Baroque era, Baroque era tunings, classissima,, Daniel Waitzman, Elaine Comparone, flute, harpsichord, piano blog, piano blogging

J.S. Bach, the piano, harpsichord and early music tunings

Elaine Comparone, a well-regarded harpsichordist rendered a dance movement from J.S. Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G, (BWV 816) that I’d performed on the pianoforte. In the Loure, (written in G Major) I was immediately struck by a pitch disparity between our respective instruments. While Loure was composed in the key of G Major, it suddenly sounded in the Key of F (or a tad under) according to A 440 frequency standard. While Elaine looked like she was playing in G, she inhabited another tonal cosmos. This unusual circumstance tweaked my curiosity and led to my querying the performing artist and one of her colleagues, Daniel Waitzman, about the universe of early music tunings and transposition.

Before launching into a discussion about the reasons for Baroque period tuning adjustments, a sample of harpsichord and piano French Suite performances provide a point of reference.



Elaine Comparone:

“In the old days they played at various, non-standardized pitches. Italy was high—Venice especially, I believe, but surviving instruments, organs and flutes mainly, were pitched lower. The current (past 50 years or so) “early music” cognoscenti found enough evidence to support an A pitched at 415, or one half step below 440. Today, most if not all early music groups play at A equals 415.

“Both of my instruments (built in the late 60s) were pitched at A 440 at delivery. Then the harpsichord builders began to add transposing keyboards to their instruments to accommodate the current trend.”

Daniel Waitzman, a virtuoso flutist, and composer offered the following in-depth narrative about historical tuning practices:

As you know, the French set the pitch at about A=392 in the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century, at around the same time that the Hotteterres transformed the shawm into the oboe and the more-or-less cylindrical keyless six-holed flute into the one-keyed flute. (The reform of the woodwinds and of the orchestra occurred simultaneously with the reform of the pitch.) Bach was undoubtedly familiar with this, since he knew and worked with French flutists. Pitch standards in those days were far more variable–and even chaotic–than we are given to believe today. For example, Vivaldi’s Venetian pitch was about 440: nonetheless I have had to give many performances of his Piccolo Recorder concerti at Kammerton (A= 415, as it is interpreted today, for the convenience of its being exactly a half-step below our presumed norm of 440).

Bach worked every day with at least two pitches: the old high pitch of organs built in the Renaissance, about a half-step above 440: thus a whole step above his second standard pitch of Kammerton–422 or thereabouts–from whence the modern “early music” pitch of 415. Indeed, some of his works, such as Cantata 106 and Cantata 8 are rendered more difficult when performed from the old Bach Gesellschaft edition, since those early editors were pianists who assumed that Bach’s organ notation–he treated the organ as a transposing instrument–was the point of departure, rather than the other way around. What is, on the keyboard, an inconvenience becomes on a woodwind a sometimes-crushing burden, if one transpose the woodwind parts, rather than the organ part.

Frederick the Great’s court (Quantz, C.P.E. Bach, Benda, and a whole bunch of other geniuses, with Voltaire lurking in the background–my God!–My wife, Mona and I had the privilege of visiting his summer palace, Sans Souci in Potsdam, back in 1997; an unforgettable experience; one of his Quantz flutes lies on one of the few of his surviving Silbermann fortepianos–the Russkies got the rest in the Great Patriotic War–no, they did not let me play on it; but I had a conversation with the curator in my broken German, and I have played another of Quantz’s instruments in the Dayton C. Milller Collection at the Library of Congress, before it cracked a second time: a wonderful instrument. My own Quantz-near-replica is quite remarkable too, although I have to have the D# key repaired)–Frederick the Great’s court, I say, adopted the French low pitch of A=ca. 392. This is largely because of two factors: Firstly, Frederick considered himself an honorary Frenchman, like so many of the other aristocrats of the day; and secondly, Quantz’s reform of the flute (2-keyed for enharmonic distinctions associated with mean-tone and other non-equal temperaments; wide bore, restricted third octave to favor the lower register and enhance the cross-fingerings; enlarged embouchure hole; tuning slide) was made at the low French pitch. I can testify that Quantz’s flutes are among the very best of the old flutes; and that the old French pitch works brilliantly on the old flute–I have played an original Hotteterre flute in Boston. In his book, Quantz himself speculates on the possibility of re-scaling his flutes to Kammerton (422); but argues that doing so would change the nature of the instrument. The argument continues today; and there is, in fact, some truth to it. Quantz, by the way, did on occasion build flutes to different scalings more in accordance with the usual pattern; and anyone who tries to convince us that the old masters were as doctrinaire and pig-headed as modern early-music cultists is a liar.

