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June 9, 2013 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Pitch Battles: How a paranoid fringe group made musical tuning an international issue.
The petition had its origins in one of the strangest conflicts to have overtaken classical music in the past thirty years, and many of these luminaries were completely unaware of what they’d gotten themselves into. The sponsor of both the petition and the conference that featured Tebaldi was an organization called the Schiller Institute, dedicated to, among other things, lowering standard musical pitch. ... But behind this respectable front lurks a strange mélange of conspiracy, demagoguery, and cultish behavior. At its founding in 1984, its chairman Helga Zepp-LaRouche laid out the Institute’s role in surprisingly apocalyptic terms
Originally published at The Believer.
posted by the man of twists and turns (51 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
Speaking as a musician, all of this arguing over pitch just hertz.
posted by chambers at 8:47 AM on June 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


This is really interesting stuff. Maybe even amazing. The things humans will do!

I went to onlinetonegenerator.com and plugged in several of the "A" tone frequencies to see if I, a non-musician could even hear the difference. For me, they sounded a lot different.

I'd love to be able to hear the same piece preformed, back to back, each with a different "A" frequency.
posted by cccorlew at 9:06 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


By 1859, the tuning issue had gotten so out of hand that the French government put together a commission that included, among others, Berlioz and Rossini, to determine a standard pitch. They finally settled on A=435, as a compromise between the various prevailing pitches, and this pitch became known as the diapason normal (“diapason” being the technical term for pitch). This standard gradually prevailed throughout continental Europe in the following decades. Spain adopted it in February of 1879, and England, Italy, Austria, Prussia and Russia all adopted it in 1885...

A universally recognized standard pitch, allowing musicians to freely travel internationally was by this time so important that at the end of World War I it ended up in the Treaty of Paris.


What a fascinating article; thanks, the man of twists and turns.

...in the end, aligning themselves with the Schiller Institute did far more harm than good...In the years since, pitch has kept rising—imperceptibly but irrevocably. The Vienna Philharmonic tunes at around 444 Hz, while the Berlin Philharmonic has gone as high as 448 Hz. Trombone and tuba players in Europe report having to surgically trim the pipes of their instruments so they can play at these higher notes...

And I really liked learning this near the beginning:

“To musicians before 1750, the notes on the staff, and the names by which they were referred to, represented degrees in a gamut that had no permanent anchor at a standard pitch level, but was freely movable up and down according to the nature of the voices or instruments involved on any given occasion.”
posted by mediareport at 9:15 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


on one level, weird and absurd.

on another, given Musica Universalis, wouldn't tuning be precisely the kind of hill worth dying for?

And what would Glenn Branca say?
posted by philip-random at 9:25 AM on June 9, 2013


To musicians before 1750 ... and for a while in the 70s.
posted by Lorin at 9:29 AM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Singing folk music the other night with a friend, we tried Tennessee Waltz, which has a greater range in the vocal part than a lot of simpler tunes. (neither of us is a particularly skilled singer). He capoed his banjo repeatedly until he found a spot where we were both comfortable with the vocal part. I think it was a fourth away from where we started. Social order did not disappear. Even less if the original tuning had been to A=432 instead of A=440.

Because I didn't know the number right off, I asked myself: what frequency is a half step above 440Hz; in equal temperament it's 466Hz (and a half step down is 415Hz). So most of these differences they are talking about are less than a half step. In only a few cases would this make the very highest note in a piece no longer fall in the range of a vocalist or instrument.

But if you really think this is important, simply tune your 33rpm record player until it rotates at 32.4rpm, and anything recorded in 440Hz will play in 432Hz. Of course, tempo will not be preserved.

If you are a linuxhead with the "mplayer" music/video player, you can play any recording with altered pitch while retaining tempo. For instance, the ratio 432Hz/440Hz is 0.98181818… so you can use this commandline:
mplayer -speed 0.98181818 -af scaletempo=speed=pitch file…
Playing 10 seconds audio one way followed immediately by the other, the second bit was obviously “tuned wrong”, a perception which (for me) went in either direction and faded as the second playback continued or if there was any pause between trials. (a totally unscientific result, but there you go)
posted by jepler at 9:29 AM on June 9, 2013 [12 favorites]


I move pianos, so I see a lot of them. Some pianos made before 1900 have stamped on the harp "A = 438."

I have heard from piano technicians that conductors want the pitch to go up for the string effect mentioned in the article, while singers primarily are devastated at having to hit notes that are significantly higher than what the composer heard 150 years ago.

