Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ted Gioia--are we all mistuning our instruments and can we blame the Nazis?
Is it really possible that musicians have been tuning their instruments incorrectly during my entire lifetime? Has my piano tuner (perhaps a member of the Illuminati) been duping me all these years? Is the tuning app on my smartphone a kind of cultural malware designed to destroy music as we know it?
According to true believers, music would generate positive healing energy if A were tuned to 432 Hz. This tuning, they claim, is more aligned with the cosmos and the natural world. “The number 432 is also reflected in ratios of the Sun, Earth, and the moon as well as the precession of the equinoxes, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, Stonehenge, the Sri Yantra among many other sacred sites,” explains author Elina St-Onge. And who do you want to bet on: Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid or Goebbels and the Nazis?

These conspiracy theorists aren’t entirely batty. The tuning of instruments has always been filled with compromises and influenced by competing paradigms. Listeners take for granted the conventional “well tempered” tuning of modern instruments, but this itself was a controversial innovation in its day—it represented a rejection of the Pythagorean heritage and Renaissance thinking on music. But it also made possible the chromatically-rich compositions of Bach and his successors.

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