Historical Pitch??


1 [02:50] The temperature of air defines the speed of sound. The speed of sound is one of the two factors that define the pitch of an organ pipe along with its length. The influence of the voicing on the pitch is ignored here. The formula for an ideal pipe: f = cs / 2l (f for frequency, cs for speed of sound, l for sounding pipe length), the speed of sound for different air temperatures can be found here. For a hypothetical ideal organ pipe, we can calculate for example the following situation: 0°C – 425 Hz, 10°C – 432.7 Hz, 20°C – 440.3 Hz, 30°C – 447.8 Hz. Within a range of 30°C, we have a change in pitch from 425 Hz to 447.8 Hz, which is roughly 90 cents, therefore almost an equally tempered semitone. [footnote by Johannes Keller]

2 [03:30] As for example in the case of “Handel’s tuning fork”: A note attached to the box that contained the tuning fork, written presumably in 1835, read thus: "This Pitchfork was the property of the Immortal Handel, and left by him at the Foundling Hospital, when the Messiah was performed in 1751: Ancient Concert, whole tone higher; Abbey, half-tone higher; Temple and St. Paul's organs exactly with this pitch". Bruce Haynes, History of Performing Pitch, p. 337.

3 [04:00] Fontenelle, Bernard de, “Sur la detemination d’un son fixe,” Histoire de l'Académie Royale des sciences Année 1700, 137 [Link]: “To determine the pitch at which voices and instruments should tune in an ensemble, the performers use a kind of wooden or metal whistle made to a particular length. Since they intend this pitch to be always the same, they think the whistle always yields the same pitch. But this is an assumption that is not always true. 1. A 4' organ pipe which is by its nature more accurate than a short whistle does not always produce exactly the same sound. 2. The material from which the whistle is made is quite subject to alteration from being used over a period of time, the weather, and one hundred accidents that can occur change its pitch noticeably after a number of years. 3. There is no question that by blowing harder or softer in the whistle, the pitch rises or falls, and there is no way to be sure of blowing the same way every time. Finally if the whistle is lost, it is no longer possible to locate the pitch that was used”. Translation from French in Bruce Haynes's History of Performing Pitch, p. 19.

4 [04:10] According to Ellis (see Helmholtz, On the sensations of tone, 1885, page 441, appendix B), there were seven methods to measure frequency at his time. The only ones that achieve an acceptable precision were inventions of the late 19th century.

5 [04:25] One of the most important early studies is A. J. Ellis's "On The History Of Musical Pitch" from the Journal of the Society of arts, vol. 28, no. 1424, Mar. 5, 1880.

6 [05:00] For example, Bruce Haynes considered the cornets to be a reliable finding (History of Performing Pitch, page 7, chapter 1-3a), while Nicholas Mitchell criticized it and suggested that “the best and most unambiguous evidence of pitch practice“ is found in recorders and trombones (“Pitch in Viols and Harpsichords in the Renaissance”, The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 54 (May, 2001), pp. 97-115.)

7 [05:10] Rebecca Herissone, The Ashgate Research Companion to Henry Purcell, 2013, p. 126.

8 [06:15] For example, Nicholas Mitchell described the text of Praetorius about pitch, which is one of the central piece of evidence for many pitch researches, as “notoriously difficult”, and that “it raises far more problems than it solves.” (“Pitch in Viols and Harpsichords in the Renaissance”, The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 54 (May, 2001), pp. 97-115.)

9 [07:00] Ephraim Segerman is special by having his starting point at A=430 (“Praetorius pitch” according to him). He then build the web of semitones above and below it like other researches. “A Survey of Pitch Standards before the Nineteenth Century”, The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 54 (May, 2001), pp. 200-218.

10 [08:25] Info taken from http://www.dolmetsch.com/Dolworks.htm (official Dolmetch family website), and http://www.recorderhomepage.net/history/the-modern-period/. Visited on the 29th of August 2017.

11 [08:45] Walter Nef, „Die Musikinstrumentensammlung Otto Lobeck“, in: Peter Reidemeister & Veronika Gutmann (Hgg.), Alte Musik – Praxis und Reflexion, Winterthur: Amadeus 1983 (Sonderband der Reihe 'Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis' zum 50. Jubiläum der Schola Cantorum Basiliensis), 91-106, 93.

12 [09:00] In the tenth board meeting of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis of 11 December 1934, it was reported that the music store Hug was willing to give a 20% discount on a second recorder at “low pitch” which would then be matched by a grant of 20-30% by the board, in order to encourage the establishment of “low pitch” at the Schola. Paul Sacher Foundation, Collection Paul Sacher.

Further and later account concerning tuning and pitch: according to the minutes of the teachers' conference of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis of 23 February 1949, Paul Sacher complained, among other things about the poorer intonation in recorder recitals of children taking lessons at the Schola. He was given the following reasons for this: "As far as the poor intonation is concerned, then the question of the tuning and quality of the recorders becomes important. At the moment there are three pitch levels at the SCB. Hug has two tuning forks, the children had to buy just any recorder during the war, so that it is often impossible for all of one and the same group of four to play together. In principle, it would be desirable if one were to be able to re-introduce the lower old pitch again (a semitone under the normal a[=]870). Practice has shown, however, that then that one can no longer play music with the instruments of the SCB at home or elsewhere. But also this pitch level will be difficult to introduce again, because there is unbelievable chaos. From fall of 1949 one will however endeavor to encourage it. Miss Lohr reports that she has already ordered recorders in old pitch from Mr. Küng that may not cost more than Fr. 25.-, but must be absolutely in tune, otherwise she would send them back without compunction. Further one can apparently get very beautiful Harlan recorders in old pitch for Fr. 40.-." Paul Sacher Foundation, Protokolle der Lehrerkonferenzen der SCB, Collection Paul Sacher.

13 [09:16] The transposition mechanism was not really invented, more like re-invented for the 20th century Early music scene needs. Similar transposition mechanisms are found also in some historical specimens. The earliest known harpsichord with movable keyboard is by Hans Müller, 1537, Museo nazionale degli strumenti musicali, Rome.

14 [09:20] Private correspondence with Reinhard von Nagel, August 2017. However, in Barthold Kuijken's book "The Notation Is Not the Music" (2013) he writes that "moveable keyboard gradually came into use from around 1960" (p. 20).

15 [11:00] Barthold Kuijken, "The Notation Is Not the Music" (2013), pp. 23-24.