There is an upper limit to how high the pitch can be raised on an old piano, and 448 is probably far above it.

Tuning is not a science, but an art. As we all know, a keyboard scale is not strictly mathematical, but is "tempered," the high notes slightly low and the low notes slightly high. If you tune the fifths perfectly, the thirds will be flat. If you tune the thirds perfectly, the fifths will be sharp. A tuner tells me that he "leans out" the thirds and "leans in" the fifths. The amount of "lean" is the art.
posted by Repack Rider at 9:31 AM on June 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


If Lyndon LaRouche is involved, could this mean that the reason for the upward drift of concert pitch has to do with the anatomy of our reptilian overlords?
posted by acb at 9:35 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems like the right thread to ask this question:
is there any recording of a solo instrumental in just temperament where the pitches change accordingly when the composer modulates to a different key within the same movement?
If there is, almost certainly it would have to be synthesized.
posted by Gyan at 9:37 AM on June 9, 2013


440 OR FIGHT!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:41 AM on June 9, 2013 [19 favorites]


on another, given Musica Universalis, wouldn't tuning be precisely the kind of hill worth dying for?

I don't think so. All three forms-- musica mundana (the term used by Boethius, inventor of the threefold classification of music, for the music of the spheres), humana and instrumentalis-- were more about ratios and proportions between quantities than absolute values. That's in keeping with the Pythagorean influence and therefore the geometric origins of this kind of thought, where when you're talking about ratios between lengths any arbitrary length can be considered the unit of measure.
posted by invitapriore at 9:44 AM on June 9, 2013


chambers: "just hertz"

Not quite, that's a different squabble.

Gyan: "If there is, almost certainly it would have to be synthesized."

Or played on a fretless stringed instrument, I suppose.
posted by vanar sena at 9:45 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lyndon LaRouche
In retrospect, I'm surprised that I was surprised by this.
posted by Flunkie at 9:50 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This article checked all the boxes for me: insane libertarians, continental european infighting, French vs. German culture, and a theory of human cataclysm based on the laws of thermodynamics. The cherry on top is the fact that Lyndon LaRouche undertook his petition while running for president against George Bush and battling mail fraud charges.

It's disappointing that the Koch brothers are the only significant rich crazies America has in the 21st century. Maybe China will pick up the slack.
posted by anewnadir at 9:51 AM on June 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


also: "How Nazis Ruined Musical Tuning."

Brilliant.
posted by anewnadir at 9:53 AM on June 9, 2013


I'm mostly deaf in one ear - that online tone generator that cccorlew posted says the absolute cutoff is about 5500Hz but amplitude is gone through the whole range - but that bad ear has perfect pitch for the notes it can hear. If something's not at 440 A, I can tell, especially if I've been playing a lot lately so my reference pitch is tight in my brain.

That 432 Hz tone set my teeth on edge.
posted by notsnot at 9:55 AM on June 9, 2013


The English decided that since their concert halls were a bit warmer than French concert halls, they would have to adjust pitch accordingly, and so the London Philharmonic tuned their instruments to A =439 Hz (For the record, this is nonsense—a metal tuning fork tuned to 435 will maintain that pitch no matter what the temperature of the room is.).

This guy is so ignorant it ruins the article for me.

Temperature changes change the density of air, and that changes resonant frequencies of cavities of all kinds.

Even if he didn't grasp that, you'd think he might wonder why helium makes voices so high, for example, and what that might have to do with organ pipes:
You need to understand that for a note (tone) of a pipe organ or of another wind instrument − when the temperature increases from 15°C to 25°C − the speed of sound c and thus the product of λ × f will be changed. Since the length of the organ pipe and with it the wavelength λ remain constant, only the frequency f (pitch) will change.
posted by jamjam at 10:02 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


jamjam: more to the point, tuning forks drift about 1 cent per eight degrees
posted by idiopath at 10:13 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I should have said temperature changes the speed of sound. Density has its effects but they have more to do with loading, as I understand it.
posted by jamjam at 10:17 AM on June 9, 2013


Something I'd never thought of looking for until seeing you guys talk about changes in air density affecting instrument pitch: Ein kliene nachtmusic... mit helium.
posted by metaBugs at 10:20 AM on June 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not going to link to nonsense, but if you google 528 Hz dna repair frequency you'll find a bunch of people believing something weird. One guy actually told me "You should tune your instruments to 528 Hz, it will be healing."
posted by yoHighness at 10:25 AM on June 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


An argument can be made that, say, Handel or Bellini might have had in his ear a particular timbre of what a violin sounds like playing and open string D or a soprano singing an F-sharp, and if the tuning changes from the assumed "Handel" A=415 or "Bellini" A=432 to the slightly higher modern A=440, then there is a change in the timbre of the individual voices and therefore a shift in the general sonority.

