How do you pronounce clavier?
September 28, 2008 10:19 PM   Subscribe

How do you pronounce "clavier" as in Well-Tempered Clavier?

My piano teacher is originally from East Germany and says it something like "Klah-Fear" which is probably not how it's meant to be pronounced by Americans. The high school French I took makes me want to say "Klah-vee-ay" but that's probably not right either. So how should I say it?
posted by amfea to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Klah-veer. Your German teacher pronounces the "v" as an "f" as it is pronounced in German.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:22 PM on September 28, 2008


"Keyboard."

Can "Clavier" connote something different from "Keyboard?" Why would you be using French word without french pronunciation? Unless you're referring to the musical piece as "Das Wohltemperirte Clavier," I don't see why you'd opt for a German pronunciation, as you are not German.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:34 PM on September 28, 2008


Here are possible pronunciations, all of which I've heard from professionals (pianists, radio folks, professors of musicology):

kluh-VEER; KLAH-veer; KLAH-vee-ay; KLAHV-yay

It's a complicated word, because it's a direct borrowing into English of a word that existed both in French (hence the pronunciations that rhyme with "day") and German (hence the pronunciations that rhyme with "beer") at the same historical moment.

I had one professor who pronounced it "kluh-VEER" when he was talking about German music and "KLAH-vee-ay" when he was talking about French music.

Of course, he also smoked a meerschaum pipe and wore a bow tie. You don't need to go that far, do you?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:35 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Can "Clavier" connote something different from "Keyboard?"

Sure. It connotes old-fashioned usage. If I read a passage that refers to a clavier, I know immediately they don't mean a synthesiser, and quite possibly that the instrument in question is something old and quaint like a virginal or a harpsichord.

Perhaps I lead a sheltered life, but despite having studied music for several years at university, I've only ever heard the first two pronunciations that Sidhedevil gives, although I would never sneer at the latter ones.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:05 PM on September 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


As an English loan word, KLAY-vee-er. Purists may scream, though.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:00 AM on September 29, 2008


As an English loan word, KLAY-vee-er. Purists may scream, though.

I didn't scream, but I choked a little. When I say that out loud, I keep picturing a gas jockey wearing coveralls and scratching his balls while discussing classical music. (Happens all the time, I'm sure.)

I think the two right in the question are fine. KLAH-vheer to be all German, and KLAH-vee-ay to be French. If I had to choose one, it'd be the French version.
posted by rokusan at 1:32 AM on September 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The online Merriam-Webster dictionary is good for these types of questions; it will play Webster's preferred pronunciations as WAV files.
posted by profwhat at 5:33 AM on September 29, 2008


cla- VEER, German style. I'm in the UK if it matters.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:29 AM on September 29, 2008


I've never heard a radio announcer say anything but kla-VEER, and that's the way I pronounce it myself. No need to go all French or German on it.
posted by languagehat at 6:30 AM on September 29, 2008


kluh-VEER (or technically the "uh" should be a "schwah" sound)

But yeah, as pointed out above, "clavier" is a foreign word for "keyboard." If we're going to translate the "well-tempered" part, we should also translate "clavier" into "keyboard." Despite the common usage to the contrary, the correct (yes, correct) English title is "The Well-Tempered Keyboard."

I understand the above point that "clavier" seems vaguely "old-fashioned" but (1) you always have the option of calling it "Das Wholtemporierte Clavier" (or whatever -- that's from memory and I don't know German) if you want to be really stodgy, and (2) the very use of "keyboard" to refer not to a synthesizer but to a piano or harpischord is itself "old-fashioned" and "classical" sounding. Also, the piece is typically played on a modern piano, which makes it incongruous and misguided to try to conjure up an "old-fashioned" instrument.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:06 AM on September 29, 2008


Yeah, I meant kluh-VEER (schwa in first syllable).

If we're going to translate the "well-tempered" part, we should also translate "clavier" into "keyboard." Despite the common usage to the contrary, the correct (yes, correct) English title is "The Well-Tempered Keyboard."

No offense, but that's just silly. The correct (yes, correct) English title is the one that's actually used, which is "The Well-Tempered Clavier."

Results 1 - 10 of about 207,000 for "The Well-Tempered Clavier"
Results 1 - 10 of about 1,180 for "The Well-Tempered Keyboard"

I'm sorry you don't like it, but your preferences do not determine English usage.
posted by languagehat at 7:37 AM on September 29, 2008


your preferences do not determine English usage

Unfortunately, there's a whole other language involved, so appealing to what's commonly done in "English usage" doesn't really suffice. "Clavier" is not an accurate translation of the German into English; "keyboard" is the English word for what is referred to in German as "clavier." I've never heard "clavier" used in English outside of the lazy translation "The Well-Tempered Clavier." Just because a lot of people have perpetuated the same mistake doesn't make it not a mistake.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:01 AM on September 29, 2008


I've never heard "clavier" used in English outside of the lazy translation "The Well-Tempered Clavier."

