Stradivari tailored his violins to D major key?

April 2, 2013 at 02:54 PM · Karol Petróczi, former leader of the Košice Philharmonic, explains:

"It's not by chance that Brahms or Beethoven as well as Tchaikovsky wrote (their violin concertos) in radiant D major. Since the brilliance of Stradivari's or other top Italian instruments works best in this key."

You'll find the original article in Slovak here (published well BEFORE April 1st!).

Now I am trying to verify strong rumors that Finnish luthiers manufactured their violins mainly for the A key, whereas most of the North African fiddles excel in C sharp.


Replies (72)

April 2, 2013 at 03:50 PM · D major when violin tuned @ 415, 430 or 440Hz?

He built his violins for optimal sound in ANY key.... including D major.

The only reason for this illusion is that 3 open strings support the tonic key - open D, open G as a sub-dominant and open A as dominant. This will apply to any violin - good, bad or a Strad.

April 2, 2013 at 03:52 PM · Sorry for the duplication--Rocky and I must have been writing at the same time.

I think it's total baloney.

Any key of the open strings will be brilliant.

D-major has all the open strings in common. G has 2, A has 2, E has 2. These are true for any instrument. The specific tuning--415 or whatever--is of no consequence.

They also probably attempted to keep them fairly idiomatic to the fingerboard.

Besides, the big romantic concerti are more tonally complex. While D may be the home key of these two particular ones, they modulate through a variety of different keys.

Finally, keys have tended to have certain connotations, such as c-minor (tragic) anyway. D has tended to be heroic, which is why Beethoven's 9th ends in D major.

April 2, 2013 at 04:13 PM · I am just the messenger boy here. I couldn't believe what I was reading so I shared this "insight" with you.


April 2, 2013 at 05:23 PM · I too say "baloney", and agree with Rocky and Scott.

The natural body resonances of old Italian instruments are inconsistent, from one example to another.

April 2, 2013 at 06:15 PM · Music tends to be written in keys of open strings for all string instruments, if the composer is a player. Guitar favors the "sharp" keys...E,A,D, G as well. Composers have written zillions of great pieces in all keys for violin, and even the ones in D modulate to other keys frequently.

April 2, 2013 at 08:04 PM · It's all a load of old cobblers.

April 2, 2013 at 08:05 PM · Also keep in mind that many things that Beethoven did were emulated by composers after him. Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, Dvorak wrote nine.

And Bach: he wrote 6 solo sonatas, so did Ysaye.

Besides, emphasizing that the concertos of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Brahms were in D is to ignore all the other concerti and their keys:

Elgar is in e, Dvorak and Schumann are in a, Wieniawski in d, Saint-Saens in b.

April 2, 2013 at 08:40 PM · So to find the 'resonant key' for my violin do I hang it from a string and hit it with a xylophone hammer and the use an electronic tuner to determine its resonance? Just wondering.

Perhaps its actually a real del Gesu (not a copy) and resonates at F# - in which case the label 'John Newton fecit 2010' is a fake. You know those labels....

April 2, 2013 at 08:40 PM · Beethoven wrote 16 string quartets.

April 2, 2013 at 10:01 PM · Actually, the strongest resonances of most violins are around D (air) and A (wood), so the idea is not as ludicrous as all that!

Having said that, the choice of G,D,A,&E comes from the limits of plain gut strings:

- E was the highest note possible without making the string too thin, or too tense, to last.

- G was the lowest note possible without making the string too thick to be playable.

April 2, 2013 at 10:30 PM · "Beethoven wrote 16 string quartets"


April 3, 2013 at 03:24 AM · Hey Scott, the Schumann is in D minor. You might be thinking of the cello concerto.

April 3, 2013 at 04:56 AM · Most old Italian violins, the lower plate is tuned to C#. You can check your instrument by blowing air into the f hole. There are also a lot of violins with lower plate tuned to D. As to why he wrote that, I have no idea.

April 3, 2013 at 05:57 AM · Just for the sake of argument (!) the C# air resonance would be a D if A is at 415Hz - and you wanted to play the Brahms concerto with a baroque setup.....

By the way, Joachim must have played it on a gut E!

April 3, 2013 at 11:07 AM · Adrian wrote:

"Actually, the strongest resonances of most violins are around D (air) and A (wood), so the idea is not as ludicrous as all that!"