But that is making the very large assumption that the violin is a period instrument (of 1730 or 1830) and the soprano is singing with a comparable technique to that of a 1730 or 1830 soprano. The physical makeup of the violin or the vocal approach of the soprano is going to change the timbre much more than the slight shift in tuning.

We have a pretty clear idea of how a violin was made two centuries ago, though perhaps not quite so clear an idea of how it was bowed. But it's very hard indeed to try to divine how a soprano sang all those years ago. We have recordings that are now about a century old of classical singing, and to tell the truth many of the oldest example sound extremely alien, even ugly, to the casual modern opera fan. If as late as around 1905 Adelina Patti was singing Mozart in a free style no modern conductor would countenance, then how much more bizarre to us might the singers of Mozart's own time sound? Where they tuned A would be the least of our problems.
posted by La Cieca at 10:31 AM on June 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


ctrl+F "Pynchon"

Phrase not found.

Really?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:32 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The English decided that since their concert halls were a bit warmer than French concert halls, they would have to adjust pitch accordingly, and so the London Philharmonic tuned their instruments to A =439 Hz (For the record, this is nonsense—a metal tuning fork tuned to 435 will maintain that pitch no matter what the temperature of the room is.).

This guy is so ignorant it ruins the article for me.


The English v French justification is still pretty bullshitty. It would only work if English concert halls were uniformly the same size and temperature, versus French concert halls, which would have to be uniformly the same size and temperature. Even if tuning forks vary by one cent per eight degrees, that's still a miniscule amount. The difference in temperature to change a 440 tuning fork to 438 is over 60 degrees.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:35 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like a disease that gradually but inexorably blossoms into a pandemic, Alexander’s military band set off a craze that would result in various musicians, orchestras, and nations vying for higher and higher tones, with sharper and sharper notes. Pitches began to rise in symphonies and operas throughout Europe, with cities vying to be known as having the “brightest” orchestras, and the highest pitches.
So, it's basically that Tsar Alexander started the "Loudness War" of the 1800s?
posted by symbioid at 10:43 AM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fascinating stuff about which I knew nothing; thanks for the post!

> This guy is so ignorant it ruins the article for me.

Classic MetaFilter: Look for some minor factoid you can denounce as ignorant, and triumphantly trash the whole thing. MeFi Babbage: "This poem says 'Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born,' which is impossible... so Tennyson sucks!!"
posted by languagehat at 10:44 AM on June 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


This was cool. Thanks for posting it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:50 AM on June 9, 2013


is there any recording of a solo instrumental in just temperament where the pitches change accordingly when the composer modulates to a different key within the same movement?
If there is, almost certainly it would have to be synthesized.


Sure, and they are not synthesized. For those who don't know, when working on intonation, musicians talk about "cents" of frequency, with there being 100 cents in an equal tempered semitone (half-step) of pitch. Most human beings have pitch discernment such that they can perceive 5-7 cents' difference between two unison pitches, or within 5-10% of a half-step. Musicians typically hone that discernment to around 2-3 cents' worth of sensitivity at least. (I teach college music majors in performance ensembles, so we talk about this stuff a lot, and I experiment with my students often and am astounded at the sensitivity of the human ear.) So where the "A" is located is actually a BIG deal.

To answer your question above, Gyan, you should look for performances on period instruments, which typically strive for just (or pure) intonation. The finest solo example that immediately comes to mind is Lara St. John playing the famous Bach D minor Chaconne, from his second partita for solo violin. As the tonic shifts, so does her intonation--and considering that Bach sometimes inflects a new tonic or two within one bar, it's no mean feat. (heh, pun intended.)

But even in large concert ensembles, we still do this. The players in my ensembles all know that the third of a major chord has to be adjusted down about 14 cents, the third of a minor chord up 12 cents, and that the seventh of a dominant seventh chord has to be brought down an astounding 31 cents to be in tune. We work on this stuff specifically all the time, playing against pure intonation drones, etc. Playing well in tune all the time is one of the biggest consistent challenges to professional players, too, who have to worry about it despite achieving incredible technical mastery on their instruments.

