Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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The issue of pitch..

Wed Oct 27 2010

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In danger of being a touch geeky, we thought we’d tell you something about pitch, how it’s not always been as it is now..

Pitch did not use to be standardized as it is today and was different from country to country and changed through the eras.  It is denoted by 2 coordinates, frequency (Hz) and note A in the middle of the treble staff. So A=415 is A at 415Hz.  Still awake? Good.

It was recently highlighted in the office when a Clavinova had to be tuned to A=415 in a rehearsal so that the choir were singing in the correct pitch.  Modern standardised pitch is A=440, which makes the A=415 of the Baroque era a G sharp to our ears.. A bit confusing for people with perfect pitch!

This gets tricky with fixed pitch instruments such as oboes and flutes which are of course designed to play specific pitches, whereas stringed instruments can be tuned to whatever pitch is needed. So when playing with period fixed pitch instruments one has to make sure every other instrument can be tuned to the same pitch and that you have a fairly large collection of pitch forks..

Just so you know, the last Night Shift on 20th October was A=415 (Baroque) and the upcoming ‘French Connections’ concert on 9th November (Cherubini/Mehul/Berlioz/Mozart) will be A=430. Come and see if you can tell the difference!

3 Comments

  • Do you mean tuning forks and not pitch forks?!

    Megan Fri Oct 29 2010
  • hah, just got a mental picture of the oae turning up to play with pitch forks in hand.. I do apologize, tuning forks is what they are.

    Zen Tue Nov 2 2010
  • I think you mean that 415 sounds FLAT to our ears

    Ian Fri Mar 6 2015