Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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Which pitch?

Wed May 20 2009

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Steven's encore was Chonguri by Sulkhan Tsintsadze for all you encore nerds out there. 20 points if you knew that already.

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You may have seen the phrase ‘period instrument orchestra’ floating around in relation to the OAE. Well this means that we use instruments like those from the time that the music was written in so our performances are what the composers themselves would have actually heard. But not only are the instruments the great great grandparents of what you will hear a modern symphony orchestra playing on, the pitch has also changed over the years. Modern orchestras using modern instruments play at a pitch where the note ‘A’ is equivalent to 440 hertz. In Baroque music (Bach and Handel’s time) we generally play at A=415 and for classical music (Mozart, Haydn) at A=430. To give you an idea of the difference, A=415 is about a semi-tone lower than A=440. To the untrained ear, what does this all mean? That if you played the same note on a modern instrument and an ‘old fashioned’ one, that the latter would sound a bit lower.

Talking to Maggie Faultless, one of our four leaders recently, she said that Tony Robson (principal oboe) and her were in the running for playing the highest number of different pitches over our week of concerts at Kings Place. Tony has racked up 4 pitches in 3 days on 9 different instruments, but Maggie has just pipped him at the post with 5 different pitches in 6 days using 2 different instruments and 4 bows!

And here’s Maggie’s ‘pitch diary’…

Tuesday – Maggie played in our Handel concert at A=415

Wednesday – day off – practising everything!

Thursday – Maggie rehearsed Bonduca by Purcell at A=405, then performed a Rossini string sonata and Mendelssohn Octet at A=440

Friday – Maggie spent the morning rehearsing for a Mozart and Haydn programme at A=430, and was then back to A=405 for the performance of Bonduca in the evening.

Saturday – Back to our Mozart and Haydn programme with our Ann and Peter Law OAE Experience for young players orchestra at A=430.

Sunday – Rehearsing Schumann and Mendelssohn with Robin Ticciati at A=437

Phew!

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