It is also the reason that the piano is intractably an out of tune instrument, because it is unalterably in equal tempered intonation. (Piano tuners talk about shading intervals one way or another, as mentioned, but the reality is that when a piano is "in tune," the lowest octave is typically 33 cents below the middle octave, and the highest 33 cents above. We just don't usually notice because octave displacement hides intonation details to many ears.)

Also, great post, thanks!!
posted by LooseFilter at 11:15 AM on June 9, 2013 [13 favorites]


chambers: "all of this arguing over pitch just hertz"

vanar sena: "Not quite, that's a different squabble."

To the contrary, I'm quite sure that chambers' comment has far more to do with this centuries-old and extraordinarily evil musical tradition.
posted by flug at 11:20 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This bit: "Likewise, when the BBC began broadcasting an electronically produced pitch tone, they convinced the London Philharmonic to also move to 440, a frequency which (not being a prime number like 439) could be produced electronically much more easily."

I've tried quite hard and I can't see why non-prime frequencies are any different to prime frequencies when it comes to producing them electronically. I can't even see where such an idea might mutate from.
posted by Devonian at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Classic MetaFilter: Look for some minor factoid you can denounce as ignorant, and triumphantly trash the whole thing. MeFi Babbage: "This poem says 'Every moment dies a man, Every moment one is born,' which is impossible... so Tennyson sucks!!"

Even if tuning forks vary by one cent per eight degrees, that's still a miniscule amount. The difference in temperature to change a 440 tuning fork to 438 is over 60 degrees.

You, languagehat and you, 2N222 either did not read my comment or my link or are not capable of understanding them.

The difference temperature makes in the frequency of a tuning fork is indeed trivial for concert hall purposes, but I made my argument in terms of resonant cavities, for which the difference is not insignificant: the fundamental resonant frequency of a .4m open pipe, such as an organ pipe would be, at a temperature of 15C is ~423 Hz; at 25C that frequency rises to ~433 Hz.

The same argument applies to violins and other strings because of the resonant cavities of their sound boxes.
posted by jamjam at 11:43 AM on June 9, 2013


I don't think so. It still doesn't make sense if someone claimed that English concert halls are warmer, therefore a different standard must be adopted. Unless, as I stated, all English halls were uniformly heated to the same temperature, and French halls were all the same. Which seems pretty ridiculous claim, unless it was some kind of typical English vs French dick swinging. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole idea of English halls being warmer was an even more dubious claim about tonal quality rather than temperature. As in, "English halls are lined with subdued tapestries and lush draperies, vs French halls with their plastered walls in garish colors".
posted by 2N2222 at 12:28 PM on June 9, 2013


Tuning is not a science, but an art. As we all know, a keyboard scale is not strictly mathematical, but is "tempered," the high notes slightly low and the low notes slightly high. If you tune the fifths perfectly, the thirds will be flat. If you tune the thirds perfectly, the fifths will be sharp. A tuner tells me that he "leans out" the thirds and "leans in" the fifths. The amount of "lean" is the art.

The equal tempered chromatic scale actually is strictly mathematical, it's just logarithmic instead of based on simple ratios.

That said, there is some weird juju that piano tuners do, like where there are multiple strings for each note, they are detuned slightly from each other for added resonance. And in the extreme upper register, they tune everything slightly sharp, because of the tendency of harmonic overtones on a piano to also be sharp.
posted by speicus at 12:45 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Devonian: "I can't see why non-prime frequencies are any different to prime frequencies when it comes to producing them electronically."

Electronic equipment is carefully calibrated, and the calibration tends to be in round numbers of vibrations per second. Thus something that can be derived from 1 / 10 / 100 / 1k / 10k hz reference with as little extra circuitry as possible is desirable. The precise resistors you would combine to create ratios of frequency multiplication or division similarly come in nice round numbers like 100, 500, 1k, 1.5k. getting 440 out of elements carfully calibrated to values like 1000 or 100 is much simpler than getting 439 (it will require fewer components, and any irregularities in the components will add or even multiply as you add components to circuit design of that era).
posted by idiopath at 12:45 PM on June 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Like many of you, i was struck by some of the claims in the article (particularly the english vs. french and BBC electronic tuning note) - note to people doing research for articles like this - cite references for this stuff! You don't have to be as rigorous as an academic paper, but still. . . Not citing references is essentially saying you don't want to risk your sources stealing any attention from article (look at me, look at me!). Which is dumb.

