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ARSCLIST  April 2019

ARSCLIST April 2019

Subject:

Re: [EXTERNAL] Re: [ARSCLIST] LP playing speeds

From:

Alex McGehee <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 15 Apr 2019 15:25:42 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

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And not to widen this discussion too much, but there is also the question of appropriate execution of tempo marking in 18th century music. I found one of the more amusing efforts to solve this probably unsolvable puzzle came about through the close examination of mechanical clocks which were all the rage toward the end of that century. At least the rage for those who could afford them. Haydn wrote quite a few works for mechanical clocks (Flötenuhrstücke), so did Mozart, and of course there is Beethoven’s music for Wellington’s Victory, composed for a more elaborate mechanical device. In Haydn’s case, quite a few of these works were just transferred over from his more popular works, symphony movements and so forth. Haydn even supervised the preparation of some of this material for his illustrious Prince E’s. 

So then… the clocks were examined by modern scholars who found they could discern a pretty fair idea of the speeds we should use to perform these works and others like them today. Really? No one in the 18th century seems to have agreed on exactly how an Adagio should go, or how the different Allegro commands should be played. What exactly was an Andante or a Presto, etc? Well, with the clocks there was a keen sense that we finally had some important pre-metronomic evidence. Terrific. Only problem, it turns out, is that the spring “motors” running these old musical clocks had been changed, multiple times, by clock makers and the like who were called on to repair the damn (but beautiful) things in the many years transpiring since their creation. Even making assumptions on the original pitch the clocks played these works in is dicey.  

That brings us to the ARSC list serve and the frequent back and forth of our colleagues involved in the transfer of 78s and their multiple speed spawns, or pitch variations on LPs that may or not have been done to accommodate strained singers, or from a mistake  carried over in much earlier transfers of analogue material. It seems to me that for performers and transfer engineers these problems will never truly be solved. But it brings some little pleasure to know that contemporary challenges in pitch and tempo go back a long, long way.

Cheers,
Alex McGehee



 Apr 15, 2019, at 10:40 AM, Gary A. Galo <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> The article by Deegan (of Deegan marimba fame) that Aida Favia-Artsay included in Caruso on Records is also well worth reading.
> 
> Best,
> Gary
> 
> Gary Galo
> Audio Engineer Emeritus
> The Crane School of Music
> SUNY at Potsdam, NY 13676
> 
> "Great art presupposes the alert mind of the educated listener."
> Arnold Schoenberg
> 
> "A true artist doesn't want to be admired, he wants to be believed."
> Igor Markevitch
> 
> "If you design an audio system based on the premise that nothing is audible,
> on that system nothing will be audible."
> G. Galo
> 
> ________________________________
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Steve Smolian <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Monday, April 15, 2019 10:10:03 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: [EXTERNAL] Re: [ARSCLIST] LP playing speeds
> 
> I don't recall the author, but a book called "The Story of A" was the most informative one on pitch I've found by far.  Factors they cover include where the court musician came from, if he brought instruments from his own small country where one pitch was in use or used those made by locals where another one was, and how the organ was tuned at different times.  It turns out that each major composer in a given location during specific period may have used a tuning different from that of another who was in a court elsewhere.
> 
> The book is a bit of a slog but it dimensionalizes the issue.
> 
> Steve Smolian
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Bryan Martin
> Sent: Monday, April 15, 2019 9:50 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] LP playing speeds
> 
> Richard is absolutely right. I have over 30 years' experience in historically informed performance, and I can tell you that the idea of a universal pitch standard before the first few decades of the 20th century is absurd. The standards adopted by early music groups (A=415 for Baroque music, A=430 for Classical music, A=392 for 17th-century French music) are really compromises that allow them to approximate the pitch environment of the music they play while allowing them to 1) reduce the number of instruments they need to keep on hand, and 2) perform with groups all over the world without having to change or restring their instruments. The issue is particularly acute with wind instruments, since strings are tunable to a wider pitch range (within reason). My own group specializes in music before 1500, and we use A=460-465, mainly because of the wind instruments we use. I can tune my lute anywhere from A=440 to A=465 without having to restring it, but the winds can't do that.
> 
> The fact that an appropriate pitch standard for this repertoire is essentially unknowable is one of the most frustrating aspects of historically informed performance. There are some clues for later repertoire, but even with this there are issues. Where was the music performed? Venice in the 17th century? Then A might be 465 Hz. France? Could be 392 Hz. (Don't get me started on Chorton and Kammerton!) One notable scholar tried to buttress his theory that 16th-century English pitch was about a minor third higher than modern pitch by citing anatomical studies that show that the pitch level of the human voice is somewhat related to the height of the individual. Therefore, since people in the 16th century were smaller than modern humans (mainly due to nutrition), their voices must have been higher. Of course, there is no evidence that reduced height resulting from poor nutrition affected vocal chord length in adult humans, but you see the lengths we will go to in order to come up with a solution. It doesn't help that what historical information survives is often vague and contradictory.
> 
> And, of course, our own standard of A=440 Hz is routinely violated by orchestras the world over. For any analogue recording, unless you have a verified pitch (from either a tuning fork or an oscillator) to calibrate your playback, you're basically taking your best guess.
> 
> Kind of like EQ pre- and post-RIAA :-)
> 
> Bryan
> 
> 
> Bryan Martin, MusBac, MA
> Technical Supervisor
> Music Library
> University of Toronto
> (416) 978-3739
> https://music.library.utoronto.ca
> 
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Richard L. Hess
> Sent: April 13, 2019 2:44 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] LP playing speeds
> 
> Corey,
> 
> Another item you might enjoy on YouTube from the same music.
> 
> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2tEVVeGCk0
> 
> The point I was trying to make is that any attempt at playback speed setting that relies on an absolute musical pitch could be problematic.
> 
> Cheers,
> 
> Richard
> 
> 
> On 2019-04-13 2:24 p.m., Corey Bailey wrote:
>> Richard:
>> 
>> Thank you for this. I rarely watch or listen to YouTube but this was
>> interesting. I even read the comments! :-)
>> 
>> LP playing speeds:
>> 
>> I've rarely encountered speed variations with vinyl LP's. Acoustics
>> and early electrical recordings, particularly before standards where
>> followed, is another story.
>> 
> 
> --
> Richard L. Hess                   email: [log in to unmask]
> Aurora, Ontario, Canada                             647 479 2800
> http://www.richardhess.com/tape/contact.htm
> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.

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