Yo-Yo Ma: Inspired by Bach

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Alex Adams

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Mar 10, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/10/98
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My friend with absolute pitch told me that his recording of the Bach
cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma was a semitone flat from start to finish.
Has anyone else noticed this? I would like to know whether he simply
had a defective CD, or the entire production was botched. I saw the
film series, and I generally liked his performances, particularly in
the fast movements (above all the D minor Courante); but some aspects
I simply could not understand, like the unbelievably slow tempo he
chose for the D minor Prelude, which robbed that masterpiece of its
passion, resulting in a mere succession of notes. And throughout he
seemed to look very darkly at the suites, when I have always thought
of them as being, as a whole, joyous; particularly the triumphant D
Major, in which the plodding tempo he chose for the Allemande turned a
beautiful, romantic movement almost into a lament. In any case, I
suppose I'm biased toward the Csaba Onczay recording on Naxos, but the
cello suites are among my favourite works of the entire repertoire,
and I would like to hear what others have thought of them.

---
Alex Adams

As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Stephen Pollard

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Mar 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/11/98
to

Over the past few centuries so-called "standard pitch" has risen higher
and higher, to the extent of about a half-step since the early 1700s.
It's likely that this is the reason Yo-Yo Ma recorded the Bach "flat."
The cello responds in an entirely different way when it's tuned down a
half-step.

Andrew Block

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Mar 11, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/11/98
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I find the A=440 "standard" pitch can sometimes be a little too bright
for unaccompanied Bach. One of my favorite recordings of the violin
partitas/sonatas is by Elizabeth Wallfisch, and her baroque violin is
tuned at A=400 which transmits an evidently darker and richer sound,
especially noticable in the opening of the g minor sonata. IMHO the
lower pitch just "feels" right.

Ben Crick

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Mar 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/12/98
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In article <350647...@cruzio.com>, Stephen Pollard <spol...@cruzio.com>
wrote:

Interesting. Old organs have an 8-ft pipe for bottom CC (manuals), with
a 2-ft pipe for middle c, giving c as 256 Hertz. Somebody can tell us
what that makes orchestral a come out at; rather lower than a=440 I guess.
IIRC, "concert pitch" gives middle c as 261.625 Hertz; higher than the
2-ft pipe standard.

Through repeated cone-hammer tuning, old organs tended to get higher and
higher in pitch over the years. A large London organ I have played was
recently restored to "concert" pitch (a=440) which involved replanting
the pipes up a semitone, because they had all gotten so sharp!

Cone-hammer tuning is no longer permitted in this country. It causes the
pipe foot to collapse, as well as damaging the top.

--
Ben Crick <ben....@argonet.co.uk> ZFC Gd
Acorn RiscPC 700, 37 MB, not yet StrongArm, USR 14.4
Coming to you from Birchington near Margate in Kent.


Gregory De Santis

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Mar 12, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/12/98
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: Interesting. Old organs have an 8-ft pipe for bottom CC (manuals), with


: a 2-ft pipe for middle c, giving c as 256 Hertz. Somebody can tell us
: what that makes orchestral a come out at; rather lower than a=440 I guess.
: IIRC, "concert pitch" gives middle c as 261.625 Hertz; higher than the
: 2-ft pipe standard.

8-4-2, etc. is simply a rough and simple notational standard for organ
builders and organists to work with and agree upon. Where on earth did
you get the idea that it describes the exact theoretical pitch of the
pipe? Show literature or documents that say otherwise. And what about
temperaments? What about referring to a Quint as either a 3' or 2 2/3 '?


: Through repeated cone-hammer tuning, old organs tended to get higher and


: higher in pitch over the years. A large London organ I have played was
: recently restored to "concert" pitch (a=440) which involved replanting
: the pipes up a semitone, because they had all gotten so sharp!

So, you're saying that the tuners don't use a reference pitch or aren't
aware of it. If so, they're incompetent in the extreme.

: Cone-hammer tuning is no longer permitted in this country. It causes the


: pipe foot to collapse, as well as damaging the top.

I'm not aware that's true, and I doubt it. What you describe only happens
when the pipes are not properly constructed for cone tuning and/or the
tuner is not skilled in the technique such tuning. Now THAT'S common,
unfortunately.

