This article represents the views and research of the author. If you’re interested to read the 432 Hz article by Lynda Arnold which sparked a huge debate visit this page: Music Theory: Exploring The 432 Hz Tuning Debate.
432 Hz. The magic number everybody is talking about. It is said to be the natural frequency of the universe, to have cosmic healing powers and to attract masses of audience to our music. Just by tuning our music less than a semitone below our standard A=440Hz we are promised direct access to the universe’s hidden treasures.
There are many articles presenting so-called “scientific evidence” in favor of 432 Hz. But how much of what are being presented with is fact, and how much of it is fiction? Let’s find out!
Fiction: Ancient instruments such as Tibetan bowls, Pythagoras monochord, ancient flutes, have been found to use 432 Hz as their base pitch.
Fact: Hertz is a modern term coined in 1930. Before that it was referred as “Cycles Per Second”. The first time “Cycles Per Second” could be accurately measured was in 1834, when two instruments were invented: the (remodeled) Savart Wheel by Félix Savart, and the Tonometer by Johann Scheibler.
Further than that—the measurement of Seconds has only begun during the late 16th century.
Ancient Tibetans, Pythagoras and anyone before 1834 could not have intentionally tuned their instrument to measure 432 Hz as this frequency scale simply did not exist at the time. As for evidence, I could not find a single solid evidence for ancient flutes or bowls tuned to 432 Hz. If you find some – please let me know!
Fiction: Pythagoras’ A was 432 Hz.
Fact: Pythagoras’ tuning system is ratio based. It is not based on an absolute pitch, but rather on the relations from an arbitrary reference pitch. We already know Pythagoras could not have known what a second is, so he could not know what Hz meant. Indeed 432 is a multiplication of the ratio between C and A, where C is 1 and A is 27/16 which is the same as 432/256—however this applies to any base frequency and has nothing to do with a specific Hz.
Pythagoras’s tuning system was based on cycling perfect fifths. However, cycling fifths will never get you to complete a circle—unless one of the fifths is diminished. In other words, the Pythagorean scale has to be ‘tuned-down’ a little each octave in order to maintain its consistency. This makes the temperament uneven and sound “off” when playing music with complex harmonies, and this is exactly the reason it was abandoned.
Listen for yourself:
Fiction: Mozart used 432 Hz for all of his music.
Fact: The only evidence for Mozart’s A comes from an ancient tuning fork from 1780 with the tone of A=421.6 Hz. This tuning fork belonged to the Viennese piano builder Johann Andreas Stein, the leading piano maker in Vienna at the time, who was responsible for Mozart’s pianos as well as Haydn’s and Beethoven’s. It is likely that they have all used A=421.6Hz.
Handel’s personal pitch fork was found 30 years earlier in England and was tuned to A=422.5Hz – pretty close to Mozart! and pretty far from 432 Hz.