Concert pitch

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Concert pitch a '(440 Hz)

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The pitch also called tuning pitch and normal tone , is a substance used as a standard reference point tone , are equal attuned to the instruments of a musical group. The pitch of the commonly used standard pitch A is, according to multiple specifications in the history of music today is underlined A (a ', also a 1 ).

The standard concert pitch or normal pitch that has been valid in many countries since an international conference in London in 1939 is fixed at a 1  = 440  Hertz (Hz). In German and Austrian symphony orchestras, however, a 1  = 443 Hz is common, in Switzerland a 1  = 442 Hz.

Instead of the tone designation a 1 (also written a ′ , hence the "dashed" a ), the international designation A 4 or in the MIDI protocol A3 is used.

For the designation "chamber" ton

"Chamber" refers to the princely private chambers in which music was previously made. Therefore, there is historically a contrast between “concert pitch” and “church pitch” (also called “ organ pitch” or “chorus pitch” ). The conceptual history of the “chamber tone” and its demarcation from the “church tone” is complex; they were occasionally equated, but could also differ by up to a whole tone. In the music lexicon by Johann Gottfried Walther , published in 1732, the original meanings of these two expressions, as attested by Praetorius, are interchanged in the lemma "Cammer-Ton". A few years later, Leonhard Euler explained a calculation method according to which the “number of vibrations can be brought to an end in one second” with the number 392. This pitch would correspond to the tone “which is marked with a on the instrument.” He obviously meant the lower “Cammer tone” defined by Walther in 1732. There was also the Cornett tone and the Opera tone . This distinction was lost after 1800.


Up until the 19th century there was no uniform pitch, but tuned in differently depending on the place or region as well as the type of music.

Compared to today's standard concert pitch, the voices in the 16th century were up to four semitones lower or up to three semitones higher. In the middle of the 18th century the tunings fluctuated in the range from −2 to +2 semitones and in the middle of the 19th century in the range from −1 to +1 semitone, based on a 1  = 440 Hz. In Austria, Germany , Italy and the Netherlands tend to prefer higher voices, while France and England tend to prefer lower voices.

With an increasingly interregional and international musical life, the need for a uniform voice tone grew. In 1788 an agreement was reached in Paris on 409 Hz for the dashed a, the (early) Parisian tuning . Later in 1858 the French Academy, under Napoleon III, set the concert pitch a ′ to 435 Hz (then known as "435 double oscillations per second"), legally introduced for France and adopted in neighboring countries. For Russia, Sweden, Italy and various German states, an international tuning tone conference in Vienna in 1885 decided on an international standard tuning tone, also with 435 Hz. This resolution is also reflected in the Versailles Peace Treaty as the "production of the standard tuning fork " .

In Austrian military music and thus also in brass music, the so-called Turkish tone with 461 Hz prevailed from the middle of the 19th century until 1938 , which has been used again by the Viennese original high and German masters since 1945. Many Austrian amateur bands stayed with this tuning for a very long time because they could only afford new instruments in normal tuning (± .440 Hz) from the late 1960s.

The federal army and the gendarmerie and police bands in Austria voted in a normal mood after 1945; which today is around 442/443 Hz in practice.

British military music - like almost all symphony orchestras (from around 1830) in Great Britain - had a tuning of around 453 Hz. When the orchestras then gradually lowered the pitch to around 438 Hz after massive protests and even strikes by the singers, they followed Military bands around 1927. However, the brass bands kept this mood even longer; Boosey & Hawks only stopped producing high-pitched brass band instruments in the 1960s. (Many brass instruments can be retuned to the new "pitch" of 440 Hz by pulling them out; however, the woodwinds required completely new instruments.)

Different suggestions for the tuning tone

Joseph Sauveur (1653–1716) and later Ernst Chladni (1756–1827) proposed a C-based tuning, namely in such a way that a frequency with an oscillation period of exactly one second should represent a low C. The opposite this C 6 of 1 Hz for eight octaves higher middle C (c 'or c 1 ) would allow the 2 8 -fold frequency of 256 Hz.

