About - Pitch, recordings and flutes 


Pitch and recording is an interesting matter. In modern editing programmes you can easily change pitches and speeds, which I do not appreciate because you can fool people by making an editing far away from the true recording session. On the other hand it is not difficult to judge a historical recording on old 78' records.


I think a properly maintained gramophone, both a historical one and a modern one – which can play 78’, 45' or 33' records, can give a true and correct impression of the music. For the historical gramophone for 78' records there was been used a test record with a bell tone according to the correct pitch at that time, and it could be controlled by a tuning fork e.g. A-435Hz or A-438Hz. In that way you could calibrate the rotations to the correct speed both in the recording session and when the final adjustments and test had to be made in your equipment, in the same way as you tune an instrument to the correct pitch.


I have especially noted the low pitch A-435Hz or A-438Hz in my 78’ recordings from 1939 - 1946 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra and Arturo Toscanini. The acoustics of the specially built studio were very dry; some remodeling in 1939 added a bit more reverberation. Toscanini conducted especially Rossini overtures in a very fast speed, but you can still hear that the pitch is low on the 78’ recordings. It is easy to test the pitch and the true speed of the performed music when it is a dubbing from a 78' recording to a digital CD, it can be done with a digital chromatic tuner.


There is the old joke about the principal obo player in a philharmonic orchestra starting tuning: "I make a proper A in mezzo forte, but then after the first bar some are playing a semitone too low or high". Considering pitch this is a very complex matter since it has changed a lot from the 1700s till today, e.g. old French baroque pitch A-378Hz, English Victorian high pitch A-450Hz, Vienna/Paris convention pitch A-438Hz, and London convention (1938) pitch A-440Hz. The last one was made standard because there was a mutual agreement that the A-440Hz pitch was the most suitable one for broadcasting. Actually at that time some European orchestras played a bit more sharply in A-442Hz, but in the US the standard A-440Hz did not change till the beginning of the 70s because orchestras were more conservative on the issue of increasing to A-442Hz. There are still orchestras in the US who prefer A-440Hz. I think that all the world's major orchestras play in pitch A-442Hz today.


Jean-Pierre Rampal owned 4 gold flutes made by Wm. S. Haynes. One was in A-440Hz and two of them were in pitch A-442Hz, and one was in pitch A-444Hz, which he used in some of his recordings with German orchestras and recordings with English harpsichord players. Jean-Pierre Rampal was very keen on tuning and pitch.


Concerning historical recordings I think it is evident that the flutes were still built in pitch A-438Hz until about 1910. After the London convention (1938) when pitch A-440Hz was settled, many head joints have been shortened to raise the pitch. This is a fact when you see old Louis Lot flutes. To shorten a head joint is not the right way to raise the pitch, you must also change the distance between the keyholes according to Theobald Boehm’s metric table. This is an almost impossible task on old flutes. It is commonly known that this was not considered by Wm. S. Haynes when they copied the French Louis Lot flutes in the 1900s, and later raised the pitch from A-435Hz to A-440Hz, and therefore their French model had some problems with the tuning of the flute scale, but later it was corrected within the Haynes' Deveau Scale. On the other hand Wm. S. Haynes’ German Boehm model, with which they founded their firm in 1888, was in a balanced flute scale according to Theobald Boehm’s metric table, also when the pitch was raised to A-440Hz. This flute is later commonly called the Haynes Commercial model with closed holes and Y-arms, and you can find the original Boehm model in the National Library of Congress, the Dayton Miller Collection. It is a pity that this original Boehm model made by Wm.S. Haynes has been characterized as a commercial product. This is a complete misunderstanding, the Wm. S. Haynes' German Boehm model  is a fine and accurate copy of Böhm & Mendler's 1862 - 1888 model


Here you can also read about French and German flutes at this link: “French versus German Flutes”


Robert Bigio has asked me about the Danish flutist Holger Gilbert Jespersen and various flute inventions by the Danish flutemaker Johan Brögger.
At the link you can see his article: