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Topic: Tuning other than 440Hz

  1. #1

    Tuning other than 440Hz

    Hello guys,

    I wish to know what were the tunings during the different periods of music?

    Today A3 is 440Hz. What was it at:
    - Baroque
    - Classical
    - Romantic

    I hope my question was not too ambiguous...


    There is no spoon.

  2. #2

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    It varies a bit, but not only does the frequency of A3 change over the period, the tuning itself also changes. Typical for Baroque is a low tuning, A = 415-420Hz, which is about one semitone below 440, but higher seemed to have happened as well. However, the rest of the octave was tuned differently as well. There were different tuning systems around, and the they were tuned according to the key in which had to be played. E.g. mean tone (one of the older "temperaments") is based on tuning in perfect fifths, and then narrowing that interval, and sounds ok-ish, but only when played in the correct key; in other keys it sounds horrible. Other tuning systems are just intonation, Werckmeister, and Valloti.

    Bach's book, Das Wohl Temperierte Klavier, was written as a demonstration (if you can call it that!) of the tuning system that is used widely nowadays: the so-called equal tuning, where all semitone intervals have the same "distance", which makes it possible to play any interval and to transpose to any key without hitting terribly detuned notes.

    Anyway, in current concert practice, the tuning system may be the same everywhere, but A can be tuned anywhere between 440 and 445, depending on the orchestra and its tradition. Besides that, non-fretted instruments can play any frequency, so a violinist could play a Db slightly different than a C#, or make the interval C-G perfect, even though the first two notes are the same in equal tuning, and the C-G interval isn't completely perfect.

  3. #3

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    Just a quick addition to Theo's excellent reply...

    Historically, from the Baroque to the Romantic period there was a general tendency to keep pushing A=415 (Baroque average) higher and higher, even up to about 452 Hz (in the late Romantic Vienna Philharmonic, for example) because the musicians discovered that the higher tunings made the instruments sound more brilliant overall, which enhanced their acoustics in live performances. Picture, if you will, an out-of-control race to see who could get the most brilliant sound by raising the tuning fundamental higher and higher and higher as time went by.

    During that same period, however, there were a number of opera singers who refused to sing with instruments at such high tunings because it strained their voices, so there was no unanimity or even a general agreement on what the "correct" tuning foundation should be.

    Toward the end of the Romantic period and into early modern times, in reaction to what appeared to be an unreasonable stretch to keep tuning higher and higher, an international agreement set the "standard" tuning fundamental at A=440. I won't go into the technical specifications and reasoning for that standard, but it was assumed to be the best compromise for singers and instrumentalists both.

    Of course, like every other "standard" in existence, everyone has proceeded to disregard it and to set their own fundamental, as Theo points out, anywhere from 430 Hz to 445 Hz today, for the most part, although there are significant deviations even now. Many groups today, do, however, use A=415 when performing Baroque pieces.

    It does not really matter today, in live performances, where the tuning frequency is set, as long as it is used consistently among an organization or group of performers and agreed upon ahead of time. The only place where it really, really matters is in producing digital libraries like the Garritan Personal Orchestra, so that the library is consistent within itself to the extent that we, as users of it, do not have to wrestle with intonation problems for the most part. This was not always the case, and in the early days, different libraries set their own tuning standards, and even then, some instruments were not tuned the same as others even within the same library, so overall, it is a boon to the users of computer-based libraries today in removing a great many problems that we were formerly forced to deal with, especially when trying to use instruments together from different libraries, collections or sources.
    Arvid Hand

  4. #4

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    Well Temperament and Equal Temperament are NOT QUITE the same thing, but very close. Equal Temperament didn't really exist until the 20th century. But anyway. Both Theo and Arvid have already explained it so well. Just wanted to clarify - since the terms are often used synonymously.

    If you want to get into what things might have sounded like in the past, The Garritan Aria player has the ability to change tunings and scala - which is a powerful, (but I suspect very neglected), feature!


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  5. #5

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    In the British Brass Band tradition, pitch was high relative to 440. In fact, it is still possible to buy brass instruments with "low pitch slides" included in order to bring the pitch down to the new standard. I can look and see approximately when that happened, or perhaps there is a brass bander here who knows. Perhaps it was some time in the 1920s-30s.

    In this country, it is still possible to see instruments (usually in some farmer's attic) that are "high-pitch, low-pitch" capable, but nothing like it was in the UK brass bands.

    Generally speaking, higher pitch would yield a brighter sound, which might have been desirable since the true brass band consists entirely of conical brass excepting the cylindrical trombones.


    PS-Anyone who wants to learn about the history of tuning should read "Temperament" by Stuart Isacoff. The history is much more convoluted than you might think and involved some major names from music, philosophy, mathematics, and government!!
    Jim Williams
    Professor of Capitalism
    Indianapolis Brass Choir
    All Your Bass Sus&Short Are Belong to Us.

  6. #6

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    Of course, the frequency assigned to a particular note ("tuning") is a matter totally different from the relationship of that note's frequency to the frequencies of the other notes in a given scale ("temperament"). For another excellent treatment of the temperament issue, see the article by Prof. Ross Duffin at Case Western Reserve University, "Why I hate Vallotti (or is it Young?)"


  7. #7

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    Quote Originally Posted by FLWrd View Post
    Bach's book, Das Wohl Temperierte Klavier, was written as a demonstration (if you can call it that!) of the tuning system that is used widely nowadays: the so-called equal tuning, where all semitone intervals have the same "distance", which makes it possible to play any interval and to transpose to any key without hitting terribly detuned notes.
    This is incorrect. Bach was using "Well Tempered" tunning, not "Equal Tempered", they are not the same thing. It is a common mis-conception.
    // Ars longa, vita brevis
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  8. #8

    Re: Tuning other than 440Hz

    You can tune a trumpet, you can tune a violin, but you can't tuna fish.
    In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

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