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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

Mailbag: “A Tuning Timetable”

August 28, 2010

Dear Michael,

When E Power Biggs recorded historic organs in Germany, Italy, and France in the 1950s, did they tune it to equal temperament rather than other temperaments in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries? Why did they do this back then?
When did they tune it back to it’s original temperaments like meantone?




Historic instruments, over time, often have been manipulated by the ‘needs of the moment’. Some were considerably altered in their specification and mechanism, some had their pitch raised, or lowered, to match the increasingly standardized A=440-hz. Many were retuned in equal temperament (often requiring the extension of pipe lengths with tuning slides), simply to ‘get modern’.

Since the 1970s, we have been more thoughtful about the inherent qualities of historic instruments, and many that were ‘restored’ in the pre- and immediate post-World War II periods have been ‘re-restored’ according to more authentic historic characteristics. As a result, instruments that may have been altered and put into equal temperament at the time when Mr. Biggs made his earliest European recordings often have been re-set in an antique temperament since then during these more recent attentions.




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