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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000141.txt from 2010/11

From: "Keith Bowen" <>
Subj: Re: [kl] RES: Orchestral Pitch
Date: Fri, 12 Nov 2010 18:03:41 -0500


>Accepting all that you say nevertheless
>My former teacher Cecil James told me of going round all the London
Orchestras with a tuning meter. He reckoned only two of them started at
A=440hz and only one was still at that pitch by the end of the concert, He
reckoned that it was 'because they had a bloody-minded oboist'. (I suspect
James McGillivray.)

And did they sound the most in tune?

>If the LSO had started a A=442 and ended at A=445 could you honestly claim
that they had been in tune for the whole evening?

The answer to this is either trivial ('of course not') or quite complex ('it
depends on the music they played').

The in-tune 'A' will vary with key. An easy way to see this is to play music
that starts in A major and modulates from tonic to dominant twelve times.
The fifths in an orchestra will be 'pure' fifths, i.e. in a 3:2 frequency
ratio (equal temperament fifths are a bit flatter). You should nominally end
up at the same A major (with maybe octave transpositions). In fact you end
up about a quarter of a semitone higher (the "comma"), about 1.4% higher in
frequency, so 440 now becomes just over 446. All sounding perfectly in tune
because they ARE perfectly in tune.

Usually of course the modulations will not all be in one direction, and the
discrepancies 'unwind'. But it is not essential for the nominal A to stay at
440 for the music to sound, and be, in tune. Indeed, if that obstinate
oboeist with his eye on the needle dominates, it may make for some
unpleasant intonation as the music modulates.

>As Cecil said "they always SOUNDED in tune", and his musical ear was
legendary;- it had to be as a virtuoso FRENCH system bassoonist.

And isn't SOUNDING in tune (to a legendary ear indeed) what actually

Equal temperament instruments can of course modulate to wildly remote keys,
since they are equally out of tune in all keys.


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