Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/770

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

progress. The orchestra began to assume greater importance as regards its wind element, new and improved wind instruments being introduced, and the use of them being much extended. This led to a constant desire for louder and more exciting effects, and both makers and users of wind instruments soon perceived that such effects might be enhanced by raising slightly the pitch of the sounds. The wind instruments were of course the standards in an orchestra, and so a gradual rise crept in, which both strings and voices were obliged to follow. The conductors, who ought in the interests of good music to have checked this, were either ignorant of, or indifferent to, the mischief that was being done, until at length it assumed alarming proportions. In 1878 the opera band at Covent Garden were playing at about A = 450 or C = 540, being a rise of a semitone above the 'classical pitch' used down to Beethoven's day.

Such a change was attended with many evils. It altered the character of the best compositions; it tended to spoil the performance and ruin the voices of the best singers; and it threw the musical world into confusion from the uncertainty as to the practical meaning of the symbols used; and all for no object whatever, as no one could affirm that the new pitch was on any ground better than the old one. Accordingly strong remonstrances were expressed from time to time, and efforts were made either to restore the original pitch, or at least to stop its further rise, and to obtain some general agreement for uniformity. In 1834 a 'Congress of Physicists' held at Stuttgart adopted a proposal by Scheibler to fix the A at 440 (true C = 528), but it does not appear that this had any practical result. In 1858 the French government appointed a commission, consisting partly of musicians[1] and partly of physicists, to consider the subject. The instructions stated that 'the constant and increasing elevation of the pitch presents inconveniences by which the musical art, composers, artists, and musical instrument makers all equally suffer, and the difference existing between the pitches of different countries, of different musical establishments, and of different manufacturing houses, is a source of embarrassment in musical combinations and of difficulties in commercial relations.' The Commission reported in Feb. 1859.[2] After substantiating the facts of the rise (which they attributed to the desire for increased sonority and brilliancy on the part of instrument-makers) and the great want of uniformity, they resolved to recommend a fixed standard: A = 435 (C true = 522; C by equal temperament = 517). This was confirmed by a legal decree, and it has been adopted in France generally, to the great advantage of all musical interests in that country.

Soon afterwards an attempt was made to do something in England. A committee was appointed by the Society of Arts, who reported in 1869, recommending the Stuttgart standard of C = 528; but the recommendation fell dead, and had no influence. Other agitations and discussions have taken place since, but all without effect, and the state of matters in this country in regard to the standard of pitch is as follows. The principal orchestras continue to play at the elevated pitch; but this is repudiated by the general consensus of vocal performers, and in all cases where an orchestra does not come into requisition, as in churches and at vocal concerts, a much lower pitch is used, corresponding nearly with either the French or the 'classical' one. Hence all idea of uniformity in the practical interpretation of music becomes out of the question;—a state of things most deplorable, and a disgrace to the musical education of the country.

It is an interesting consideration whether, as a matter of theory, a philosophical standard of pitch can be devised, based on natural facts, like the standards of measure, weight, and time. Such a standard is easily deducible. We may assume the existence of a note corresponding to the simplest possible rate of vibration, viz. one per second; and the various octaves of this note will be represented by 2, 4, 8, etc. vibrations, being a series of powers of the number 2. This theoretical note is found to agree so nearly with the musician's idea of the note C (the simplest or fundamental note in our modern musical system), that they may be assumed to correspond, and we thus get

{ \override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f c''2 }

= 512 double vibrations per second, which may be called the 'Philosophical Standard of Pitch,' and which is adopted, for theoretical purposes, in many books on music. And as it will be seen that this corresponds very fairly with the 'Classical Pitch' which was in vogue during the best periods of music, and differs very little from the authorised French pitch and the vocal pitch now followed in England, it would form a reasonably good standard in a practical as well as in a theoretical point of view.

[ W. P. ]

PITCHPIPE. A small stopped diapason pipe with long movable graduated stopper, blown by the mouth, and adjustable approximately to any note of the scale by pushing the stopper inwards or outwards. A pipe of this kind is so much influenced by temperature, moisture, force of blowing, and irregularities of calibre, that it can only be depended on for the pitch of vocal music, and is not to be trusted for more accurate determinations. A small reed pipe of the free species, in which the length of the vibrating portion of metal is controlled by a rotating spiral, is somewhat superior, and far less bulky than the older contrivance. It is known as Eardley's patent chromatic pitchpipe. Sets of single free reeds, each in its own tube, arranged in a box, forming a more or less complete scale, are to be obtained, and form comparatively trustworthy implements; if tuned to equal temperament they may be employed to facilitate pianoforte or organ

  1. The musicians were Auber, Halévy (who drew the Report), Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Rossini, and Thomas. The other members were Pelletier, Despretz, Doucet, Lissajous. Monnais, and Gen. Mellinet.
  2. Rapport et Arrêtés pour l'éteblissement en France d'un diapason musical uniforme. Paris, Imprimérie Impériale, 1859.