Your not knowing something doesn't mean that it's unknown, nor that it never happened.

One of Wallace Stevens's most famous poems, for instance, is "Peter Quince at the Clavier".
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:31 AM on September 29, 2008


Just because a lot of people have perpetuated the same mistake doesn't make it not a mistake.

languagehat's point as a linguist is that it does precisely this.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:45 AM on September 29, 2008


"Klavier" in German is currently the most common/typical word corresponding to the English "Piano". Klavierlehrer = piano teacher, Klavierbegleitung = piano accompaniment, Klavier spielen = play piano, Klavierkonzert = piano concert, etc. etc. etc.

Point is, the familiarity and common usage of the word in German may be one reason an approximation of the German pronunciation of Clavier is more common among English speaking musicians.

(Well, that and the fact that 99 times out of 100 when the term "Clavier" is used, it is in the context of JS Bach--which implies German rather than French pronunciation.)
posted by flug at 9:55 AM on September 29, 2008


Results 1 - 10 of about 207,000 for "The Well-Tempered Clavier"
Results 1 - 10 of about 1,180 for "The Well-Tempered Keyboard"

It's even worse than that--leave off "the" and there are 480,000 links to "well tempered clavier" on google.

And there is a recent book called "The Well Tempered Keyboard Teacher" (nice book BTW if you're interested in piano teaching).

If you subtract out "well tempered keyboard teacher" from the search results for "well tempered keyboard" there is hardly anything left at all--only 319 results.

So it's not just a matter of one usage being more common than the other, but rather of one that is pretty much universal and the other that is pretty much unknown . . .
posted by flug at 10:09 AM on September 29, 2008


I pronounce the word in the French style, as "cla-vee-ay", as I was told as a small Canadian boy that the Lingua Franca of the Old World was French, and thus if in doubt with an antique term one should go French or go home. Of course, this was in a Francophone elementary school.
posted by CheeseburgerBrown at 10:17 AM on September 29, 2008


If I read a passage that refers to a clavier, I know immediately they don't mean a synthesiser

Unless it's this one, which I've always heard called "SIN-klay-vee-er."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:34 AM on September 29, 2008


Unless it's this one, which I've always heard called "SIN-klay-vee-er."

Unless you've heard it called a clavier, then my point stands.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:23 PM on September 29, 2008


One of the leading magazines in the U.S. piano & organ world is called "Clavier". FWIW I've never heard it pronounced any way but "kluh-VEER"--the anglified version of the German pronunciation. It's a pretty well known magazine, especially among the set that would be either playing or teaching anything from the Well-Tempered Clavier.
posted by flug at 2:07 PM on September 30, 2008


"keyboard" is the English word for what is referred to in German as "clavier."

Actually that's not true at all.

I have a 7-foot grand piano sitting here in my living room and I would never say something like, "Hey, there is my KEYBOARD."

Similarly, a church organ, a harpichord, or a clavichord would never be referred to in English as a "keyboard".

All those instruments could be consider "keyboard instruments" and they all include a keyboard as one of their parts. But they are not, themselves, "keyboards".

Now a midi synthesizer, electronic piano, or something of that sort--sure, that's a "keyboard".

So if you are translating "Das Wohltemperierte Klavier" into English, you have some choices, none of them very good:

* The Well Tempered Piano (most common keyboard instrument the pieces are likely to be played on today)
* The Well Tempered Keyboard (suggesting they should be played on electronic/midi instruments?)
* The Well Tempered Harpsichord (most common instrument Bach might have played on)
* The Well Tempered Clavichord (another potential Bach instrument)
* The Well Tempered Organ (now we're really stretching it . . . )
* The Well Tempered Keyboard Instrument (the closest literal equivalent to "clavier" yet the literal translation of the whole title into English doesn't actually make much sense)
* The Well Tempered Harpsichord, Clavichord, Organ, Piano, or Other Similar Instrument Of Your Choice (uh . . . )
* The Well Tempered Clavier (just stick with the word used in the original language, since there seems to be no real English equivalent)

Probably the reason translators have stuck with "The Well-Tempered Clavier" for a couple hundred years is simply that the word "Clavier" designates a class of keyboard instruments for which we, in English, just don't have a single, good, non-awkward word.

Thanks to repeated usage, however, the word "clavier" has come to (at least partly) fill that spot in English--not the magazine Clavier I mentioned earlier, which is intended for performers/teachers of all keyboard instruments.
posted by flug at 3:43 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sorry, that should be "note the magazine Clavier I mentioned earlier, which is intended for performers/teachers of all keyboard instruments."
posted by flug at 5:43 PM on September 30, 2008


if in doubt with an antique term one should go French or go home -- CheeseburgerBrown

I like that. Excellent rule of thumb.
posted by rokusan at 1:49 AM on October 1, 2008


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