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Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording Speed

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 
Philharmonic Pitch. 

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 

Kind regards,


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