Now, it is therefore probable that Bach tuned his harpsichords, at least occasionally, to the low French pitch.

You Tube Channel:

A sample of Waitzman’s artistry is offered in the modern day key of B minor:


To fast forward to the late 19th and early 20th Century, vintage pianos may have been tuned under 440 as well, but certainly not down a whole step from today’s concert A., provides a list of important dates:

1880 Steinway may have been using a pitch of A436. According to Steinway of New York, 1880 is right around the time they switched from three piece rims to the continuous rim that is used today. So it is unlikely the pitch was any higher before 1880, yet Steinway of London had a fork A454.7.

1885 In Vienna a pitch of A435.4 was adopted at a temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit for A.

1885 At an international exhibition of inventions and music in London a pitch of A452 was adopted.

1896 Philharmonic pitch A439, giving C522

1925 On the 11th of June the American music industry adopted A440.

1936 American Standards Association adopted A440. yet; New York Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, use 442 Hz

1939 At an international conference A440 was adopted.
The pitch of A440 has remained the standard since 1939. Pitches have risen a little, particularly in Eastern European countries, which often wish pianos to be tuned to A 444 or even a bit above. Some concert halls in the UK and European countries have two pianos on site, one tuned to A440 and one tuned to A 444. This is to keep the pianos stable, as constantly raising and lowering the pitch is not good for the piano; it makes it hard for the piano tuner to make the tuning stable.

Bel Kaufman, Claudio Arrau, Daniel Waitzman, Elaine Comparone, Eugene Lehner, Franz Mohr, Gerard Schwarz, Herbert Gardner, Indiana University, James Gardner actor, Leon Fleisher, Lillian Freundlich, Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich, Marble Hill Projects, Marjorie Janove, Menahem Pressler, Murray Perahia, Raphael de Silva, Roselle Kemalyan, Samuel Gardner, Seagate, Seymour Bernstein, six degrees of separation, six degrees of separation in the music world, Theodor Leschetizky, Vladimir Horowitz

Shrinking degrees of separation in the music world?

The musical universe is smaller than we think. And perhaps this writing will incubate a linked chain of “connections” that will go further–especially since my relocation to Berkeley, California (September, 2012)

So here it is:

Now that I’m well past my Oberlin Conservatory student years, I notice that Lillian Freundlich, my beloved teacher during my New York City H.S. of Performing Arts era, is honored posthumously at the Peabody Institute website by students a bit younger than me.

lillianfreundlich  lil2

An Oberlin alumna, she began commuting to Baltimore, launching a second teaching career after her husband, Irwin, former Chair of the Juilliard Piano Department, passed away. That followed my relocation to Fresno in 1979. It’s no wonder that I would stumble upon Leon Fleisher, concert pianist, and Peabody faculty member when he performed on our local Philip Lorenz Memorial Concerts Series. He had spoken glowingly about my teacher.

If one went back far enough, Lillian Lefkofsky Freundlich’s piano teachers would have led to the famous pedagogue, Theodore Leschetizky, a historic name with its own treasure trove of connections. Reeling out his many students and theirs would unleash a gush of them with their tie-ins to the next generation of performing pianists. The list of virtuoso concert artists Leschetizky trained included Anna Yesipova, Ignaz Friedman, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Artur Schnabel, Mark Hambourg, Alexander Brailowsky, Benno Moiseiwitsch, and Mieczysław Horszowski.

Horszowski crops up on a short list of Murray Perahia’s mentors. The legendary pianist had a connection to the Marlboro Festival in Vermont. (Murray was my classmate at the New York City High School of Performing Arts.)