In the second half of the 19th century, this proposal found increasing support in German-speaking countries and was scientifically discussed in well-known publications, for example Gustav Schubring wrote in 1868:

“Chladni suggested an even deeper tuning at the beginning of this [19th] century by not using the note a as the basis, but C [...]. As a result, the tone C 1 received the absolute number of vibrations 256 and from this the various tones a belonging to this octave are calculated as follows:

the pure sixth a 1 = 426 23 ,
the Pythagorean sixth A 1 = 432,
the floating sixth A 1 = 430.538 [96 ...]. "

"The objection that the same [Chladniian mood] is too low for the music [] is not justified because it corresponds almost exactly with the Parisian tuning of 1829 ([Rossini,]" Tell ") [on 431 vibrations] . Since one has now started [to] lower the absolute pitch that has been gradually increasing for 100 and more years, one may come back to the natural mood of Chladni, and then hopefully one will definitely stay with it. "

“If the calculation is based on the proposed by Scheibler a ′ with 440 oscillations, one obtains [...] C 'with 264 oscillations per second; [...]. "

“This mood is now often viewed as too high and the above-mentioned 'deep Parisian mood' [from 1858 to 435 oscillations] has therefore already been introduced in some places in Germany; but even this mood is still quite high compared to the moods previously used; Chladni z. B. specifies as a mean pitch that at which the oscillation numbers of all C are powers of 2. Then there are 32 vibrations on the Contra-C, 64 on the large C ... 256 vibrations on the octave.
[…] But if one wanted to build up an equally tempered scale on the above-mentioned note C ' , then a

A ′ with 256 · 1.68179 = 430.538

Vibrations result, which corresponds almost exactly to the pitch of the orchestra in the great Paris Opera in 1822, because it had a tuning fork with 431 vibrations at that time. "

In 1884 Giuseppe Verdi advocated a frequency for a 1 of 432 oscillations per second. The singers Luciano Pavarotti , Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau , Peter Schreier and others supported Verdi's proposal . Giuseppe Verdi and Nikolaus Harnoncourt are said to have imagined 430 Hz as the ideal .

Definition of the standard chamber tone 440 Hz

The last international tuning tone conference to date was held in 1939 by the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations in London and created a standard for the concert pitch frequency of 440 Hz for the tone a 1 ( ISO  16 standard ), followed in Germany by the German Institute for Standardization e. V. (DIN) of this regulation and created the (non-binding) DIN 1317-1 for the standard tuning pitch in general, -2 of the tuning fork and -3 of the organ. However, the standard is only a recommendation; the decision on how to apply it is left to everyone. The Council of Europe confirmed this standard on June 30, 1971.


Tuning fork - here one for tone a 1 with 440 Hz

The classic method of specifying the concert pitch is the tuning fork , which was developed in 1711 by the English military trumpeter John Shore ; alternatively there are pitch pipes . Nowadays, electronic tuners are increasingly used. In some telephone networks the dial tone is also 440 Hz; In the Deutsche Telekom network, however, it is 70 cents  - considerably more than a quarter of a tone - lower. In Austria, the Federal Office for Metrology and Surveying offers the tuning tone 440 Hz on +43 1 21110 1507.

In German and Austrian orchestras - regardless of the still internationally valid standard pitch of 440 Hz - the frequency of 443 Hz has become commonplace as the concert pitch, especially because string instruments supposedly sound louder and fuller at higher frequencies due to the higher string tension. This tone is specified by the oboe at the beginning of the rehearsal or performance , picked up by the concertmaster (i.e. the leading instrumentalist of the vocal group of the first violins ), who tunes his violin to this tone and then "passes" it on to the rest of the orchestra. Other pitches from 440 Hz to 444 Hz are also common in other countries, for example in Switzerland and Italy a pitch of 442 Hz is predominant. The Berlin Philharmonic even used 445 Hz under Herbert von Karajan . At the end of the 1970s, the Berlin choir conductor Fritz Weisse claimed on the occasion of a guest conductor at the Munich Radio Choir that the 'Berliners' in the Philharmonie had recently measured 449 Hz. At the beginning of 1994 Werner Thärichen remarked with resignation at a conducting seminar in Mürzzuschlag: “If only it only stayed at 445 Hz!” (He had dealt with this tiresome subject in detail in his books.) A considerable number of recordings from the 1960s with the ' Berlinern 'has a pitch that is well above 445 Hz; such as the 9th Mahler with Sir John Barbirolli, or the 6th Bruckner with Joseph Keilberth.

