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 Martin, MusBac, MA
Technical Supervisor
Music Library
University of Toronto
(416) 978-3739

-----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


Another item you might enjoy on YouTube from the same music.

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.



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
Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.