Speaking of teachers and their descendants, I studied with Ena Bronstein before she left Fresno and continued her career at the Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, NJ. Ena, a Chilean, was a student of Claudia Arrau’s assistant, Raphael De Silva, but played often for Arrau. When Gilmore award-winning pianist, Ingrid Fliter performed in Fresno, her bio revealed studies with De Silva, and by association a connection to Philip Lorenz, former husband of Ena Bronstein. Lorenz founded the Fresno Keyboard Concerts Series and helped Arrau edit the complete edition of Beethoven sonatas.

Emigration to California and more connections.

No sooner than I had touched down in the richly fertile San Joaquin Valley, I bumped into Lillian’s Freundlich’s Oberlin Conservatory roommate, Roselle Bezazian Kemalyan, from the class of 1933.

Kemalyan had set up the Bezazian piano scholarship at Oberlin, her legacy into the Millennium. The Bezazian name, has its own reservoir of connections.

Before I had even met Lillian Freundlich through her nephew, Douglas, (a well established Lutenist) and former camper at Merrywood in Lenox, Massachusetts, I acquired my first decent piano, a Sohmer upright formerly owned by Lucy Brown, a well-known New York City based concert pianist.

Uncannily, I recently discovered that Seymour Bernstein, the revered pianist and teacher, author of With Your Own Two Hands, had taught a student, who was a former pupil of the late, Lucy Brown, and “loved her.” (Would Lucy have known Ethel Elfenbein, my first West side teacher who played on the East River concert series?) Both had made appearances at historic Town Hall.

In the same e-mail exchange, I discovered that Bernstein had used Franz Mohr to maintain his Steinway B. The piano technician turned up in Fresno in 1990, to help resuscitate my Steinway “M.” Dispatched by Steinway and Sons, after my article “How Could This Happen to My Piano?!” was published in the Piano Quarterly, Mohr had just completed a book memorializing his years as Vladimir Horowitz’s personal tuner.

Not to forget that Bernstein lists Alexander Brailowsky (a tie to Leschitizky) as one of his teachers.

Rosina Lhevinne, ushers in another gush of connections too long to tabulate, except to mention that I attended Lhevinne’s 80th birthday celebration concert at the Juilliard School back in 1960. Van Cliburn, John Browning, and Mischa Dichter, among her many illustrious students, were no doubt present at that event.

Flash forward:


Having met Elaine Comparone, harpsichordist, through her Internet postings and You Tube channel a few years ago, I discovered that she played chamber music with Daniel Waitzman, recorder virtuoso, who was a Marble Hill Projects dweller when I was living there from age 5 to 19. In fact, I heard him sample three different range recorders in his apartment one afternoon when he was about 18 years old. A Vivaldi presto played on a sopranino produced an unabashed display of virtuosity.

If that wasn’t enough of a common thread, I learned that Comparone took chamber music classes with Eugene Lehner, former principal violist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra when she was a Brandeis student. Lehner coached a string quartet at the Merrywood Music Camp where I played second violin.


Toss in Diana Halperin, violinist, and Gerard Schwarz, conductor whom I knew at the HS of Performing Arts. Both eventually performed with Comparone.

Taking a journey down memory lane, I’ll never forget the day I had bumped into two ladies at the Richmond California Amtrak station as I was heading home to Fresno from my El Cerrito piano studio.

Noticing their thick Bronx accents, I edged up to them like an in-your-face New Yorker would, and inquired about their origins. No sooner than I got my answer, we were seated tightly at a small table on southbound train 712 jabbering away.

In the course of the first twenty minutes, I discovered that both women lived right beside the music school I attended as a small child which was located off Kingsbridge Road and Jerome. To my astonishment, these ladies confided that they knew the eccentric Director, Mrs. Elston who came with beaded glasses and an officious demeanor. She sermonized about a “progressive” musical education that had a political and dialectical overlay. I just sat impatiently as a 6-year old, while my mother sucked it all up.

What an amazing coincidence to meet two people who knew Elston back then! As it played out, one of the travelers became a Facebook friend and lives in Florida. The other, who relocated to Arkansas, has been out of touch.