On Stradivaris, the three strongest lower resonances average at about 272 (C sharp), 437 (A natural), and 521 C natural). They vary though, that's just an average. Guarneris average a little higher, so maybe they sound best if the strings are tuned a little higher than a Strad. ;-)

We don't know what the resonances were on these instruments originally, before all the alterations (such as larger and stiffer bass bars, different necks, etc.) took place. Even a chinrest, versus no chinrest, will move them around.

April 3, 2013 at 11:50 AM · David - also, most Strads and del Gesus, etc. have been re-graduated, no? This must also affect the resonance.

We also don't know what pitch Stradivari used to tune his violin strings. I recently finished Stewart Pollens' book on Stradivari, and in a few places he goes into the question of pitch and tuning - with inconclusive results. Indeed, in the 1600's-1800's pitch was sometimes subastatially lower than we usually tune now. But in some times and places - notably Venice, it could be even higher than today! When so-called perod performers standardize their pitch to A=415 that is absolutely a-historical.

In 1756, just 6 years after JS Bach died, and the year his illustrious son, Wolfgang, was born, Leopold Mozart wrote a treatise on violin playing. People generally started to write things down, when practices had been around so long that some of it was being forgotten and some codification of long-held tradition was thought to be in order. Leopold complained how, especially with organs in churches, pitches varied from one to another quite a bit, and string players needed to keep making adjustments. And that was just in the Salzburg area!

April 3, 2013 at 12:09 PM · How could Scott have omitted Mendelssohn's e minor concerto? For shame!

And then there's the Schoenberg Concerto--not in D major.

April 3, 2013 at 09:54 PM · This site might shed a little more light on historical pitches, with an A being as high as 570 in the early 1600s in Germany.

April 4, 2013 at 08:44 AM · Note that some of the highest pitches for an A were taken from organs built in the 1600s, and some of the lowest were organs in the 1700s. It's more likely that the stringed instruments tuned to the organ, than that the organ tuned to the strings. ;-) That's the way it's still done today.

In cases where strings couldn't handle the increased tension of being cranked up as much as a minor third, perhaps they transposed. But we don't have strings made in that era which are new and fresh, so it's hard to know what tensions they could withstand.

I'd think that organs would be some of the most reliable indicators of pitch during that era.

Who knows what Stradivari used as a reference for tuning strings? Maybe it was the nearest church bell. That would be quite practical, convenient and repeatable.

April 4, 2013 at 12:13 PM · Lyndon - in my previous post I used the expression, "a-historical", but I must say that this is a historical moment, for what you said has for the most part supported my contention of pitch not being standardized in the period we are referring to! I didn't say that A=415 itself is a-historical. I said that today's early music specialists STANDARDIZING all their playing to a tuning of 415 is a-historical. (Perhaps I shouldn't say "all". But almost every time I have heard an early music group come on the radio with this or that piece announced as being in say D major, has sounded to my fairly perfect pitched, 440'd ears as Db major.) I know that there was a lot lower pitch in the periods we call "Baroque" and "Classical". I also recently read somewhere that they found a tuning fork that they believe belonged to Handel that is A=410. But there was a lot of higher pitch as well - especially in Venice, where Montagnana, Gofriller, and Pietro Guarneri II all hailed from.

Organs were often much higher, and sometimes the cold weather would put them even higher. String players doing gigs then as now in churches would very rarely, if at all, have an option of finding a lower-piched organ to work with. This high pitch for organ continued at least up into the 19th century. I have a small American reed organ, c.1870's-1890's, with a high pitch that surprized me when I got it. My research revealed that A=459 was standard with those things.

Here is Stewart Pollens, in his book on Stradivari, p.201, quoting Bruce Haynes, oboist, early music person, and author of "A History of Performing Pitch" published in 2002: " 'Cremona [was] politically part of the Ventian Republic until the 18th century. Cremonese violins were thus probably designed to be played at the prevailing Venition pitch standards...[T]he most common pitch of Cremonese violins of the 17th century was probably mezzo punto'" "which he defines as A-464'! And on p. 243 "It is important to note that pitch was not standardized in Stradivari's time".

April 4, 2013 at 02:05 PM · I hate to butt in here, and I'm sure Lyndon will take offense, but does it really matter in the 21st Century at what pitch people used back in the bad old days? It may be historically interesting, but these days we almost universally play at A = 440 Hz (Unless you are a modern baroque player, and then anything goes).