My first assumption was also that by "warmer" they meant tonally -maybe less reverberent, more wooden surfaces, more wall hangings. In that context, the higher tuning compensates for acoustics that have more high frequency damping.
posted by ianhattwick at 1:22 PM on June 9, 2013


Fantastic article, the man of twists and turns. Thanks!
posted by soundguy99 at 1:46 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


440 OR FIGHT!

If only they'd settled on 420: the whole thing would be so much more chill.
posted by yoink at 1:46 PM on June 9, 2013


Re: temperature variation. This French article (pdf - apparently notes for a course in Organology by Nicolas Meeùs) claims the problem is that the French commission specified the pitch of the tuning fork at 15 °C; they meant the fork to be used as a diapason, whatever the temperature in the hall (logical, since the difference is only a cent at 23 °C). But other people, seeing the temperature specified, thought you had to tune your instrument so that it would be at 435 Hz at 15 °C. Since the hall was warmer, they introduced "corrections" which made them tune higher.

Re: Electronic BBC tuner, cited in A brief history of the establishment of international standard pitch a=440 hertz by Lynn Cavanagh:
The B.B.C. tuning-note is derived from an oscillator controlled by a piezo-electric crystal that vibrates with a frequency of one million Hz. This is reduced to a frequency of 1,000 Hz by electronic dividers; it is then multiplied eleven times and divided by twenty-five, so producing the required frequency of 440 Hz. As 439 Hz is a prime number a frequency of 439 Hz could not be broadcast by such means as this — Llewelyn S. Lloyd, “International Standard Musical Pitch,” Journal of the Royal Society of Arts 98 (16 Dec., 1949), 80-81
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:47 PM on June 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've long seen bits and pieces of this story, but it really ties (not slurs) the room together!

The amazing part is that all of those mid-1800s battles took place when you had to visit the local physics lab to check a pitch.

One of my favorite geek extravaganzas of the era (1863) is Helmholtz 500 or 600-page On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music ... now available in e-form all over. (In what era since did people have time for such treatises?)
posted by Twang at 2:48 PM on June 9, 2013


As a mezzo, I am somewhat bitter about the heightening of pitch. Roles that were composed for a voice like mine at A415 are much less pleasant to sing a semitone up at 440-- let alone a semitone-and-change at European pitches.

I would be delighted if pitch were standardised at 432, but that would require reversing a trend that's been going for over a century. Guess I'll have to grind my teeth and watch sopranos take over my roles forever (though Queens of the Night and Zerbinettas will also have cause to lament).

Thank the gods for authentic-instruments baroque performances: last refuge of sweet, sweet A415.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:59 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think so. It still doesn't make sense if someone claimed that English concert halls are warmer, therefore a different standard must be adopted. Unless, as I stated, all English halls were uniformly heated to the same temperature, and French halls were all the same. Which seems pretty ridiculous claim, unless it was some kind of typical English vs French dick swinging. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole idea of English halls being warmer was an even more dubious claim about tonal quality rather than temperature. As in, "English halls are lined with subdued tapestries and lush draperies, vs French halls with their plastered walls in garish colors".
posted by 2N2222


This is just blather in an attempt to cover your mistake.

That English halls are warmer is taken as a given in the article, and a sharper tuning to compensate for this is derided by the author because he doesn't know what he's talking about, and neither do you.

The rationale for a sharper tuning in a warmer hall has nothing to do with temperature variation of a tuning fork, as the author of the article foolishly supposes, nor does it hinge on any assumption that "English concert halls were uniformly the same size and temperature, versus French concert halls, which would have to be uniformly the same size and temperature", as you assert, it depends instead merely upon an understanding that some important instruments have a tuning which varies significantly with temperature, and is very difficult to adjust in order compensate for that temperature variation.

Instruments such as the one I used as an example already, the pipe organ:
The pitch of an organ cannot be significantly changed without major work, as pipes need to be shortened or lengthened.

Another important preparation step is to stabilize the temperature of the building in which the organ resides. Ideally, the temperature should be the same as that at which the organ will be typically used, and the temperature should have been stable for many hours before beginning the tuning. The reason for this is that the pitch of organ pipes vary significantly with temperature, and not all pipes vary at the same rate relative to temperature.
It made much more sense, therefore, to sharpen the tuning of the orchestra as a whole to match the tuning of an organ which had been sharpened by higher temperature than to adhere rigidly to a predetermined tuning which would have made the organ discordant with everything else.
posted by jamjam at 3:39 PM on June 9, 2013


Technically the Treaty of Versailles, as part of " conventions and agreements of an economic or technical character " in Article 282, referred to as "concert pitch," referenced in Cultural Law. There is also an interesting bit on diaspason normal as it relates to historic brass instruments, and the example of a 1720 pitchpipe that has A (above middle C)= 380 Hz.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:41 PM on June 9, 2013


So you're saying ... this pitch, it forked?
posted by dhartung at 6:11 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


In what era since did people have time for such treatises?

