Author Topic: 440 = A or 442+ = A (differences in tuning)?  (Read 14304 times)

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440 = A or 442+ = A (differences in tuning)?
« on: February 25, 2008, 04:55:23 AM »
What is this business about different tunings for orchestras-- the general difference seems to be that North American orchestras tune to 440 = A while in Europe I understand they tune just a wee bit sharper?  I seem to remember hearing something about this a long time ago but never followed up on it.  Being a singer in music school, it didn't concern me then.  ;)

I'm just curious because I was preparing a music lesson for my girlfriend & found I had to re-tune my little electronic keyboard a few cents sharper to an old 1968 recording of Pachelbel's Canon in D.  That's when I remembered something peculiar about different tunings for orchestras.

What's up with this?  I've tried googling this and I've come up with only a few things but no actual reasoning behind these differences.   

Why the differences in tuning?  Is it largely a regional difference and why?  Which way is the "traditional" way?  When did this trend start (of sharpening or flattening??)?   ???


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Re: 440 = A or 442+ = A (differences in tuning)?
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2008, 05:09:44 AM »

The most vocal opponents of the upward tendency in pitch were singers, who complained that it was putting a strain on their voices. Largely due to their protests, the French government passed a law on February 16, 1859 which set the A above middle C at 435 Hz. This was the first attempt to standardize pitch on such a scale, and was known as the diapason normal. It became quite a popular pitch standard outside of France as well, and has also been known at various times as French pitch, continental pitch or international pitch (the last of these not to be confused with the 1939 "international standard pitch" described below).

The diapason normal resulted in middle C being tuned at approximately 258.65 Hz (info). An alternative pitch standard known as philosophical or scientific pitch, which fixed middle C at exactly 256 Hz (info) (that is, 28 Hz), and resulted in the A above it being tuned to approximately 430.54 Hz (info), gained some popularity due to its mathematical convenience (the frequencies of all the Cs being a power of two). This never received the same official recognition as A = 435 Hz, however, and was not as widely used.

British attempts at standardisation in the 19th century gave rise to the so-called old philharmonic pitch standard of about A = 452 Hz (different sources quote slightly different values), replaced in 1896 by the considerably "deflated" new philharmonic pitch at A = 439 Hz. The high pitch was maintained by Sir Michael Costa for the Crystal Palace Handel Festivals, causing the withdrawal of the principal tenor Sims Reeves in 1877,[2] though at singers' insistence the Birmingham Festival pitch was lowered (and the organ retuned) at that time. At the Queen's Hall in London, the establishment of the diapason normal for the Promenade Concerts in 1895 (and retuning of the organ to A = 439 at 15 °C (59 °F), to be in tune with A = 435.5 in a heated hall) caused the Royal Philharmonic Society and others (including the Bach Choir, and the Felix Mottl and Artur Nikisch concerts) to adopt the continental pitch thereafter.[3]

In 1939, an international conference recommended that the A above middle C be tuned to 440 Hz, now known as concert pitch. This standard was taken up by the International Organization for Standardization in 1955 (and was reaffirmed by them in 1975) as ISO 16. The difference between this and the diapason normal is due to confusion over which temperature the French standard should be measured at. The initial standard was A = 439 Hz (info), but this was superseded by A = 440 Hz after complaints that 439 Hz was difficult to reproduce in a laboratory owing to 439 being a prime number.[4]

Despite such confusion, A = 440 Hz is arguably the most common tuning used around the world. Many, though certainly not all, prominent orchestras in the United States and United Kingdom adhere to this standard as concert pitch. In other countries, however, higher pitches have become the norm: A = 442 Hz is common in certain continental European and American orchestras (the Boston symphony being the best-known example), while A = 445 Hz is heard in Germany, Austria, and China.[citation needed]

In practice, as orchestras still tune to a note given out by the oboe, rather than to an electronic tuning device (which would be more reliable), and as the oboist may not have used such a device to tune in the first place, there is still some variance in the exact pitch used. Solo instruments such as the piano (which an orchestra may tune to if they are playing together) are also not universally tuned to A = 440 Hz. Overall, it is thought that the general trend since the middle of the 20th century has been for standard pitch to rise, though it has been rising far more slowly than it has in the past.

Many modern ensembles which specialize in the performance of Baroque music have agreed on a standard of A=415 Hz, an even-tempered semitone lower (rounded to the nearest integer Hz) than A–440. (An exact even-tempered semitone lower than A=440 would be 440/21/12=415.3047 Hz.) At least in principle, this allows for playing along with modern fixed-pitch instruments if their parts are transposed down a semitone.


Offline Szykneij

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