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MYTH ⚠ THE “GOEBBELS’ CONCERT PITCH” STORY
(MYTH, A PSEUDO-HISTORICAL STORY, HOAX)
According to many online sources about 432-tuning and articles about the “Ancient Solfeggio Frequencies“, Joseph Goebbels – the propaganda minister of Hitler’s Nazi Regime in Germany – is singled out as: “the man behind the implementation of A4=440Hz as the International Concert Pitch” … but was he?
Before concert pitch A4=440Hz became the manufacturing standard for instruments, there was no International Standard Pitch. But, we can find the following historical references* concerning 440Hz (and pitches very close to it – give or take 1Hz) as Concert Pitch:
- 1834 – The Stuttgart Conference (a Congress of Physicists – “Deutsche Naturforscherversammlung”) adopts Scheibler’s recommendation for A4=440Hz as the standard pitch (the Stuttgard or “Scheibler pitch”), based on Scheibler’s studies with his Tonometer. It consisted of 52 forks tuned from A 219 2/3 to A 439 1/2 at 69 degrees Fahrenheit. The device and his amazingly accurate method of measuring beats were described in Scheibler’s book “The Physical and Musical Tonometer”.
- 1836-1839: A= 441, Paris. Opera pianos. Tuning fork owned by M. Leibner who tuned the pianos of the opera at the pitch of the orchestra. In 1849 it agreed precisely with the oboe of M. Vorroust.
- Date unknown. A=440.5, Paris. Opera. Fork said to have been adjusted by Pleyel.
- 1845 A=439.9, Turin Italy. Tuning fork.
- 1859 A=441, Dresden. Opera. Tuning fork sent to the French Commission by Kapellmeister Reissiger, who has been said to have written: “The great elevation of the diapason destroys and effaces the effect and character of ancient music, of the masterpieces of Mozart, Gluck and Beethoven.” (source unknown).
- In 1862 German physician and physicist Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz, publisched his work “the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music”. In this work Hermann Helmholtz refers to A at 440Hz several times.
- In 1880 Alexander Ellis wrote an important essay on the history of musical pitch for the Society of Arts in London. Ellis cites early research on the measurement and history of musical pitch in the work of the German physicist Johann Heinrich Scheibler (1777-1837). Ellis’ research suggests that there was a connection between Scheibler in Stuttgart and the piano maker Johann Baptist Streicher in Vienna. A tuning fork with the name “Streicher” written in ink on one of the prongs was found in Scheibler’s collection of forks after his death.
- 1896 – Britain’s Royal Philharmonic starts using A4=439Hz.
- In 1926 the American music industry reached an informal standard of 440 Hz, many did use it already before, now pretty much all were using it in instrument manufacturing. (No supporting official documentation available).
- 1939 – The majority of attending members at an international conference in London supports A4=440Hz. (Note: no supporting ISO documentation available).
- 1955 – International Organization for Standardization adopts A4=440Hz. (Note: no supporting ISO documentation available).
- 1975 – The International Organization for Standardization affirms the International Concert Pitch A4=440Hz under ISO 16:1975.
For more info about the standardization of the Concert Pitch, read Roel’s World article: “440Hz – Standardization“!
THE BAROQUE PITCH: 415HZ
This pitch was commonly used during the “Baroque period” (1600-1760). 415Hz is 101 cents or 1.01 semitone below the present 440Hz standard. With other words, Concert Pitch 440Hz is 415Hz transposed a semitone up. So, the tone frequency of 440Hz likely has “sounded” already approximately 400 years ago as A#.
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NOT CONVINCED YET?
I case if you are not convinced by the references mentioned above, I could share with you my personal experiences. I own a couple of vintage Saxophones predating the year Hitler’s regime came to power in 1933. One is a gold-plated Conn “New Wonder” tenor Saxophone from 1922, another a silver-plated Martin soprano Saxophone from 1930. Both instruments were designed for Concert Pitch 440Hz and both built in the USA.
To place that in historical perspective:
440Hz was a common standard for building instruments even earlier, already before 1900 many instruments we designed and built for Concert Pitch 440Hz, not only in the USA, but in Europe too. The only countries in Europe that did built (untill WW2) instruments for another (official) Concert Pitch were France, Belgium and … yes, Germany! They designed and built instruments for Concert Pitch 435Hz (Diapason Normal) specially for the French market, the only country in Europe that “once upon a time” had a national standard Concert Pitch, A4=435Hz. In Germany instruments were build for both 440Hz and 435Hz. An example of a firm building saxophones in Germany for 435Hz is the company G.H. Hüller, that “stamped” their 435Hz (A4) instruments with 870 (A5). More information about this in Roel’s World article “Vintage 435Hz Saxophones“. Most other instrument builders in the West (Europe & USA) were designing and building their instruments for Concert Pitch 440Hz.
The only exception to the usage of 440Hz in the USA were specially designed Brass instruments for American Brass Bands and Military Orchestras. These instruments were designed and build for Concert Pitch A4=456Hz or 457Hz (depending on the source), the so called “High Pitch”. And guess what … 457Hz is approx. 100 cents (1 semitone in 12-TET) higher then 432Hz!
SO … for me personally owning instruments built before WW2 (and having played on many more – even older) is pretty much sufficient proof that 440Hz as Concert Pitch and as unofficial standard for instrument manufactures predates Hitler’s regime and was not only used in the USA, but Europe as well.
Believing Nazi Germany was responsible for the introduction and implementation of 440Hz as Concert Pitch is in my eyes rather naive, and putting it on the table to proclaim the validity of 432Hz tuning or to “discredit” 440Hz using this myth is just wrong.
Naturally you are free to believe what ever you wish … but ask yourself, where did that information come from? Did the article you read or video you saw sharing it provide any historical sources or references? What do you actually know about instrument manufacturing? And about music history? Or did they just “copy ‘n pasting” something they picked up somewhere? Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rethink your believes before sharing it with others?
But hey, maybe this is just the way I think about it … 😉
As we can see, it becomes clear that the introduction of the 440Hz concert pitch (and the tone frequency of 440Hz being used) took place a long time BEFORE Hitler (born on 20 April 1889) and his regime came to power (1933). Naturally this does not rule-out the possibility that Nazi Regime might have been “in favor” of the 440Hz standard – like actually most other West European countries (except for France) in those days. But, to proclaim Goebbels’ involvement with or responsibility for the introduction and/or implementation of 440Hz as concert pitch, does not seem very realistic to me.
Not “convinced” yet about the 440Hz Goebbels / Nazi Germany Hoax? Perhaps you should read more about the standardization of the concert pitch A4=440Hz … at Roel’s World.
- Alexander J. Ellis. “On the History of Musical Pitch,” Journal of the Society of Arts, (March 5, 1880). Reprinted in Studies in the History of Music Pitch, Amsterdam: Frits Knuf, 1968.
- “The Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music” (1862) by Hermann L. F. von Helmholtz.
- ISO: http://www.iso.org/
- ISO 16:1975 http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/