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The various concert pitches and instruments built to match them caused many problems over time. No wonder that the need for some sort of standardization arose. History records a number of conferences wherein scientists(!) based on studies, experiments and what not decided that a certain concert pitch was the most favorable. A name that appears regularly is that of Johann Scheibler. It was he who in 1834 and on the basis of acoustical research decided that the best concert pitch—Kammerton in German—was 440Hz.

vintage tonometer

After that fix the concert pitch changed several times but in 1975 the ISO standard finally set it back to 440Hz. As with many standardized things, there's also another standard. This time it is called the scientific pitch. With this, middle C is 256Hz with the simple reasoning that now all occurrences of C can be denoted as a power of 2. Middle C is 2^^8Hz and in that notation. From this follows that A4 becomes 430.5Hz. Now we're ready to consider the hoopla around tuning ‘back’ to 432Hz for A above middle C based on plausible and implausible notions disseminated across the Internet. One of the most persistent ideas here is that 432Hz was the old standard and that evil men forced the new 440Hz standard upon us. That was meant to control the crowds with music and use them to the evil men's will. There’s a little truth buried here somewhere if we consider that for marching bands and such some manufacturers offer higher pitched versions of their instruments to sound louder as they are often used outdoors.

Other 'proof' that this 432Hz tuning is intrinsic to our species and related to all manner of natural phenomena can be dismissed as real evidence. For example that the frequency of 432Hz is somehow related to the speed of light is an example of one such cock-up. Acoustic sound waves are not electromagnetic waves like light. 432'000 miles = radius of sun, 1:43'200 = the ratio of Giza's great pyramid to the earth and 4'320 years = two 'ages' of the precession of the equinoxes are associated number-juggling 'finds'. The stubborn relationship of the ‘natural’ 432Hz tuning and the Schumann resonance is the last delusion we'll mention here. The Schumann resonance is approximated(!) at 7.83Hz. It's not constant but fluctuating. never mind that the Schumann resonance is an electromagnetic and not acoustic resonance. If it were otherwise, elephants and whales would go stark raving mad as the earth's own pulse would interfere with their frequency band of communication.

Visually plausible but not answering our so what is inducing a 440Hz input on a plate covered by a thin layer of sand and comparing the resultant pattern to 432Hz. In such cymatics experiments the 432Hz pattern looks more symmetrical and prettier. Some experiments with playing steady tones plus their octaves based on a tuning of either A4=440Hz or 432Hz allegedly had over 90% of test participants favor the 432Hz-based tones. In tests performed by Maria Renold, the reasoning was that these tones "sounded more correct and complete, peaceful and clean, pleasing and had light". The 440Hz-based tones sounded "uncomfortable, oppressive, irritating and aggressive and caused pain in the inner ear".

Here we add that these experiments were not done with music but pure tones. In the book Intervals, Scales, Tones and the Concert Pitch C=128Hz, Maria Renold tries to answer “why is it that certain intervals, scales and tones sound genuine and others false? Is the modern person able to experience a qualitative difference in a tone's pitch? If so, what are the implications for modern concert pitch and how instruments of fixed tuning are tuned?” Whilst investigating the answers, she discovered Rudolph Steiner’s spiritual-scientific research which led her to the conclusion that Steiner’s C=128Hz (thus C4=256Hz) and (thus) A4=426.66Hz is most preferable (which would be odd as this is the scientific scale’s base and not tempered). The clearly best way to test all of this is to compare actual music performed at the 440Hz versus 432Hz tuning. Mind you, it's not easy to re-tune an entire orchestra let alone transcribe music to another temperament. If you want 432Hz done right, the temperament should be included and more specifically the Pythagorean whose intervals are based on pure 3:2. Involving a computer is possible but only for concert pitch. Changing temperament is impossible if you don’t have access to the recording’s full 16 or 24 original tracks or even better, to a band or orchestra which uses the 432Hz tuning system.