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Subject: Re: Tunings
From: Michael at Ariascribe <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Michael at Ariascribe <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 19 Feb 2018 14:55:47 -0800

text/plain (35 lines)

I have been following the discussion about tunings and pitch with great interest. But I became curious about the numbers being thrown about, because it struck me as being quite difficult to count a frequency as high as (say) 420 beats per minute.

Searching led me to an article in the New York Times dated August 13, 1989 (also about pitch and opera), where the following claim is made:

“… in 1740, Handel favored an A pitched at 422 hertz. Mozart, in 1780, tuned to an A at 421.6 hertz.”

This made me doubly curious, especially since 421.6 is so precise. When and how could precise pitch at such high rate be determined?

It seems that the first sufficiently accurate mechanism for determining pitch was Johann Scheibler’s “Tonometer”, which was suggested in 1834, and (perhaps) built sometime after that. Way too late for the dates and preferences mentioned above. (The Tonometer worked by counting beats and applying some mathematics).

I assume that the Handel and Mozart numbers were obtained from old instruments (perhaps organs), although pitch variations would surely be large enough to make the numbers pretty uncertain.

I have not been able to discover a good source for these claims about the preferences of Handel and Mozart. If someone on this list has the answer, I would be most interested in hearing it.


New York Times Article: <>
Smithsonian on Tuning Forks (with a picture of a Tonometer): <>

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