In fact the A 440 pitch was established in the early 20C and has been used mostly since about 1940.

Of course, you may know something I don't know, so feel free to correct me. But as a player I've been using A = 440 since the 1950's and through to today.

April 4, 2013 at 02:52 PM · Lyndon, gut violin strings can be cranked much higher than than 440. The only string where it's dicey is the E, but it's likely that violins of the period had shorter string lengths, before modern necks were installed, which would have lowered the tension.

I'd be curious how old harpsichord strings would be copied. First of all, they'd probably be copying an aged and degraded product. It would be easy enough to copy the metal recipe, but there's a lot more to metallurgy and tensile strength than getting the alloy recipe right.

April 4, 2013 at 03:37 PM · Steel was available then, and long before. What was lacking was a process for producing it inexpensively in massive quantities.

Brass has quite a wide variety of tensile and yield strengths.

April 4, 2013 at 04:03 PM · regarding old metal, I make hi-fi gear with vacuum tubes for a hobby. Modern makers try to duplicate old tubes, but can't really copy exactly the filaments. They've found there were many 'tricks of the trade' in the old plants that were lost that were never part of the paperwork or the engineering documents. Skilled workers crafted them and never wrote down their techniques. Probably the same thing with the metals used in these old strings- gone unless a skilled group redevelops them.

I also wonder why it matters to most people what an old A was. Players have to match each other and sound good- beyond that it's academic, and let them fuss about it. 440's an easy standard to match to now, but beyond that it's not magic. Time is better spent on intonation and good tone!

April 4, 2013 at 04:21 PM · It relates to the claim Frank quoted in the first post.

April 4, 2013 at 04:30 PM · I agree with Tom and Peter. But this relates to one of several objections that I have to so-called modern period-performance practice. Standardizing A=415 is just not historically accurate.

April 4, 2013 at 08:40 PM · Lyndon, I will leave it to readers here to determine who is more ignorant.

If you read and digested my link to historical tuning pitches, choirs are hardly mentioned, nor would singing pitches leave as much of a historical record as surviving instruments, particularly wind instruments on which the pitch is hardest to change, like organs.

When I mentioned transposition, I wasn't talking about a mechanical compensation system, but a skill that many good keyboard players can do quite easily, almost in their sleep.

April 5, 2013 at 02:27 AM · My point was very simple. All kinds of disparate modern period peforming groups standardizing their tuning to precisely A=415 is a-historical. And I'll trust David's lack of ignorance any day.

April 5, 2013 at 08:11 AM · I'm tempted to pitch in here, but as I was not around in 1750 or earlier I had better not, as I have no idea what pitch they used.

April 5, 2013 at 09:30 AM · The (most likely) trivial and simple truth may be: There is no such thing as period performance at all. Most musicians at that time could neither afford internet access nor stable shoes to walk and listen to their colleagues 100 miles away. CDs and other media were not widespread in those days.

The sheer idea, musicians in Aberdeen would be influenced in their performing by musicians in Palermo or Budapest is ridiculous at best. So we (most likely) have hundreds of "period" styles and tunings and phrasings and agogics ...

As valuable as it may be for professionals to know more about what these period performances had possibly in common, to create a whole industry of "period" recordings and "period" performances and "period" ensembles is just a miracle of modern marketing. A legitimate miracle, yes, more jobs for musicians, yes. A higher artistic quality in classical music: I doubt.

Or does anyone have THE "period" yardstick for measuring quality? And even if so: Are we making music for a yardstick or for living people?


April 5, 2013 at 10:11 AM · I think I would have to agree totally with your post, Frank-Michael. You make the points very well.

We are too hung up on period, and will people in 200 years time be looking at our period and will they try to adjust their playing to our period? I doubt it, but who knows. It is a good advertsing gimmick for certain.

April 5, 2013 at 11:05 AM · I totally agree with Frank. And in one sense Lyndon is still proving my point that there were a variety of pitches abounding in the periods we usually call "Baroque" and "Roccoco" or "Classical". These also include much higher pitches than today's typical ones from Venice and her satelites. But having listened with varying degrees of woe to loads of "period performances" while driving my authentic horse and carriage - oh wait, my modern car! - I have rarely heard a deviation from half a tone lower than I'd expect from say D major, based on my fairly perfect pitch developing from A=440.

