12 MARCH 1859, Page 14


EVERY one who is at all conversant with music knows that the indefiniteness of what is called musical pitch is a great practical inconvenience. When we speak of any particular note of the scale, we give it a name, (as A, B, or C,) and that name is sup- posed to mark its pitch—its degree of a,outness or gravity as a musical sound ; but it does not do so ; it merely expresses a con- ventional understanding, which, not being reduced to a certain, physical standard, is liable to variation at different times and places. We tune our instruments according to a certain sound which we call A; and the identity of this sound is preserved only by means of a mere artificial standard—a tuning fork or pipe—a contrivance quite arbitrary ; and, as experience has shown con- stantly undergoing changes. The tuning-forks used in London differ from those used in Paris or Vienna ; and those in use at pre- sent differ from those of a century ago. It is well known that' when We are performing Handers music (for example) from the very notes inwhichhe wrote it, weare really performing it nearly a whole tone higher than he intended;—the sound associated in his ear with the note A, being nearly the same sound which, in our ear, is associated with the note G. So that, if we transpose an air of Handers a note lower—say from the key of A to the key of G—we shall then sing it very nearly in the pitch which Handel Intended. Within our own-memory the pitch has been constantly rising ; and of late years it has been rising more rapidly than be- fore. Even at the same time and in the same place there are more pitches than one. There is the pitch of the Oratorio the pitch of the Opera, and the pitch of our instrumental orchestras, such as that of the Philharmonic Society : and besides these there are the various pitches to which our pianoforte manufacturers tune their instruments in compliance with the wishes or fancies of their cus- tomers.

This musical anarchy produces numberless evils ; and, among others, it is destructive to the voices of our singers, who are forced to scream music of even a few years old in a manner which the composers never imagined. On the other haild, pitititsts, violin- ists, fiuteplayers, &e., like to have their instruments made as high as possible, for thus they get a more brilliant tone ; and the poor singers have been forced to succumb to their superior in- fluence; though they do so

"With many a weary sigh, and many a groan."

There is but one remedy—to obtain a 'scientific, physical stand- aid of pitch ;- and to agree universally to be governed by it. The first is easy. The pitch of a sound can be measured by the num- ber of vibrations, or pulsations of air, made by the sounding body in a given time. You have only to say, the sounding stiang or pipe shall make so many vibrations in a second, and at a certain temperature of the atmosphere ; and the problem is solved. But the difficulty is to get the world to agree to one such standard. Congresses of musicians have been talked of at different times, but such things have always ended in smoke.

In France, however, the matter is now accomplished (insofar as that country is concerned) by turning it, more Galileo, into an affair of State. As we stated some time since,* the Emperor appointed an Imperial Commission, consisting. of the magnates of the Conservatoire, to hivestigate the subject: and, on their report, the following decree has been pronounced— "Article 1. A-uniform diapason (standard of pitch) is instituted for all the musical establishments of France, the imperial and other theatres of Paris and the departments, conservatones, schools, and public concerts authorized by the State.

"Article 2. This diapason, giving the to (A) adopted for tuning instru- ments, is fixed at 870 vibrations per second : it shall be called the diapason normal.

"Article 3. The standard shall be deposited at the Imperial Conservatoire of Music and Declamation.

"Article 4. Every musical establishment authorized by the State shall be provided with a standard duly verified, in conformity- with the prototype.

" Article 5. The normal diapason shall -be in Moe from the 1st of July next in Paris, and the let of December in the provinces. From those dates, no instruments shall. be admitted into musical establishments but such as have been verified as being of the normal pitch.

"Article 6. The state of the diapasons and the instruments shall be regu- larly submitted to administrative verifications.

"'Article 7. The present decree shall be deposited at the Secretariat- General, in order to be notified to all whom it may concern,


"Paris, 16th February 1869." The Report of the Commission is an elaborate document, and contains some curious information. It is proved that in Gluck's time the pitch was more than a tone below the present. The or- gans of that period were a full tone below the present pitch ; and Rousseau (in his Dictionary of Music) says that at Paris the pitch of the opera was below that of the ohurch. The Commissioners have made careful inquiries into the state of the pitch throughout all Europe. What relates to England is very remarkable. " We have received from London," says the Report, "a communication from Messrs. Broadwood, the celebrated pianoforte-makers. They obligingly sent us three pitch-forks, all employed in their establishment, and each for a special purpose. The first, a quarter of a tone lower than the Paris pitch, was, five-and-twenty or thirty years-ago, that of the I,ondon Philhannoeic Society. It has been judiciously- preserved by Messrs. Broadwood as the most convenient for the voice, and they time, according to it, pianos in- tended for the accompaniment of vocal concerts. The second, much higher, since it is higher than ours, is that which they use most generally in tuning their pianos, because it is nearly in accordance with flutes, harmoniums, it is the pitch of instrumentalists. The third, higher still, is now used by the Philharmonic Society. This extreme looseness of pitch must be inconvenient, and even dangerous to correctness of time. And therefore Messrs. Broadwood express their wishes 'for the success of our researches, so interesting and important to the whole musical world.'"

It is remarkable, too, that the present London pitch is higher than in any other city in Europe. The Philharmonic Society's pitch is 910 vibrations- per second ; and Broadwood's medium pitch, most generally used, is 906. Nowhere else is the pitch so high as either of these. At Paris, it is at present only 896; at St. Petersburg, 903; at Prague, 899; at Leipzig, 897; at Munich, 896; at Dresden, 882. When the new French law comes into operation, the general pitch in that country will be a quarter of a tone lower than it is at present. So we see that England stands more in need of Pitch-Reform than any other country in Europe. But how shall we obtain it P Royal Commissions, and °niers in Council to regulate the tuning of pianos, fiddles and flutes,

will not do in England. We observe, from the fiddles, of the French Commission, that the musicians of several places in Ger- many have expressed their intention of adhering to the new French standard ; and our London musicians might do the same thing. Let a few of the most influential of our composers, or- chestral-directors, and performers, hold a meeting, and pass a reso- lution to that effect. The adoption of this new French standard would suit us perfectly well. It is only a quarter of a tone below the present French standard; but it would be fully- half a tone be- low the preposterous pitch of our orchestras ; and that would be exactly the thing we want. Arrangements might be made for depositing standard tuning-forks or other instruments in the ar- chives of our principal societies and musical establishments ; and an uniform and permanent pitch might be maintained without making it an affair of state.

• An Imperial Pitchfork," Spectator, Aug. 28, 1858.