BTW, I've made pipes for a builder that does only cone tuning, and am also
an organist. The problems you decribe do not exist when one knows what
one is doing.

- gds

Ben Crick

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Mar 13, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/13/98
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In article <6e886k$7fd$2...@news.ncal.verio.com>, Gregory De Santis

<rol...@shell.wco.com> wrote:
> 8-4-2, etc. is simply a rough and simple notational standard for organ
> builders and organists to work with and agree upon. Where on earth did
> you get the idea that it describes the exact theoretical pitch of the
> pipe? Show literature or documents that say otherwise. And what about
> temperaments? What about referring to a Quint as either a 3' or 2 2/3 '?

There is a fascinating discussion of pitch versus pipe length in George
Ashdown Audsley, /The Art of Organ Building/, London, Ontario & New York,
1905, vol I, ch 9, pp 357-404. Cavaillé-Coll's formulae for determining
the exact dimensions of each pipe in a rank are given and discussed.
Final tuning is done by the voicer after the pipe has been constructed
to the book measurements.

In WL Sumner, /The Organ/, 2nd Ed., London, 1955, Preface p ix, there
is a table of Helmholtz pitches versus pipe lengths. Middle-c of an
8' Principal is shown as 256 cps (Hertz). Ellis in his /History of
Musical Pitch/, London, 1891, gives orchestral A=377 Hz (lower pitch),
up to A=504 Hz (higher pitch). So it seems A=440 is a reasonable
compromise.

Temperament is a matter of the exact or otherwise tuning of the thirds,
fourths, and fifths. With exact temperament intervals, music can only
be played in the 7 keys from 3 flats to 3 sharps, and their relative
minors. With Equal Temperament, the full "48" of the WTC can be played
without dissonance. The newly restored organ at St Helen's Bishopsgate,
London, is in exact temperament: and to hear Bach's great Preludes &
Fugues with all the mixtures sounding in exact temperament is a delight
to the ear. Not so in the remote keys! Some hymn-tunes for congregational
singing have to be transposed into more user-friendly keys by the player.

The Quint is 2 and 2/3rds ft; abbreviated to "3ft" in some specifications.
The standard compass of early British organs was GG compass, with the
bottom pipe stated to be 12ft, and upwards 6ft, 3ft, etc. "12ft" was
actually 10 and 2/3rds ft. Clearly these labellings are conventional.

> So, you're saying that the tuners don't use a reference pitch or aren't
> aware of it.

When a thorough re-tune is ordered, the Gt Principal c is tuned to a
c=256 tuning fork; the rest of the rank is tuned with respect to this.
The rest of the organ is then tuned to the Principal, with special
attention to the Mixtures. For the regular quick thrice-yearly tuning
check, only pipes audibly off-pitch are adjusted much less rigorously.
You get what you pay for!

Thanks for your comments, Gregory. I'm a player, not a builder; but my
late uncle (Norman Gray) was Manager of Rushworth & Dreaper's Organ
Works in Liverpool, England, until his retirement in the 60s. He started
his apprenticeship just after WW1, and his first major job was the big
4-manual in Malvern Priory, Worcestershire, in 1928. I played it when I
was at school there in 1947-51 (and the old Hope-Jones in Worcester
Cathedral, with its Diaphones).

fh...@midway.uchicago.edu

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Mar 13, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/13/98
to

I remember reading in last month's Gramophone that Ma used the
"period" pitch of a=415 in his new version of suites, which
is exactly half tone flatter than what's the norm nowadays.

Fang-lin


In article <3505ce37...@nntp.ix.netcom.com>,


-----== Posted via Deja News, The Leader in Internet Discussion ==-----
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pam :)

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Mar 13, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/13/98
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As I don't have perfect pitch, I can't always tell if a tune if slightly off
(unless it's REALLY off - that's a different story). But I can say that
even if Yo-Yo Ma played it flat - it still sounded beautiful to me. I
haven't heard anyone else play them to compare it to, but I "saw" him live
last summer at the Tanglewood Institute (I put the "saw" in quotes because
as a student there I sat out in the lawn of Ozawa Hall off to the side so
you couldn't see in. Before the second half started I ran over to the
center, saw a white blob bow and sit down, and then ran over to my friends
saying over and over "I saw Yo-Yo Ma! I saw Yo-Yo Ma!" Anyways...) He
performed 3 Bach Cello Suites, and they were simply beautiful. His sound
just filled the air - it was breath-taking. :)

pam

Alex Adams wrote in message <3505ce37...@nntp.ix.netcom.com>...