I never said that ALL period performers do this, but obviously quite a lot do. And WHEN that coalesces into standardization, which it has so often done among early music people, these bastions of historical "authenticity" have made an a-historical decision. I could go on and on re period performance but I don't want to repeat myself, and if I post more here it will be with some new information.

Meanwhile, here is an intertesting tidbit from a site by Denzil Wraight re Italian harpsichords:

"A 16th-century Venetian harpsichord, C/E-f³, 8' + 8'

Made after the 1570 Dominicus Pisaurensis harpsichord, this is one of the earliest examples of a harpsichord with two 8' registers and offers the opportunity of a more powerful 8' tone. The original is at a pitch of mezzo punto = 465 Hz." !!

Rather than clog this thread further, if anyone is interested in my past rantings and ravings re "period performance", I collected them in an old correspondene with the record producer of my 2nd CD. Send me an e-mail at and I'll send it to you.

Meanwhile I'm preparing for my 6th solo performance this season - the Bach Double with a fine colleague and orchestra. But be warned: we're going to tune to A=440 and use tasteful vibrato!

April 5, 2013 at 11:55 AM · Please excuse me for butting in here Lyndon, as I know you hate it when we "440Hz idiots" have the cheek to have an opinion, but by calling us all idiots, I think you must include Ms Julia Fischer within that group as I seem to remember that she plays at the A=440 pitch. I'm sure she does not deserve this - and in fact I thought I heard you praising her Sibelius link recently? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but as a performer who is respected by many on here, are you not tarnishing her with the same brush?

My concern here is to try and build bridges and not destroy them. As players and esteemed luthiers surely our aim should be to unite?

Please come back with a well reasoned argument - we are not dismissing the old in favour of the new, just respecting both.

April 5, 2013 at 01:09 PM · "Meanwhile I'm preparing for my 6th solo performance this season - the Bach Double with a fine colleague and orchestra. But be warned: we're going to tune to A=440 and use tasteful vibrato!"

Glad to hear this; best wishes for for your performance!

Several years ago I heard a recording of the Double Concerto on my car radio that was so irritating and grating that I had to order it immediately to figure out what I disliked so much about it. It was by a well-known Canadian period performance ensemble, whose name I can't recall offhand. I think what irritated me the most (apart from the wailing, vibrato-less long notes) was that the ensemble was tuned down much lower than I'm used to, and it gave the whole performance a flaccid, bloodless character. The performance, I thought was just plain ugly.

I have to say that I liked the a minor and E major concertos on the same disc much better, and that I've heard many period performances of 18th century works that I've liked, where the period performance practices actually enhanced the music for me, making me hear the works differently and revealing aspects of the music I hadn't heard before. I've also heard some that were absolutely intolerable.

April 5, 2013 at 01:12 PM · Naturally it is best for the musicians (and may be even for the listeners) to have a common tuning for common music around the globe. Now we have finally the (cheap) means to achieve this, great!

Just it was close to impossible to have common tuning everywhere 250 years ago. Isn't it obvious?


April 5, 2013 at 01:19 PM · "ps Bill I hope you're going to at least use gut strings."

This should be addressed to Raphael Klayman, who's a real musician. I personally would never dream of inflicting my own performance of the Bach Double Concerto on any live human beings.

"the number of intolerable modern performances far outnumber the number of intolerable period instrument performaces,"

Yes, but vibrato helps cover up or at least soften the inadequacies of modern performances. In a good period performance, though, the beautiful, rounded sound of gut strings without vibrato can be a real delight.

April 5, 2013 at 01:25 PM · "you don't get it do you, posters are calling baroque performers stupid for all using A415, yet they all insist on performing at A440, same conservatism, or is that just over your head peter??

Pitches for original music played by modern orchestras was all over the place, especially before 1900, so modern performers compromise and play at A 440

Pitches for baroque music was all over the place too, so baroque performers compromise and usually play at A415, a very common pitch in the 1700s

Some of our posters seem a little intellectually challenged on grasping all this so I hope this makes it easier"

Excuse me Lyndon, but your logic (not to mention your grasp of good English) is all over the place too!!

We all acknowledge that pitches varied hugely, and as I said A=440 only became established approximately 1930-1940.

