Pitch Inflation

12th April 2010 | Concerts, Daily Life, Musings | 0 comments

me on stage at the WigmoreMy piano tuner asks whether I’m happy to keep my piano at the usual pitch, A=440. Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?

Well, he says, some British orchestras are now asking for pianos to be tuned at A=442 Hz. Now that there’s so much musical traffic between countries, we’re under pressure to adopt ‘European’ tuning, and for a long time mainland Europe has used an ‘A’ a touch higher than ours. One of our big London orchestras recently bought a batch of percussion instruments all tuned at A=442, thus committing the whole orchestra to this pitch. ‘What does the Wigmore Hall use for its pianos?’ I ask. ‘A=440.’ ‘Then that’s what I’ll have’, I say happily.

Apparently there’s constant pressure from certain quarters, particularly string players, to raise the pitch because it makes instruments sound more brilliant. But is there any reason for pianos to fall in with this trend? It seems not. Is it really necessary for pitch to rise and rise, like inflation? As pitch goes up, instruments eventually have to be modified or re-built to cope with the extra pressure. It seems like a vicious circle.

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