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Tuning the World

The Rise of 440 Hertz in Music, Science, and Politics, 1859–1955

Tuning the World tells the unknown story of how the musical pitch A 440 became the global norm.

Now commonly accepted as the point of reference for musicians in the Western world, A 440 hertz only became the standard pitch during an international conference held in 1939. The adoption of this norm was the result of decades of negotiations between countries involving performers, composers, diplomats, physicists, and sound engineers. Although musicians and musicologists are aware of the variability of musical pitches over time, as attested by the use of lower frequencies to perform early music repertoires, no study has fully explained the invention of our current concert pitch. In this book, Fanny Gribenski draws on a rich variety of previously unexplored archival sources and a unique combination of musicological perspectives, transnational history, and science studies. Tuning the World demonstrates the aesthetic, scientific, industrial, and political contingencies underlying the construction of one of the most “natural” objects of contemporary musical performance, itself the result of a cacophony of competing views and interests.

272 pages | 19 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2023

New Material Histories of Music

History of Science

Music: General Music

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Tuning Forks and Global Politics
1. Tuning the Nation: Aesthetics, Science, Industry, and the French Pitch
2. Sounding the World: Nationalism, Internationalism, and the Travels of the French Pitch
3. Retuning the World: Transatlanticism and the Defeat of the French Pitch
4. “Pitch in Our Time”: International Concord and the Engineering of an Interwar Standard
5. Postwar Aftermath: Confirming an Embattled Standard

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