Monday, 27 February 2012

That oul' pitch question again!

Funny how things get onto the back burner. Had quite a few things that I wanted to blog about in the last week, but more mundane things got in the way as usual. But anyway...
First of all a bit of a rant induced by a thread over on Chiff and Fipple, about a rather nice flute by Wylde which was for sale on eBay. The discussion got around to what pitch it would likely play at, which is, of course always an issue with 19th century English flutes that people want to play at modern pitch. It wasn't long before various "sounding lengths" were being quoted as if this was in some way a definitive measure of the pitch the flute would play at.
When oh when will people realise that the pitch any flute plays at is not simply a function of the physical flute itself, in terms of sounding length, but is a combination of player and flute. Any number of different players will elicit any number of different pitches from the same flute with the slide at the same position. It largely depends on embouchure. This is one of the main reasons for the invention of the tuning slide ( and before that the corps de rechange system). It allows different flute/player combinations to play at the same pitch on the same instrument ( and in different atmospheric conditions!) I wouldn't mind, but a lot of the people waving the banner of "the sounding length determines the pitch" are experienced enough to know better.
And while I'm on a roll here, I also have to say that I think I can blow a flute as good as the next man ( or woman) and the vast majority of classic English simple system flutes that I've seen and played, will sound way higher than 440, with the slide in any reasonable position ( which is what, I hear you cry, but I'll get back to that another day). One can certainly play these flutes at modern pitch, but the tone and response is only a pale shadow of what it is when played around 10-15 hz higher.
So would a maker intend an instrument to play at a pitch which masked the tone and response of which it was capable?
I (partially) rest my case, Watson.

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