reply to post by Cows11
A little research shows that the claims made for A = 432Hz are unfounded.
Origins of A = 440Hz
The Stuttgart Conference of 1834 recommended C264 (A440) as the standard pitch based on Scheibler's studies with his
tonometer. For this reason A440 has been referred to as Stuttgart pitch or
In 1939, an international conference recommended that the A above middle C be tuned to 440 Hz, now known as concert pitch.
There is no evidence, by the way, to show that A = 440Hz was a Nazi device promoted by Joseph Goebbels. The 440Hz standard had already existed for a
century by the time the Nazis came to power in Germany. Moreover, it did not become universal till 1953, eight years after the Nazis had been defeated
and Goebbels was dead.
A = 432 was never a standard or even a particularly common pitch
Until the nineteenth century there was no concerted effort to standardise musical pitch, and the levels across Europe varied widely. Pitches did
not just vary from place to place, or over time—pitch levels could vary even within the same city. The pitch used for an English cathedral organ in
the 17th century, for example, could be as much as five semitones lower than that used for a domestic keyboard instrument in the same city.
Some idea of the variance in pitches can be gained by examining old pitchpipes, organ pipes and other sources. For example, an English pitchpipe from
1720 plays the A above middle C at 380 Hz, while the organs played by Johann Sebastian Bach in Hamburg, Leipzig and Weimar were pitched at A = 480 Hz,
a difference of around four semitones. In other words, the A produced by the 1720 pitchpipe would have been at the same frequency as the F on one of
Bach's organs. Source
In the Baroque Era, pitch levels as high as A-465 (17th century Venice) and as low as A-392 (18th century France) are known to have existed. A few
generalizations can be made:
- pitch was high in North Germany and lower in South Germany
- pitch was low in Rome but high in Venice
- pitch in France depended on whether you were playing chamber music, opera or something else.
Pitch levels in the Renaissance and Middle Ages were similarly varied according to location and historical period. By the Classical period there was
more interest in standardized pitch levels, again as a matter of convenience for traveling musicians.
Even in nineteenth-century America, there was no agreed 'standard pitch'.
In 1879 Steinway in New York used a tuning fork which produced A=457.2 while Chickering in Boston preferred A=435, the international pitch
standard established by a French Commission in 1859. Source
Here are some examples of pitches used before standardisation
Why have a standard pitch, anyway?
Why did the 440Hz standard emerge? Basically, it was a child of the Industrial Revolution and the era of professionalism, mass production and mass
consumption ushered in by it. Music sounds pleasant to the ear no matter what pitch it is played in, so long as the singers and instruments are all in
tune with each other. There's no need for a standard pitch. But when fixed-pitch instruments like oboes and flutes had to be manufactured on a mass
scale, it was convenient to make them all have the same pitch. This also helped travelling musicians, whose numbers were multiplying as audiences
increased in size and number. Singers, especially, found it hard to change their vocal pitches to match those of the instruments of local orchestras
and church organs they performed with; variations in pitch might make their parts impossible to sing. And, of course, listeners with perfect pitch
would be driven crazy by performances and gramophone records of music that drifted too far off the pitch they were accustomed to thinking of as the
Introducing a standard, then, was a practical measure. A = 440Hz emerged as the accepted reference standard among the many proposed or in use at the
time. It was a good compromise and easy to produce electronically (and therefore accurately).
Why a Pythagorean origin for A = 440Hz is impossible
What is the 'frequency of a sound'? Put crudely, it is the number of sound waves produced per second. Before you can determine that figure, you need
to be able to measure a second (or some other short interval of time) with high and consistent accuracy. How do you think Pythagoras, who lived in an
age which told time by sundials and water clocks, could have managed that? How did anyone
manage it before accurate chronometers were invented
in the nineteenth century? Answer: they didn't, because they couldn't.
Why the New Agers are wrong
Today, New Agers tell us that A = 432Hz is a 'natural' standard because it is a whole-number multiple of the
, or because, in
, A = 432 gives us frequency values for the other notes of the scale
that are all whole numbers. Both claims are easily disproved, because
- The Schumann fundamental is not 8Hz, as the New Agers claim, but 7.83Hz, and 432 is not a whole-number multiple of 7.83.
- Even if tuning to A = 432Hz really does give whole-number frequency values for the other notes (I haven't done the arithmetic to see if it is so),
a second is an arbitrarily defined interval of time with no intrinsic physiological significance to human beings. Use a different interval (1.1sec,
say) and the whole correspondence falls to pieces, so it cannot possibly have a real physical or psychological meaning.
Out of tune with reality
But never mind all of the above. A few seconds reflection is enough to show that these claims are so much twaddle. Here's why. Musical pitch
couldn't be analysed in terms of frequency until the nineteenth century, since neither the concept nor the equipment necessary to measure it
The adoption of A = 440 as 'concert pitch' did not replace a previous standard of A = 432. No such standard ever existed in either the ancient or
the modern world. It is not known that Pythagoras or his disciples tuned anything to 432Hz. A = 440 was an acceptable compromise that was also easy to
produce electronically and therefore accurately. That's really all there is to the story.