DArtagnan

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Mar 15, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/15/98
to

yes... as several other people have mentioned, the standard accepted pitch
for the baroque era (for the A) is 415.... basically because you canNOT tune
the strings of a baroque-era string instrument to a=440... the gut strings
just cannot cope

1685-1750

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Mar 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/24/98
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Ben Crick wrote in message ...


I think that the above temperament definition and explanation is a little
bit incomplete.

Non tempered tuning means creating a chromatic scale from the superposition
of 12 fifhts (C-G-D-A and so on). But when constructing a scale this way,
you are limited to the tonality from the fifth you started, and nearer
tonalities, but as far as you get from C (asuming that the scale was devised
from C) certaind dissonances begin to show. Why? Because when the sum of all
the 12 fifhts is done, one does not "arrive" to a perfec C an octave higher,
but the resutlant C is more or less a quarter tone sharp (I don't remember
exaclty). So, the solution for being able to modulate to far tonalities was
the "tempered tuning". This consisted in creating the chromatic scale by a
fifth that is slightly flat (very slightly, almost imperceptible), so as to
ensure that all intervals are perfectly equal, and therefore, any key is
equally apt for being played.
Is not that you can't modulate more than "from 3 sharps to 3
flats". You can go until your ear stands the cacophony! ;-) It's not a fixed
quantity. If it's a good ear, I think the "tolerance" is 1 or 2 sharps, or
flats.
Since 15th century, more and less, all instruments with fixed keys
adapted the tempered system. But string instruments, such as violin, don't
necesarily have to, because they naturaly play in the key the song is (we
are talking about a very good player). People with very refined ears say
that music played by non tempered instruments sounds better; that's why the
string quartet is considered by so many people as the form of music "par
excellence".
Tempered tuning created a very respectable job: piano tuners ;-).
The most difficult thing to do to tune a piano is to "cut" the fifth, making
it a little flater. That's why to be able to tune a piano requires more than
a "good ear".


By the way, does anybody know if are there synths that are capable
of tuning in a non-tempered way, and changing the tuning every time one
modulates?

Victor Eijkhout

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Mar 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/24/98
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"1685-1750" <quaerendo_...@usa.net> writes:

> By the way, does anybody know if are there synths that are capable
> of tuning in a non-tempered way, and changing the tuning every time one
> modulates?

Yes, hardware solutions have existed for that for a long time
(I seem to recall an Arp something at least 10 years back),
and publications like Electronic Musician have occasional
articles publishing solutions such as using pitch bend with
a zero bend time to achieve different tunings. I'm sure there
are also machines that have tuning tables.

--
Victor Eijkhout

Ben Crick

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Mar 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/24/98
to

In article <6f7m3e$90h$1...@ul3.satlink.com>, "1685-1750"

<quaerendo_...@usa.net> wrote:
> By the way, does anybody know if are there synths that are capable
> of tuning in a non-tempered way, and changing the tuning every time one
> modulates?

I don't know of one commercially available; but for mean temperament you
need an oscillator that steps in increments of the 12th root of 2, there
being 12 semitones in one octave, and each octave is double the pitch of
the lower one. My Yamaha pf85 is Mean Temperament tuned; you can tell
which key you are in by the "key colour".

All musical tuning is a compromise. Perfect intervals sound better in
harmonies and especially mutation ranks. I agree with you about the
string quartet.

I "get the bearings" by going up a 5th from middle C to G; down a 4th
to D; up a 5th to A; down a 4th to E; up a 5th to B; down a 4th to F#;
up a 5th to C#; down a 4th to Ab. Then back to middle C; up a 4th to F;
up a 4th to Bb (not A#); down a 5th to Eb. If all is well, up a 4th to
the already tuned Ab should be OK. If not, do it again with narrower
fifths and wider fourths! Then tune all the other notes by octaves up
and down. Pianos with more than one string per note need to have the
other strings damped whilst the first is tuned; then the other(s) tuned
in unison. A blind piano-tuner I knew used to fine-tune by adjusting the
major thirds! I don't have his ear...

