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#1924469 - 07/09/12 01:52 AM How long has A4 equaled 440 Hz?  
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JoelW Offline
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JoelW  Offline
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In the days before computers, how was pitched measured? How could they have accurate tuning forks back then? Is the middle C we hear today the same middle C that Mozart heard 250 years ago? How do we know Chopin didn't write his 'Heroic' Polonaise a half-step lower than we are familiar with? Maybe the standard was carried through the generations by people with perfect pitch? (until computers came along)

This has been on my mind for a long time. Please educate me!

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#1924475 - 07/09/12 02:05 AM Re: How long has A4 equaled 440 Hz? [Re: JoelW]  
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OperaTenor Offline
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OperaTenor  Offline
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A440 was set as the modern standard in the early part of the 20th century.

A440 - Wiki


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#1924483 - 07/09/12 02:51 AM Re: How long has A4 equaled 440 Hz? [Re: JoelW]  
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beethoven986 Offline
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Originally Posted by scherzojoe
In the days before computers, how was pitched measured? How could they have accurate tuning forks back then?


Marin Mersenne approximated frequencies in the 17th century, but there was no scientific way to measure frequency until the 1830s, thanks to Johann Scheibler.

Originally Posted by scherzojoe
Is the middle C we hear today the same middle C that Mozart heard 250 years ago?


No.

Originally Posted by scherzojoe
How do we know Chopin didn't write his 'Heroic' Polonaise a half-step lower than we are familiar with?


We have tuning forks from that era (and eras before that one), and they vary significantly in pitch.... some much higher than A440, some considerably lower.

Originally Posted by scherzojoe
Maybe the standard was carried through the generations by people with perfect pitch? (until computers came along)


There has never been a universal standard. Even today, while A440 is recognized as concert pitch, many orchestras tune anywhere from A441-A445.

#1924906 - 07/10/12 01:30 AM Re: How long has A4 equaled 440 Hz? [Re: JoelW]  
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Dave B Offline
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Dave B  Offline
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Its my understanding that an A (440)will sound like an A within the range of ~25% above and below 440 Hz. So there is a 50% range on pitch, leaving ~25% range between quarter tones.

Its also my understanding that all cultures throughout the world recognize these same pitches and also recognize the same 8th, 4th, 5th, major and minor 3rd, intervals. Cultural nuance is usually found in the construction of the melodic scale. A prime example is the use of the pure 7th partial in classical Indian Music. This natural harmonic usually falls somewhere between the keys of our piano, and is blocked at the point of hammer strike.

Is A440 the center of the "A tone"?


"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
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#1925007 - 07/10/12 09:47 AM Re: How long has A4 equaled 440 Hz? [Re: OperaTenor]  
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daniokeeper Offline
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Originally Posted by OperaTenor
A440 was set as the modern standard in the early part of the 20th century.

A440 - Wiki


Here's a little more info not given in the Wikipedia article:

Quote
...An easy way to produce a metronome is to secure a small weight (about 0ne or two ounces) with a piece of cotton yarn, making a pendulum which measures 39.1 inches from center-of-gravity to han ging point. Give this pendulum a swing of about a foot; each movement following will exhibit one second.

Alfred H. Howe, Scientific Piano Tuning and Servicing(U.S.A.: The Otterbein Press, 1955), 17

So, in past times they seem to have had their ways of creating reproducible standards.


Quote
The pitch of a musical note depends on a certain number of vibrations per second ascribed to that note. Many standards of pitch have been known to historians but for the sake of simplicity we may speak of but two: International A-435 and Standard A-440. Musicians should know these numbers by heart, at least as a sign of intelligence in the direction of exact tuning...

Howe, Scientific Piano Tuning and Servicing, 17



Quote
International Pitch was popular in the early part of this century, but in 1917 the American Federation of Musicians adopted 440 and called it "standard Pitch" and it was adopted by the United States Government in 1920.

A high pitch A-444 is still in use in some church organs. A low pitch A-410 was once used by organ makers because a 16 foot stopped pipe produced 16 vibrations per second which offered a convenient basis of figuring.


Howe, Scientific Piano Tuning and Servicing, 18



"Scientific Piano Tuning and Servicing" was originally published in 1941. The author appears to have been active as a musician (and possibly a tuner) while A-440 was being adopted. So, I thought it might be a good idea to include his info in this discussion.



Joe Gumbosky
Piano Tuning & Repair
www.morethanpianos.com
(semi-retired)

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