzel & Kort Sangh-Bericht. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1642/1643. Reprint Frits Knuf, Amsterdam, 1969, series: Early Music Theory in the Low Countries vol. 1, Frits R. Noske (ed.), 83 pages.
  • DBNL auteur - Joan Albert Ban
  • Grijp, Louis Peter (ed.) Een muziekgeschiedenis der Nederlanden, Amsterdam University Press, 2001, 916 pages with CDROM.
  • Rasch, Rudolf A. "Ban's intonation", Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis vol. 33, 1983, pp. 75-99.
  • Sigtenhorst Meyer, B. van den. Jan P. Sweelinck en zijn instrumentale muziek. Servire, The Hague, 1934, 1946, 303 pages.