|Italian Violin strings... - THE PITCH STANDARD|
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6. THE PITCH STANDARD
An important element in determining the working tensions of violins of that time was relates to the frequency of the pitch standards that were in use in the eighteenth-nineteenth century, which varied considerably, and not only from place to place, but also in the same place from one period to another.
In 1834 the Congress of Stuttgart approved a tuning standard of A -440 Hz, but this recommendation was not followed. In 1858 the French government reported that the tuning standard of the Paris Opéra and the Opéra Italienne was A -448 Hz, but a year later a French commission for the standardization of tuning (composed of illustrious figures such as Halévy, Auber, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Rossini and Thomas) – the first in Europe – established A- 435 Hz through an imperial decree.
In England, orchestral pitch was A -424 Hz in 1813, but this was raised to 452 Hz in 1859. The supposed nineteenth-century tuning standard of A- 435 Hz seems to have been an illusion rather than reality, and this is certainly true up to the second half of the nineteenth century. With the Congress of Vienna of 1885 the standard A was officially established at 870 simple vibrations, or 435 double Hz, a recommendation that was also adopted by the Italian government in 1887, but in fact the tuning standard continued to fluctuate. Only with the meeting called in 1939 by the International Organisation for Standardisation was the situation presented by the jungle of different tuning standards clarified, proposing a standard A of 440 Hz. The rest is recent history.
We will consider, for the sake convenience, A -435 Hz.
Here are some Ellis’s tables (The History of musical pitch, London 1880)
(from Pietro Righini “La lunga storia del diapason”, ed. Berben, Ancona 1990):