With the Vienna Philharmonic , the concert pitch a 1 has not been specified by the oboe since around 1983 , but by the concertmaster. During this change, the pitch was reduced from 445 to 444 Hz and secured by a tuning device. Before that, under “extreme climatic conditions”, the sound at the end of an opera performance had reached 448 or more. Before the adoption of 435 Hz due to the resolution of the Paris Tuning Tone Conference in 1858 by the (then provisional) director of the court opera Matteo Salvi in 1861, the tuning of the Philharmonic was 466 Hz. In later years the mood rose again, but in 2016 the Vienna Philharmonic will also tune to 443 Hz. Statements that the mood is higher in Vienna (at the Vienna State Opera ) than elsewhere still apply (outside of Germany and Austria), but at least no longer apply to the extent that would have been the case in the 19th century.

For musical practice on historical instruments , a concert pitch of 415 Hz (which is about a semitone lower than 440 Hz) is often used for baroque , 430 Hz for classical and 438 Hz for romantic instruments.


The mentioned different concert pitch frequencies show that there has been no clear derivation of a generally valid concert pitch up to now. As early as the 1950s, doubts arose about setting the international pitch conference at 440 Hz (protocol of the Academie des Sciences from 1950). Some musicians could not understand the "arbitrariness" of the decision and had the feeling of an unbalanced random decision.

The soprano Waltraud Meier (as well as Birgit Nilsson ) advocated a reduction in the pitch of the concert pitch: “The orchestras should rethink and, instead of paying attention exclusively to their own brilliance, also consider the possibilities of the singers and adjust the mood few Hertz. ”The German composer Richard Strauss also commented on the increased pitch of the pitch in 1942 as follows:“ The high mood of our orchestras is becoming increasingly unbearable. It is impossible that a poor singer should squeeze out A major coloratura, which I have already written Esel at the extreme limit, in B major ... "

Soloists and ensembles can only determine the pitch themselves to a small extent, as some instruments cannot be retuned constantly or not at all (this applies to pianos, organs and drums, for example) and consequently would have to be available in multiple versions. Furthermore, especially with wind instruments, not all tones and thus all keys are playable. In addition, the tuning of wind instruments or organ pipes, for example, can be subject to strong fluctuations when the temperature changes due to the temperature dependence of the speed of sound .

People with perfect pitch are set to different concert pitches depending on ability, socialization, daily shape and listening habits. It follows from this that perfect pitch is a pitch recognition property and has no direct bearing on quality assessment.

Instrument making and tuning tone

The many different chamber tones are not very popular with woodwind players. While strings - generally considered to be the "main culprit" of getting higher - can tune higher and lower with little effort, woodwinds have very little leeway. Instrument makers have always made the instruments slightly higher than for the usual pitch due to their life experience, but more than 3 to 4 Hz down and up are difficult to achieve. (Also the different approach of flutists, for example - open or covered, also the respective reed - light or heavy - must be taken into account.) Clarinets are particularly critical in this regard, because they overblow into the duodecim and quickly "in themselves" become impure.

Brass instruments, however, can often be tuned a semitone lower; the tuning slides are changed, even a whole tone. Bb trumpets and “cornets” used to be retuned to A to make it easier to intonate sharps, for example in George Bizet's opera Carmen . For the large F trumpets, which could also be played in E, there were tuning slides for the Eb / D tuning.

Wind players often have two instruments, one for their orchestra and the other - lower - for concerts in churches, where the organs are often tuned at 438 to 440 Hz.

Even musicians without perfect pitch often have difficulty intoning correctly when changing the pitch, as one has got used to the sound in the tuning used otherwise.