I and many others have never claimed that the old performers stuck to A-415 and as Mr Fischer has so wisely pointed out, in different regions or even towns, let alone countries and continents, the pitch up until the early 20C varied a lot.

Compromise these days on pitch is fine, but some of your arguments Lyndon are not only over my head, but over anyone's head who has more than a couple of brain cells to add together.

I hope I can put this in such a simple way that it is not even over your head, Lyndon!

April 5, 2013 at 01:36 PM · "By sheer volume, I think the number of intolerable modern performances far outnumber the number of intolerable period instrument performaces"

You may well be correct. But for each period performance how many modern instrument performances take place? Maybe ten times more?

April 5, 2013 at 01:41 PM · I'm not insulting you Lyndon (although in the past you have been quite happy to insult me i.e. "butting in when I know nothing about the subject") - I'm just questioning your logic.

You seem to change your arguments to suit your case. It might be better to rest your case rather than dig a deeper hole.

Instead, why don't we build decent bridges where we can have a sensible dialogue. Don't you think that would be the best course of action?

April 5, 2013 at 01:46 PM · Lyndon, if Raphael and I are bashers of period performance, then you will have to admit to being a modern instrument performance basher, and a modern instrument maker basher. So who wins in this basher of all bashers competion? We can all only be losers.

April 5, 2013 at 01:49 PM · I'm ashamed to say I can't really play keyboards, and my wife prefers a Steinway, so we can't help you.

April 5, 2013 at 01:51 PM · I don't know if this is relevant to the discussion, but I saw some of Lyndon's clavichords on Maestronet, and they are absolutely lovely instruments (both in looks and in sound).

April 5, 2013 at 02:26 PM · Hi Lyndon

I had a look at your site, quite interesting.

I hope you don't mind me asking, but there is a photo in B & W and I presume it's you? Is it recent - as you look quite young - under 30?

April 5, 2013 at 02:36 PM · I doubt any maker designed his violin to sound 'best' in a certain key. That would be like saying, the only good color to paint in is blue. With that said, D major is a 'friendly' key for the violin. If played in tune, there will be more sympathetic resonance and overtones from the open strings than a key such as Gb major or B major. As Scott pointed out there are also many great works that are not in D.

April 5, 2013 at 04:06 PM · Stradivari is well known to have said "You can get my violins in any key, as long as it's D major."

April 5, 2013 at 08:08 PM · Why, that scoundrel, Stradivari! He stole that aphorism from Henry Ford, didn't he!

April 6, 2013 at 02:12 AM · Ok, stupid modern and baroque performers out there:

tell me the tuning for this performance:

April 6, 2013 at 06:09 AM · It's a major third below A440. No idea how or why.

April 6, 2013 at 07:27 AM · Sorry Bart but it's actually a minor third below A=440 (as near as dammit ...)

According to one response the concert was played at normal pitch (440) and the suggestion is that the recording is running slower. (Non digital). I've not heard of CT playing at lower than concert pitch (except when he's out of tune!) but maybe I haven't heard much of his performances. (So I could be wrong ...)

April 6, 2013 at 08:36 AM · Of course, Peter. I messed up.

April 6, 2013 at 09:53 AM · A semi-tone is neither here nor there between friends!

(But don't tell anyone I said that!!)

April 6, 2013 at 10:31 AM · Yes, this YouTube Largo has just been replayed instead of properly resampled and all this without using necessarily intermediate analog steps. Just to show you how this can happen, here is my example, how it should not be done:

Here the original version:

This mistune happens when you replay the audio part of a digital video (normally sampled at 48000) at a sampling rate of 40000. Why one wants to do that: no idea.

But the ratio for PAL versus NTSC video frame rate is 25/30 = 5/6 = 40000/48000, so the mishap took place somehow when going from NTSC to PAL without processing the audio separately.


April 6, 2013 at 11:50 AM · .. and 40000:48000 = 5:6, a minor third. Problem solved.

The video now sounds in D major, but without D major's violin resonances. Weird!

