From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad
Steve Abrams and Malcolm Smith discussed standard pitch - an essential
subject for early recordings.
A few facts are essential here: In Great Britain the pitch of the opera was
Philharmonic pitch, which was based on a C, but which made the a=452 (off my
head, so give or take a few decimals). There was indeed a lively discussion
and ca. 1898 (again, I am not at my references now, but timing of this e-mail
is important) it was decided to apply a=439, taking into account the French
and Viennese pitches at the time, and temperature. This became the New
Philharmonic Pitch, and consequently the other was degraded to Old
Now, the military bands were tuning to Old Philharmonic Pitch and continued
to do so until 1927 (standard disclaimer applies), and this was taught at
Kneller Hall, the military music school. So when Melba in September 1905
sings "Auld Lang Syne" with Chorus accomp. by the band of H.M. Coldstream
Guards conducted by Lieut. Mackenzie Rogan in the key of G, then this G is
based on an a of 452 Hz. Her "non-military" records are not. Beats humidity.
Now, the frustrating thing is that (British) Columbia changed from 80 rpm to
78 rpm round about the same time, and--sadly--the fraction 80/78 is almost
the same as the fraction 452/439. To Columbia this could have meant that you
could play their old records under the new regime and not be out of tune any
more. Anyway, Columbia had embarked on a huge dubbing project, in which they
dubbed all (well, was it all? or just the current stuff) material
electrically. I have no indication whether they dubbed military music or not,
but it would be highly interesting to have someone with time and greater
interest in band music than mine to look into this.
The same kind of standardization had taken place in France, only more so, at
least for Paris. The Garde Republicaine had grown "naturally" out of the
Garde Impériale and took over their standard pitch of 870 vibrations simples
(an excursion was counted as a vibration, so this meant 435 Hz). This also
applied to the national opera. This means that all recordings involving the
Music of the Garde Republicaine were based on this pitch. The pitchpipe
sounded after certain Paris recordings (for a much too brief time) was a=435.
The great thing is that the Garde recorded on so many different labels. This
situation continued until the great acoustics congress of 1938, in which
a=440 was decided after thorough work by a special commission, who had
measured orchestras, both when tuning up and during performance, all by means
of broadcast concerts.
Similar mapping of recording conditions has not been done, and the reason is
simple: the gramophone is a continuously tunable instrument, like the violin,
trombone, and Swanee whistle. The CD player is not, so I have bought one that
is, with a percentage read-out. Essential for analyzing and playing CD