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British Society of Arts Pitch Paper - 1859

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Old 06-02-09, 10:58 AM
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Default British Society of Arts Pitch Paper - 1859

For pitch junkies: the papers of the 1859 meeting of British Society of Arts - called to determine what could and should be done about standardising musical pitch - are online.

Part I - A Meeting is convened
Part II - Report of the Committee

There's a mass of fascinating information (for those interested in such things ). For example, I didn't know Handel (a) had a tuning fork (b) it survived (as at 1859 - where it is now?) and (c) it gives A @ 388.8. That's low.
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Old 06-02-09, 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Philidor View Post

There's a mass of fascinating information (for those interested in such things ). For example, I didn't know Handel (a) had a tuning fork (b) it survived (as at 1859 - where it is now?) and (c) it gives A @ 388.8. That's low.
Wow, that's low. I don't understand how people with "perfect pitch" know what an A is. It must be that they simply memorize from an early age what the "note" sounds like. It's always funny when I play a harpsichord piece in "D minor" and the token person with perfect pitch freaks out because it's actually "in Db flat minor!!"


I read that Richter's (S.) perfect pitch went out of tune when he got older, and that was the main reason he started to play from the score. Apparently he used to modulate to the wrong keys while playing from memory because the key scheme he had learned had gone flat a half step in his head. I have NO idea how that is possible; does muscle memory count for nothing? Although to be playing in one key and "hearing" in another must be very disconcerting...
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Old 06-02-09, 12:19 PM
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It's always funny when I play a harpsichord piece in "D minor" and the token person with perfect pitch freaks out because it's actually "in Db flat minor!!"
hehe well they must go through life freaking out -- I read a Marine Band picc player writing about playing at Obama's inauguration. She said it got so cold she blew ice out of her embouchure! Not only that but as the instruments warmed up -- from sub-zero to body temp -- they all moved pitch together by a semi-tone. But as they moved together (it's a reason not to mix wind and strings when playing outside ) it sounded fine. Your poor friend would have had kittens!

There's an amusing discussion on so-called 'perfect pitch' here, e.g.

Quote:
I once knew a gentleman who was not a musician (but rather a computer geek), who had no idea of the names of notes, but was able to remember perfectly and reproduce at will the exact pitches that are produced by pressing the keys on a touch-tone phone, which ability he used to procure touch-tone service for himself without having to pay for it...).
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Old 07-02-09, 12:09 AM
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I thought pitch paper was something poor Americans used to use to waterproof their shacks.
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Old 09-02-09, 09:54 AM
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There's an interesting early-music based discussion on 'perfect' or 'memory' pitch on the Early Flute List, e.g.

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I've had... this is since childhood. I learned to play the piano at age 4 and could read music at abut the same time I learned to read printing. Up until college I aminained my sense of A = 440, but then got involved in early music and started becoming used to other pitch standards. At present I have flutes and recorders at A = 392, 400, 408, 415, 425 and 440 and 466 and keyboard instruments at A = 430 and 440. My A = 440 memory has disappeared and I've developed a sort of "dial a pitch" at which I adjust to whatever pitch we are playing at (I suppose that's relative pitch but it remains with me rather than depending upon intervals). This came about as I played a lot at A = 415 for years and then moved to various other pitches. Once I start at a pitch it remains relatively constant at that pitch, but I find that in listening I often am about a half-step off from modern pitch, probably due to resetting my pitch-o-stat with all that A = 415 playing. It's a lot better this way, I think, but when asked to sing a pitch I am usually a half-step flat. I hope this makes some sense. I don't question it but just try to go with the flow. I do remembeer that in college Iwas singing in a capella groups when the pitch began to sag it was very difficult for me to sing in tune, because my inner pitch was unchanged. The other side of that cin is that I was in demand for modern music groups. A friends of mine summed it up nicely, "It doesn't matter what we put in front of you, you treat it all like Mendelssohn."
I didn't know that A = 442 Hz is common in certain European and American orchestras e.g. the Boston symphony, while A = 445 Hz is still heard in Germany, Austria, and China.

Link to Groves article
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Old 09-02-09, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Philidor View Post
There's an interesting early-music based discussion on 'perfect' or 'memory' pitch on the Early Flute List, e.g.



I didn't know that A = 442 Hz is common in certain European and American orchestras e.g. the Boston symphony, while A = 445 Hz is still heard in Germany, Austria, and China.

Link to Groves article

That's interesting - thanks for posting it. As for the varying standard pitch for A, I thought I once heard that they try to err on the side of sharp, but I can't remember the exact reasoning! O weh. People who sing or play violin probably know more about this than the lowly keyboardist..
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Old 09-02-09, 10:45 AM
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Just to add & confuse : my brother being an oboist sent me the data - blame him, if they aren't correct. At least they are pretty different to your data in the early years. Well, anyway, needless to say that hardly anybody cared about these commission advices in orchestras in the 19th century:


before 1600: studies with early organs show, that there was a pitch variation between A = 370 to A = 567 (!)

Mozart loved A=422 (~ 1/2 semitone lower than A=440)

1859: French law defines A = 435 (given the started industrialization of wind instruments most of all in France it makes perfect sense)

1880: Brit scientists calculate the impact of the room temperature on a wind instrument and make A = 439 to pitch standard in Britain

1885: a conference in Vienna set A = 440

1917: USA are said to have used A 435 until 1917, after that A 440 is defined by the American Federation of Musicians

1920: US government set A 440 as legal pitch

1939: International acceptance of A 440 pushed forward by the broadcasting industry

Today:

A = 442 is standarized in Yahama pianos
A = 443 said to be used by New York Philharmonic
A = 445 said to be used by BPO
A = 444 said to be used by Boston Phil
A = 442 said to be used by Chicago Phil

Usually soloists (i. e. some higher winds in orchestras as well) love to tune a bit sharper for a faster reaction of overtones and brilliance.
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Old 09-02-09, 10:38 PM
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A possibly true story:

Quote:
I remember a story out of England about a jazz player who said to a judge that he had PP, when brought before the magistrate for speeding in his car. His defense was that he knew that at 30 miles per hour the car engine emitted a hum that to him was pitched at E flat, so he always knew if he was speeding, and rigorously kept the hum below E flat when driving in towns. The judge thanked him for an interesting defense, and fined him!
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Old 10-02-09, 06:11 AM
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these pitch people choose to post their papers on websites with eye maddening backgrounds
i was oddly fascinated by this discussion but am visually distressed by their abysmal aesthetic taste in wallpaper
talk about off pitch
please form a committee
or put it out on the musicians grapevine
place all treatises, research and committee missives on unpatterned backgrounds so the words are more easily read
we artists have immortalized you in painting after painting could you please learn something from us once a century or so?
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Old 10-02-09, 06:19 AM
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It's funny you should say that. The number of musicians I've met with TERRIBLE taste in soft furnishings! It's as if their aesthetic sensibilities are all used up by the music so there's nothing left when they choose the wallpaper.


Brahms' room at Lichtental No. 8.
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