Tuning tones

The following sine tones can be used to tune instruments :

Audio file / audio sample 431 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 432 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 433 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 434 Hertz ? / i
Audio file / audio sample 435 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 436 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 437 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 438 Hertz ? / i
Audio file / audio sample 439 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 440 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 441 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 442 Hertz ? / i
Audio file / audio sample 443 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 444 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 445 Hertz ? / i Audio file / audio sample 446 Hertz ? / i

See also


  • The absolute pitch. In: Journal for the entire natural sciences. Volume 32. Wiegandt & Hempel, Berlin 1868 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  • Bruce Haynes: A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of A. Scarecrow Press, 2002.
  • Arthur Mendel : Pitch in Western Music since 1500 - A Re-examination. In: Acta Musicologica. ed. from the International Society for Musicology, Edenda curavit: Hellmut Federhofer u. a., Volume 50, Basel 1978, pp. 1-275.
  • Gustav-Adolph Wettengel: Textbook of the violin and bow making art. Voigt, Weimar 1869 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  • Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag / Musikverlag B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , p. 13.

Web links

Wiktionary: Concert pitch  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Michael Praetorius testifies that the old chorus is a whole tone lower than the concert pitch, but that these two terms are usually equated by his contemporaries. Michael Praetorius: Syntagma musicum II. P. 14 f.
  2. ^ Leonhard Euler: Tentamen novae theoriae musicae . 1739, cap. I, § 10, p. 7; German translation and commentary: Lorenz Christoph Mizler , Musikalische Bibliothek , III.1 [1746], p. 89, online source , explanations from Lutz Felbick : Lorenz Christoph Mizler de Kolof - student of Bach and Pythagorean "Apostle of Wolffian Philosophy". (University of Music and Theater "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy" Leipzig - Writings, Volume 5), Georg-Olms-Verlag, Hildesheim 2012, pp. 141f. See Bruce Haynes: A History of Performing Pitch: The Story of A.
  3. vocal tone. In: Music in the past and present. (MGG). Bärenreiter-Verlag, 1986, Volume 16, p. 1760 f.
  4. mood . In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon . 6th edition. Volume 19, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1909, pp.  43–44 . Mood . In: Meyers Konversations-Lexikon . 4th edition. Volume 15, Verlag des Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1885–1892, p. 333.
  5. 435 Hz, Voice Tone Conference, Vienna. In: Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde. August 1891, p. 262 f.
  6. 435 Hz, Voice Tone Conference, Vienna. In: Zeitschrift für Instrumentenkunde. 1891, p. 168
  7. 435 Hz, Voice Tone Conference, Vienna. In: Basics of Psychology. 1908, p. 131
  8. Peace Treaty of Versailles, Art. 282, Item 22. [1]
  9. ^ Joseph Sauveur et le Son fixe. Une première normalization du «diapason».
  10. Joseph Sauveur
  11. Pure sixths are calculated as 256 · 5/3, Pythagorean sixths as 256 · 27/16 and equilateral or equal sixths as 256 · 2 3/4 by multiplication with the corresponding frequency ratio.
  12. Gustav Schubring: Theory and calculation of the scale. In: Journal for the entire natural sciences. Volume 32. Verlag Bosselmann, 1868, p. 483
  13. G. Schubring: Theory and calculation of the scale. In: Journal for the entire natural sciences. Volume 32. Verlag Bosselmann, 1868, pp. 485-486
  14. G. Schubring: Theory and calculation of the scale. In: Journal for the entire natural sciences. Volume 32. Verlag Bosselmann, 1868, p. 132
  15. G. Schubring: Theory and calculation of the scale. In: Journal for the entire natural sciences. Volume 32. Verlag Bosselmann, 1868, p. 133
  16. a b c November 11th. In: Harenberg's music calendar. 2008
  17. ^ Petition from the Schiller Institute
  18. a b c Clemens Hellsberg : Thoughts on the tone of the voice. Clemens Hellsberg on a problem that has been discussed with vehemence for a long time. In: stage. Austria's theater and culture magazine. Issue No. 9, September 2016, ISSN  0007-3075 , ZDB -ID 527155-1 , p. 82.
  19. Res (71) 16E on the standardization of the initial tuning frequency
  20. Commentary on Resolution (71) 16 of the Council of Europe of June 30, 1971 on the standardization of the frequency of the vocal tone in: Fritz Winckel: Das Musikinstrument. 1972
  21. ^ Official journal for the calibration system. (PDF) Vienna, 2010, p. 5
  22. Table of the pitches of European orchestras. Part 1.
  23. Table of the pitches of European orchestras. Part 2.
  24. The magic of perfect sound. In: The time . No. 1/2003, p. 4.