April 6, 2013 at 12:28 PM · Lyndon wrote "your point is by insulting me you're arguements become correct"

It's amazing how some people don't recognize their own tactics while projecting them onto others. Yes, I have been and am unabashedly critical of a number of aspects of period performance. The relevant aspect for this thread that I'll limit myself to is the very large degree of so many of these groups standardizing their pitch to A=415. The period performers claim to be exremely concerned with historical accuracy. Yet standardizing to A=415 is not historically accurate. That is my simple point, that almost everyone here has had no trouble understanding. I absolutely don't think that they are idiots for doing so. But I believe that in this aspect, they are contradicting their historical aims. Nobody - or almost nobody - here has called anybody an idiot or stupid for anything. Modern performers standardizing to A=440 have never claimed to do so on grounds of historical accuracy.

April 6, 2013 at 12:57 PM · Ah, HIP. My point of view is it's ok on occasion. I've enjoyed some live period performances. But as for myself, a steady diet of it would leave me wanting more robust sound.

I recall that Zuckerman stirred up quite a furor with some comments about period instruments.

I wonder if the historical folks were following the swing of the pendulum from Gould's Bach keyboard performances. They always struck me as excessive in the other direction.

Regarding pitch...

Pitch was scientifically important in the 1700s. Rubbing a pitch stick with a silk cloth creates a static charge. That got Ben Franklin to experiment with kites. Naturally, he left the pitch stick (also called a pipe) in his pocket during the famous kite experiment. The heat of the lightning caused the pitch pipe in Ben's pocket to soften, leaving a hollow channel. Ben blew into it, and Lo! It came out at 440 cps (this was before Hertz). Ever since, A=440 honors the memory of Frankin's pioneering work.

As a bonus, we got the water harmonica.

Hey, it's better than some logic on this thread...

April 6, 2013 at 04:28 PM · I'll jump in to say: in LA it's all 442. In fact, I was just visiting with Nathan Cole, asst. concertmaster for the LA Phil, and for all the world, the Strad he plays in orchestra sounded even higher than that, to me! He said it was 442. Some Asian orchestras are higher than 442, like 443. At some point, an "A" is a "Bb," yes?

Why has our collective taste (I just speak generally) pushed it higher and higher? I don't know. But you hear it in pop music as well: higher, faster, etc. I'm happy that the period-performance movement gives us an alternative to contemplate. I sure loved hearing Tafelmusik play live a few weeks ago.

April 6, 2013 at 04:38 PM · Actually I'll be a clever dick and say B flat would be about 466HZ ... So 442 or 443 is still fairly close to 440 ... Sorry!!

But I agree with you about pop musak and everything getting higher and louder, and faster.

April 6, 2013 at 08:17 PM · You will find most players/orchestras and pianos tune to 442 these days.

It's sad, because it makes strings sound aggressive particularly on modern strings.

I recently did a test to check if a large section of pro orchestral players could tell the difference blind between 440 & 442.

The vast majority couldn't.

That probably says it all.

April 6, 2013 at 11:57 PM · Says what?

April 7, 2013 at 06:49 AM · Says: If even professionals barely notice the difference of 2Hz and it damages strings and sound, why do it at all in the first place?


April 7, 2013 at 08:18 AM · I can tell the difference of 2 HZ but it is a small amount. I would say 1 or 2 cycles (Hz) is equal to about the amount one might adjust to a pianos tuning or to other players in a chamber group or orchestra.

More than 3 or 4 Hz and it becomes very noticeable! However, I frequently hear solo players and players in chamber groups that are way more than 5 Hz out of tune with each other.

A broadcast by a well known string quartet yesterday and a piano quartet group a night or so earlier here in the UK were frequently more than 8-10 Hz (approx) out of tune with each other.

The piano tuning that people on here complain about is to my ear not that bad, although we enjoy mentioning that pianos are out of tune, (to show our superiority as string players) and it really does not take long to adjsut to the piano (providing it is well tuned) when rehearsing with one.

As to pitch where A=420 Hz and below, I find this detracts from the quality of the sound (and the projection) so personally I prefer A=440 Hz - but this is a personal preference.

I think I basically agree with Gareth's post. (Surprise, surprise!!)

April 7, 2013 at 09:27 AM · Lyndon: its all moot, its really not notes but discords that Hz the ears most.

April 7, 2013 at 09:49 AM · 'ear today and gone tomorrow ... But I think I may be falling in love with you Lyndon ...

April 7, 2013 at 10:42 AM ·

April 7, 2013 at 11:06 AM · Thanks Lyndon, you have made my day, I'm going out now to drink your good health!!


