Damian Dlugolecki - String Maker
A Brief History of Pitch Standards
From the Introduction to the collection of Studies in the History of Musical Pitch, by Alexander J. Ellis and Arthur Mendel, Amsterdam 1968;

"(These) articles cover the history of pitch from about 1500 to 1859, the adoption of a1=435 as the 'diapason normal' by a Commission appointed in 1858 by the French government to investigate the means of establishing, in France, a uniform musical pitch. In 1896 the Royal Philharmonic Society, proceeding from the erroneous assumption that the French standard was tied to a temperature of 59° degrees Fahrenheit, adjusted this pitch upward, and defined Philharmonic Pitch as "A 439, Bb 465, C 522 at 68° degrees Fahrenheit, at which degree of heat orchestra, organ and pianoforte should be in tune together" In 1939, an international conference held in London adopted a1=440 as a standard of concert pitch, and this, with slight deviations, mostly upward, is the pitch which radio broadcasting and recording now tend to maintain with a stability and universality that no such standard ever had before."

So, for the latter half of the 20th century, still very much the age of gut strung orchestral and chamber instruments, pitch was around a' = 435hz. And this is a pitch that works very well in the context of a sound world of modern gut strings. Then the urge to standardize gets out of hand, mistakes in judgment are made by non-musicians, and we end up with a standard of a' =440hz.

Since 1800, pitch knew only standardization within working musical establishments, such as the Dresden Opera House, pitch a'=423 from 1815 to 1821, The Paris Opera also at a'=423 in 1810. But by mid-century pitch was higher in Italy; Florence 437; Milan 446; LaScala 451 and there was considerable controversy over the strain put on the voices of singers by higher pitches. This in part led to the standardization at a'=435hz 'diapason normal.' And I dare say, a return to this standard would not at all be a bad thing. It could bring the 'modern performance' world of a'=440+ together with the historical performance practice world of a'=415 (an equally spurious standard) to join their voices on stage under the old and reliable standard of a'=435. I actually have a tuning fork that was given to me by the violin maker David vanZandt that is stamped: 'International Pitch A435' It is a treasured 'original instrument.'

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