Distortion of musical quality through escalating pitch
International standards of pitch in music are being violated under pressure for more brilliant and striking performances under conditions for which the music was not originally intended. The drift in pitch standards is also occurring to a different degree in different places even though professional musicians and singers travel frequently between them. The higher pitch transforms warm musical colour to garish. The whole spectrum of voice ranges has been twisted out of shape. The colour of the mezzo-soprano has disappeared and the basso profondo voice has disappeared.
Pitch was arranged by the Greeks in descending and ascending ratios of seven different notes, currently denoted by the letters A through G. Prior to the 19th century, the note A could be as high or low as any particular culture favoured, varying as much as two tones. In the 19th century, with the increase in exchanges between cultures, efforts were made in Italy to impose the standard of A above middle C as being sound vibration at 432 cycles per second. For the past century a consensus has emerged, ratified in the 1930s by an international congress, that sets A at 440. Higher pitch has been compared to air pollution or toxic waste, where destruction results more from carelessness than calculation. Still higher pitch has its basis in the current economics of the arts. Concert halls are bigger in order to sell more seats. There is pressure on the organizers to attract attention with more "brilliant" performances whatever the loss in colour.
Singers are now under pressure in opera and concert halls, especially in Italy, Austria and Germany, to adapt to a pitch which is now creeping above 445 toward 450, despite efforts to restandardize A at 440.
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