April 7, 2013 at 12:48 PM · Laurie,

Did he mention why the 442? I've heard a lot of folks say it sounds "brighter." Which fits in with the pop connection. If that's the case, then it's a matter of taste, or marketing, or both.

It's interesting to hear about "higher, faster." Church music has made the shift, too. Can't think of the last time I heard a bass or baritone in a regular church setting.

And I hear comments from high school orchestra kids: "way too slow," when a piece is played at the marked tempo. IMGO it's part of a massive culture shift.

April 7, 2013 at 02:47 PM · Lyndon, thanks very much for linking to my blog of about a year ago. I think I made some reasoned arguments as John has pointed out.

I'm sorry you have an axe to grind, as I'm still keeping an open mind, but I still love you whatever you say. (Just keep away from the yacht varnish ...!!)

I do have friends that play Baroque instruments, and they are pretty good at it. But I think they are as rare as hens teeth.

By the way, Lyndon, do you find that when you play 20/21 C music on your Baroque fiddle that it sounds OK? Stockhausen, Stravinsky or similar composers? Just interested.

April 7, 2013 at 02:51 PM · I read somewhere, or was told by someone, that the real reason why A415 is today's de facto Baroque pitch is that A415 is pretty well a semitone below A440, making it easy for the continuo player on a modern stringed piano or harpsichord to transpose down a semitone as required. I specifically said "stringed" so as to exclude those inventions of the devil, viz, digital keyboards designed to change pitch at the press of a button, which in my view is arrant cheating.

It is interesting to observe that my late-20th century piano, made by Rippen of The Netherlands, is tuned to A430, its middle C therefore being 256Hz. An A440 piano has a middle C sharper at 262Hz.

April 7, 2013 at 03:24 PM · By the way Lyndon, I should just point out and correct your statement that my problem was that I have perfect pitch. I don't - although I can sometimes tell what a certain note is, or may be.

Love and kisses, your Peter XXXXXXX

April 7, 2013 at 03:33 PM · "20/21 C music on . . . Baroque fiddle"

I've always thought it would be interesting to hear something like the Intro and Rondo Cap on Baroque violin.

April 8, 2013 at 11:35 AM · John, you're right. here is more detail about that:

The treatise about tuning is a little work written by Christopher Simpson on how to play the viol or or the division viol.I believe it was written sometime in the later part of the 1600's in England.It is a very popular reference and source of info on original technique and other stuff a gamba player would like to know.

But any one interested in that sort of thing would enjoy it as well.I'm sure if you google search it you will find it on the web.I also have some print outs of it here(I'd have to dig around to find them)but I can show you some pages next time I see you.

David Chapman,who teaches music history and historical performance at Rutgers,comes buy a few times a year so I can help him with his instruments.He always overwhelms me with info on how tuning worked throughout the earlier times.He has told me that tuning was different from region to region and also from town to town,and it also depended on who was the king or political power that was in rule in any particular spot that would influence the decided pitches.

Simpson says to tune the top string of the viol to the point that if it were any higher the string would snap.This high note on the division viol would be considered "d",the highest open string on the bass viol.It is the same as the 3rd finger "d" on the violin "a" string.So in Simpsons case it would be who made the strings and matched the gauges of the gut that would determine the end result.So the ability of the local string maker had a hand in what the tuning would be as well.

Damion Dolugolecki,my string maker friend in Oregon has many opinions and theories on all of this too.He says development of instrument making and also music (written) is directly related to the advancement of string making historically.The more advanced strings became,the more advanced instrument making and playing technique would become and then the composers would respond with more demanding music.He says the string decided it all,and everything else follows that.

I think he has some of this on his website.

April 8, 2013 at 11:38 AM · As we bring this thread to a close, a few thoughts of summation come to mind.