They had the same amount we have.
posted by thelonius at 6:17 PM on June 9, 2013


Life was nasty, brutish and hmmm, not so short at A=380.
posted by sneebler at 6:32 PM on June 9, 2013


Pitch frequency arguments are hilarious and can be found all over the internet. I didn’t know about the paranoid Libertarian connection though. Thumbs up!
posted by bongo_x at 7:20 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


440 OR FIGHT!

If only they'd settled on 420: the whole thing would be so much more chill.
posted by
yoink

Well, warmer, actually.
posted by carping demon at 9:09 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if he didn't grasp that, you'd think he might wonder why helium makes voices so high, for example, and what that might have to do with organ pipes:

The temperature of the hall has nothing to do with needing to set the A above middle C to a higher pitch. Yes, a warmer hall will need wind instruments tuned *differently* to reach a given pitch, but there's no reason that warmer English concert halls could not have tuned to A=435Hz -- just as, if they choose, French orchestras could have tuned to A=439Hz.

How does an orchestra tune? Simple. The 1st oboe tunes to a standard, set to whatever the conductor or concert master has decreed is the A. Then the 1st oboe plays that note, and everyone else in the orchestra tunes to it.

So, if the hall is warmer or colder, the 1st oboe adjusts, then everyone else tunes to him.

The fact that the English felt that, because of the warmer temperature, they needed to tune to 439Hz, rather than 435Hz, is, in fact, bullshit.

Yes, a wind instrument tuned in a cooler hall will have a different pitch if brought, unchanged, into a warmer hall. This is why we have the whole concept of "tuning before a performance" to make sure that the instrument is tuned to the conditions in the hall at the time of the performance.

But what pitch that instrument is tuned to is completely arbitrary.

This is true of pipe organs, except they're basically never in tune to anything but themselves, unless they're kept in climate controlled conditions, or the conditions just happen to exactly match the conditions from the last time they were tuned. Tuning a big pipe organ is a major PITA, and the different materials in the pipes drift at differing rates, so certain stops can easily move out of tune with other stops.
posted by eriko at 5:35 AM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


> You, languagehat and you, 2N222 either did not read my comment or my link or are not capable of understanding them.

I can't speak for 2N222, but you apparently are not capable of understanding my comment. I don't give a rat's ass about the fundamental resonant frequency of a .4m open pipe; I care about discussing an interesting article with some degree of perspective. It's one thing to say "I think such-and-such detail is incorrect"; that's a contribution to discussion. It's quite another to say "This guy is so ignorant it ruins the article for me"—that's just useless, self-satisfied snark that does nothing to advance discussion and instead turns the thread into an escalating series of insults ("This is just blather in an attempt to cover your mistake"). But congratulations, you've successfully enacted Comic Book Guy in an otherwise interesting and educational music thread.
posted by languagehat at 6:12 AM on June 10, 2013


One other interesting postscript to this discussion--in the U.S. we still ostensibly* tune to A=440, except for fixed pitch percussion instruments (vibraphone, glockenspiel, etc.), which are tuned slightly higher at 442. Their being tuned slightly sharp at manufacture has two main goals: extending the life of the instrument, which will inevitably lose (i.e. become flatter) pitch through use, and to make the color of those instruments pop just slightly.

(One almost never notices this except when a composer decides to do something like write a unison line with flutes and vibraphone or something, and then you have to decide if the players who can compensate play sharp to match, or if you just let it ride.)

*-I say ostensibly because several major American orchestras, esp. on the east coast, have switched over to 442. As for these 444 or 445 assholes, they can jump off a cliff. Pitch inflation in concert music is to me like current practice in popular music production, with the boosting of mids and clipping of highs and lows, all so the mix sounds good in a car. Yes, a higher pitch level has some advantages but at the end of the day the ensembles just sound strident and too bright. Probably why I find myself listening to period ensembles more and more.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:36 AM on June 10, 2013


ctrl+F "Pynchon"

Phrase not found.

Really?


If not for the recognizable names, I would have looked for him on the byline.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:29 PM on June 10, 2013


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