Saturday, January 17, 2009


Heard about the controversy surrounding modern society's current practice of tuning all instruments to A-440?

After reading a number of experts and their back and forth arguments on the matter, and after some experiments of my own, I've come to the conclusion that the movement to revert back to A-432 is a sound one.

A number of fringe groups also champion the growing A-432 movement for various reasons - some New Agers think it enhances "superconsciousness", and some right-wing conspiracy theorists believe the push for A-440 has to do with a century-old mind control plot.

Me, I think it just plain sounds better.

According to an article in the New York Times:

A little-known New Jersey opera company is playing an active role in an international debate to lower the reference pitch by which orchestras tune their instruments. The issue is that the reference pitch, the tone A, has gradually risen over the last 200 years and the consequences may be severe for performers and instruments.

The A used by most symphony and opera orchestras today for uniform tuning ranges between 440 hertz, or cycles per second, to 444 hertz. By comparison, in 1740, Handel favored an A pitched at 422 hertz. Mozart, in 1780, tuned to an A at 421.6 hertz. The French standardized their A at 435 hertz in 1858. A little more than 20 years later, Verdi succeeded in getting a bill passed by the Italian Parliament to tune at A 432 hertz.

In 1938, an international standard for A was set at 440 hertz, but the pitch continued to rise. The New York Philharmonic, under Zubin Mehta, tunes to an A at 442 hertz, as does the Chicago under Georg Solti and the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa. In Berlin, orchestras tune to an A around 448 hertz. In Moscow, the symphony's pitch is even higher, near 450 hertz.

''This is a scientific as well as an artistic issue,'' [Jeanne Percesepe] said. ''Verdi worked with scientists and, based on certain harmonic principles, decided on what the scientific tuning should be. At the higher pitch, you tend to have more strident tones. Body and resonance is lost in the middle and chest registers. Music performed at the lower pitch heightens the poetry and drama. Verdi, Beethoven and Bellini understood that the voice had fundamental characteristics that should not be tampered with.''

If it was good enough for Verdi, it's good enough for me. I'm looking into the JSH Combo performing in the original pre-modern-era tuning of A-432 for shows and recordings in 2009. Let us know what you think of this experiment!