Re out-of-tune brass bands in the 78 era, they could also just be playing
out of tune! Early recordings were often just cobbled together with
whoever was available, there was no editing, and playback was very
different from today.
Re Edison and pitch, Edison could barely hear anyway, so I doubt very much
that he gave much thought to the finer points of pitch (he would literally
bite the piano case trying to hear it better, through bone transmission).
All wind-up machines had a lever to adjust the pitch, so it was up to the
user to adjust it. I think that has to be one reason for the lack of
uniformity with record speed.
Pitch became standardized at 440 in 1926, but hardly uniform. If there is
a good reason to vary it from 440, I say do it, but something I would never
do is assume that the nominal speed of a 78 record is correct. I think
that is one of the least useful clues to getting the pitch right. Your
ears will almost always be the best guide, probably starting with A= 440.
Finding reliable research documentation on this issue is very
difficult--everything seems anecdotal. Gradually, after 1926, pitch became
much more uniform, so that, I think by about 1950 we can probably say it
was truly standard. There was a movement supported by opera singers to
pull it down thereafter, but that was unsuccessful.
Regarding piano pitch, many pianos start to sag in pitch as they get out of
tune over time (but generally not in the same registers at the same rate of
decline). For newly rebuilt pianos, with a new pinblock and sound board,
tuners will sometimes not pull it all the way up to 440 at once.
We have learned that certain orchestras, like Koussevitzky's BSO, tuned
sharp of 440 to get a more brilliant sound, but I have never found an
explanation of how soloists would adapt to that. A piano could be tuned
high, but string players often have very perfect pitch, and you really
couldn't ask them to play sharp. If anyone has any explanation of how this
was handled, I would love to know it.
On Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 2:11 PM, Malcolm Rockwell <[log in to unmask]>
> And havoc reigned. Especially when orchestras and brass bands used both
> A=440 and A=435 horns together! Not only that but, judging from sales
> catalogs of the period (pre 1930) there was a multiplicity of types of
> horns we either do not see today or that have been bypassed in the name of
> standardization, many of which used the old standard in manufacturing the
> instruments. The only holdout for obscure horns seems to be the marching
> bands of today.
> The double standard would explain why some pre-1920 brass bands/orchestra
> recordings sound slightly out of tune, at least to my ear. The beat
> frequencies make for, er... interesting listening.
> On 4/28/2015 8:31 AM, Paul Stamler wrote:
>> On 4/28/2015 10:36 AM, Doug Pomeroy wrote:
>>> Having recently transferred an Edison "80 rpm" disc (one of his
>>> I can tell you the 80 rpm speed may not be exactly right. A good "ear"
>>> and an
>>> accurate pitch reference for tuning are really necessary, regardless of
>>> the pitch correction is implemented.
>> And, to add to the muddle, A-440 is a relatively recent standard.
>> According to the always-reliable Wikipedia:
>> "Prior to the standardization on 440 Hz, many countries and organizations
>> followed the Austrian government's 1885 recommendation of 435 Hz. The
>> American music industry reached an informal standard of 440 Hz in 1926, and
>> some began using it in instrument manufacturing. In 1936 the American
>> Standards Association recommended that the A above middle C be tuned to 440
>> It's worth noting that Edison got out of the record business in 1929 --
>> only three years after the American music industry's "informal standard"
>> was adopted.
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