I've not tried tuning organs (except the reeds when they go flat; then
I just tune them to the Gt Principal in unison). I've assisted organ
tuners by holding down the keys for them. They "count the beats" and
do the fifths slightly narrow, and the fourths slightly wide, until they
have "got the bearings".

Thanks for your very interesting contribution.

walar...@gmail.com

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Dec 30, 2016, 1:53:29 PM12/30/16
to
On Wednesday, March 11, 1998 at 4:00:00 AM UTC-4, Stephen Pollard wrote:
> Over the past few centuries so-called "standard pitch" has risen higher
> and higher, to the extent of about a half-step since the early 1700s.
> It's likely that this is the reason Yo-Yo Ma recorded the Bach "flat."
> The cello responds in an entirely different way when it's tuned down a
> half-step.

Stephen Pollard of Downers Grove fame?

walar...@gmail.com

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Dec 30, 2016, 1:53:58 PM12/30/16
to

walar...@gmail.com

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Dec 30, 2016, 1:54:35 PM12/30/16
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S Pollard of Downers Grove fame?

18...@fhps.net

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Apr 30, 2017, 5:17:40 PM4/30/17
to
On Tuesday, March 10, 1998 at 3:00:00 AM UTC-5, Alex Adams wrote:
> My friend with absolute pitch told me that his recording of the Bach
> cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma was a semitone flat from start to finish.
> Has anyone else noticed this? I would like to know whether he simply
> had a defective CD, or the entire production was botched. I saw the
> film series, and I generally liked his performances, particularly in
> the fast movements (above all the D minor Courante); but some aspects
> I simply could not understand, like the unbelievably slow tempo he
> chose for the D minor Prelude, which robbed that masterpiece of its
> passion, resulting in a mere succession of notes. And throughout he
> seemed to look very darkly at the suites, when I have always thought
> of them as being, as a whole, joyous; particularly the triumphant D
> Major, in which the plodding tempo he chose for the Allemande turned a
> beautiful, romantic movement almost into a lament. In any case, I
> suppose I'm biased toward the Csaba Onczay recording on Naxos, but the
> cello suites are among my favourite works of the entire repertoire,
> and I would like to hear what others have thought of them.
>
> ---
> Alex Adams
>
> As you from crimes would pardoned be,
> Let your indulgence set me free.

I think your friend was right- I attempted to play along to the Minuets from the suite in G major, and I noticed that.

--
Forest Hills Public Schools Student

Phillip Helbig (undress to reply)

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May 1, 2017, 2:04:48 AM5/1/17
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In article <5705e548-c303-4782...@googlegroups.com>,
18...@fhps.net writes:

> On Tuesday, March 10, 1998 at 3:00:00 AM UTC-5, Alex Adams wrote:
> > My friend with absolute pitch told me that his recording of the Bach
> > cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma was a semitone flat from start to finish.

Note that a' was not 440 Hz in the Baroque time, but lower. Many
Baroque recordings take this into account.

Remember, absolute pitch is just a good memory.

Phillip Helbig

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Sep 7, 2017, 2:26:31 AM9/7/17
to
>> My friend with absolute pitch told me that his recording of the Bach
>> cello suites by Yo-Yo Ma was a semitone flat from start to finish.

Compared to what? Remember that a' = 440Hz is relatively modern. It is
not uncommon to have a' = 415Hz or a' = 392 Hz for Baroque music.

Phillip Helbig

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Sep 7, 2017, 2:29:04 AM9/7/17
to
Exactly. At least in most cases. When I hear two tones, one can be
higher or lower than the other, but they are qualitatively the same.
Physically, the same applies to light, but I perceive colours as being
qualitatively different. Perhaps some people have a similar perception
of sounds. In this case, absolute pitch is no more puzzling than my
ability to say that something is blue without having to compare it to
another colour of known name. In either case, of course, a' = 440Hz is
a modern convention.

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