1. When thinking about classic instruments and pitch it's pretty inevitable that ideas about period performance should arise. I tried to limit myself on this thread in this regard, as I've commented extensively on the subject in the past. But here are just a few points aside from pitch issues that may come as a surprise to some, based on my own research:

a. Many early music proponents believe in limiting or even eliminating vibrato. There are actually references to vibrato in string playing as far back as the 1500's. I'm not saying that it is the same vibrato that Wieniawski or Kreisler started to popularize. But unless we find recordings from that era, we'll just never know exactly what they sounded like. Simple good taste suggests that even in some passages in Brahms and Sibelius it is a good idea to limit vibrato, and there are many shades and nuances to choose from. It's not a simple yes or no proposition. There have always been those who favored more or less vibrato usage, but it has been around for centuries. Leopold Mozart, writing a treatise about violin playing in 1756 - the year his soon-to-be famous son, Wolfgang was born, and just 6 years after Bach died, said that there are players who vibrate so much and so constantly, you'd think they had a palsy!

b. We associate 18th cent. orchestras with small numbers. Yet composers from Handel to Mozart were thrilled to use very large groups when they were given the resources to do so. These numbers sometimes exceeded modern symphony orchestras, with as many as 40 violins!

c. Bach particularly was happy to transcribe Vivaldi's music and his own from one medium and one key to another. That should make one think about how important it is or is not to keep to what we think may have been the original medium and pitch. Bach was actually not only aware of the early fortepianos, but sold some! So much for it being a sin to play Bach on the piano. (And I happen to like the harpsichord.)

d. Here is a kind of paradox: the very idea of trying to being as true as possible to the practices and presumed intentions of much earlier eras would have been a foreign concept in the 18th century. This is actually a concern of mid-20th to early 21st cent. thinking Whether we think of it as an improvement or not, think how freely Mozart added clarinets to the score of Handel's Messiah. And how authentic is it to hear early music on any sort of recordings? What about the audience for this music? Most of us wouldn't qualify for admission, and those who would, might - if they acted authentically - behave with what we would consider to be awful decorum today. Where do we draw the line in authenticity? I mean, that's what they experienced. Who is to say they didn't like it that way? Sitting quietly? Not eating? Who do these performers think they are, who are little better than kitchen help to the aristocracy? The period people make many convenient compromises. But I don't think that they are too open about it.

e. Having a certain medium - eg a violin with what we'd call now an early set up, and a Baroque or transitional bow - and believing that this is the best of all possible media which should always be used for this music are very different things. Again, Bach was open to the early piano.

f. When all is said and done I really, really dislike the kind of sounds that I hear from early music groups such the Concentcus Musicus and the English Concert - though even the latter use some vibrato. Particularly the exaggerated, whiny 'messa de voce' sounds just awful to me. What is even worse is that some conductors such as Christopher Hogwood, have carried some of this sort of phrasing even into Schumann! On the other hand, I will concede that some soloists that I've heard, such as Simon Standage at least bring a lot of verve to their playing, whereas so many groups that I hear on the radio sound like tired squeeze boxes.. As to chamber groups for Baroque music, I'll take The Virtuosi di Roma, Il Musici, the English Chamber Orchestra and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields any day.

g. I think it's a terrible trend that modern players seem to have been made to feel defensive against the highly debatable practices and recommendations of what I feel should be fringe groups at best, who'd fit in most appropriately playing in places like Colonial Williamsburg. Should, be, but are not. I'm reminded of those Burmese Pythons in South Florida who are all but destroying that area's ecology. Even if they've got it right - and I don't believe they have - we are living today, have heard all the music composed since then, have lived through all the changes good or bad in technology, medicine, society, etc. Going to such extreme lengths to recapture the media and supposedly some of the phrasings, sounds very artificial and often leaves the essence of great music behind.

Somehow, period performance has taken on the aura of political correctness. But think about it - what could be more reactionary and fundamentalist? When it comes to Shakespeare, no one bats an eye when it is re-interpreted again and again - often in modern dress. From the reading I've done, older styles of acting would seem laughable to us today. But imagine a sizable and ever more influential minority trying to get back to that style and insisting that Shakespeare only be performed at the Globe Theater, with boys playing the female roles, etc. etc. After all, that's what Shakespeare and his contemporaries experienced.

Well, I don't think so. It is not period Bach but Bach, period, that hopefully will prevail.

2. A little closer to the thread. The amazing thing to me is how well the best and healthiest of the classic instruments continue to sound so well, whatever pitch Strad used, and through changes in necks, bass bars, bridges - and even sometimes surviving re-graduation! It's remarkable how well some of these instruments still meet today's needs and sound so glorious in Romantic and modern music. Beethoven, commenting on his late quartets to someone who confessed to not understanding them, said "Oh, they're not for you; they're for a future generation." I don't think that Strad and del Gesu thought liked that. But how lucky for us that it worked out that way!

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