"A" going UP in orchestras and instrument damage?!?!
Someone told me this the other day and it sounded totally spurious, but just checking. This guy told me that over time, "A" has gone from 440 up slightly higher in orchestras--ie, everyone is tuning higher--and as a result, string players are having to have their instruments "braced" to handle the strain. Could this possible be true?? It sounds insane, esp. the part about "bracing" LOL.
Only partly true. The string instruments can take a little extra tension, but the winds and brass instruments are designed, calibrated to 440. The lead oboe can easily fix that by refusing to tune above 440. Some of the blame goes to 1st violin section players. When playing high, in a loud tutti passage, the section player will not hear himself when he is in tune with the chord. To check to see if they are playing the right note they will unintentionally push the pitch higher, or let the vibrato push the pitch higher. Then there is stretched tuning, which piano tuners know about. Our hearing is not perfectly linear on the top octaves. You can check that for yourself by tuning your E string to the piano, then play the double octave harmonic E, compare that to the same pitch on the piano. That last solo note in Scheherezadhe, the double harmonic E, needs to pushed higher.
An audition in 1975(?) for Boston reflected a pitch of 442. And that was dictated from management.
Interesting! I had no idea.
I have heard of it but haven't had to endure it myself, since I decided to quit doing orchestra at 21 y/o -- about 6 months from the end of my degree program. This pitch inflation mania is yet another reason I'm thankful I decided not to go into the music business -- and I keep finding new reasons every year, it seems, to be thankful I made the decision.
There's a good Wikipedia article on this:
Conditions in a concert hall can make the brass go sharp, so everyone has to tune up a little - I don't know by how much, but it's audible. This happened last Saturday in a concert in Clifton Cathedral when we had a general retune after the second movement of Beethoven 9.
Adding to Trevor, A=465ish was common for 17th cent. Venice.
"In many ways, that is why you see more and more Guarneris being used and less Strads are the Strads aren't responding well to these changes since they are not designed or meant to be played that way."
When making a significant change to the tuning (usually up) you should always check immediately that the bridge hasn't started leaning one way or the other as a result. If so, then correct it carefully to return the bridge to its proper verticality with respect to the top plate. If you don't know how to do this safely then get someone to show you. If this isn't done then there is likely to be a reduction in tone quality, and in a worst case the bridge could collapse.
It's not string players who have the big problems. A couple of years ago my piano tuner told me that for a concert by a visiting Czech orchestra in our local City Hall (which I had attended) they had insisted on A=442 which meant he had to completely re-tune the hall's Steinway.
I actually prefer higher than 440, whether it is 441 to 447. Of course I see no problem with 440. I just feel that no instrument will explode at 445, even with years of "pitch abuse", unless maybe you leave an instrument with high tension steel strings on for 70 years pitched at 460hz (an exaggeration, to be sure.)
Modern wind instruments like clarinet aren't necessarily "set" to 440. As a clarinet player, I can adjust my instrument to play between A-438 and A-445 or so without any issues. This allows me to deal with playing spaces that might be very cold and the pitch very low, as well as cope with ensembles or pianos that tune to A-442 or higher.
@Gene, thank you for that clarification. Yes, all of the wind instruments have adjustable tuning. I was thinking of the actual spacing of the holes, and how that must be optimized for a specific tuning. The brass instruments also have tuning slides for each valve.
@Joel, you're absolutely right on that. The best woodwind makers get the dimensions as close as is reasonable, and the players are left to individual air and embouchure adjustments to get the pitch to where they want it. Of course that accounts for the poorly-made instruments that are impossible to play in tune no matter how good the player is. :)
Many wind players I have to play with have difficulties tuning down to 440...
As any violinist knows, there’s no reason to play out of tune when you can just play sharp.
I'm surprised nobody has posted this yet.
Mary Ellen, that's a wonderful resource! All we need now is for someone to trawl through the audio with an audio editor, identify the pitch of each item, and convert it to the A equivalent for convenient comparison ;)
You don't have to do any technical analysis at all to notice how the pitch goes up and down. :-)
Wow--that was interesting. Didn't even seem as if it could be the same piece!
Please don't assume that was the recorded pitch. There were plenty of record producers who needed a selection sped up or slowed down "a bit" to fit with the time constraints they faced with the 45/33 vinyl, and they didn't have pitch control when they changed the speed.
Jim, that might be a factor in the earlier recordings but not in the later ones when LPs were available.
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