Bel Kaufman, author of the bestseller, Up the Down Staircase, and my English teacher at the Performing High Arts school celebrated as FAME knew my great aunt Sonia, among other relatives at Seagate, (on Long Island) Ardent lovers of Sholom Aleichem’s writings gathered in a lovely setting to read and share cultural kinship (in the 1940s) No doubt music was a vital part of these convergences.

This is a good place to insert a discovery that “Musakant” was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name acquired through painstaking Genealogy research conducted by my second cousin, Leon Ginenthal. I tried to go one step further, to find out if the family owned a piano factory in Eastern Europe as had been rumored. But I was resoundingly stopped in my tracks by a Music History Professor at the City University of New York. She insisted that all arrows pointed to St. Petersburg, not remotely a part of my family’s migration. Kaput! Finished! NO CONNECTION!


In a less “related” Facebook driven search, I had a Page reunion with Herbert Gardner, my Orchestra teacher at John Peter Tetard JHS 143 in the Bronx. His father, Samuel Gardner, became my violin teacher in New York City. Having played with the famous Kneisel Quartet based in New England, Sam probably knew, Eugene Lehner, a long-time member of the Kolisch Quartet that played in Boston. (The New England connection)

Since Gardner Sr. made chamber music appearances at Blue Hill, Maine, where his teacher, Franz Kneisel founded the summer festival, it was no surprise that Murray Perahia would turn up in the 60s as a Blue Hill chamber musician along with his appearances at Marlboro in Vermont. (the Rudolf and Peter Serkin hub)

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is the next spin-off. Murray Perahia, Richard Stoltzman, Richard Goode, Elaine Comparone, and Andre Michel Shub come to mind. These names pop up in different locales. Stoltzman graced Fresno with a psychedelic concert, using a big screen of abstracts as an extra-musical backdrop. Perahia presented on Community Concerts here before it folded. Comparone insists she passed through Fresno under CC auspices. In one form or another she turns up as the ultimate in harpsichord playing. Goode, a close companion of Perahia more than tags along, having culled a reputation as a serious Beethoven interpreter and master class presenter.

As it happened, I heard Goode play in Karl-Ulrich Schnabel’s Masterclass at the Mannes College of Music back in the early 70s. Richard was then in his twenties, and performed the Schumann Fantasie. Speaking of Mannes, my latest connection to that music school, is through Irina Morozova, accomplished pianist and faculty member. I spotted her incredible set of You Tubes that revealed great artistry and sensitivity. She provides an additional tie-in to the Y, where I took coaching in Chamber Music from Yuval Waldman in the early 1970s, except that Morozova teaches at the Special School, known as the “other Kaufman Center on 67th Street,” not 92nd.

Flashing back:

Herb Gardner from my JHS days, it turns out, fathered son James, whom I remember from his containment in the stroller. A well respected actor, he turned up as Facebook friends with P.A. Grad, Alexander Carney, one of our “shared” connections.

Lillian Freundlich was friends with Rudolf Serkin I discovered when I greeted him in the Green room of Carnegie Hall following his memorable performance of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata. He was so kind to embrace me and send is warm regards to her.

Peter Serkin, Rudolf’s son, was close friends with Harris Goldsmith, one of my musical companions in New York City when I was living on West 74th Street. Harris was writing for High Fidelity Magazine reviewing concerts and disks. He was pals with Murray Perahia and Richard Goode.

Murray Perahia, a year ahead of me at P.A. turned up in Fresno for a Master class, three weeks before my delivery date. In a mini-reunion of sorts, I performed Beethoven’s “Tempest” Sonata, on edge.

Jerry Grossman, cellist and youngest member of the New York Philharmonic was my floor neighbor on West 74th Street and Amsterdam. I attended “Young People’s Concerts of the Phil,” when Leonard Bernstein was music director.

Loaded with musicians, our building housed apartment dwellers with even less than six degrees of separation between them. You could apply the same to the historic Ansonia a few blocks west which was stacked with opera singers who serenaded passersby below.

Members of the Metropolitan Opera came through the Ansonia with its own wealth of connections.

Marjorie Janove, piano teacher in Portland Oregon, to whom I referred a student, received her Doctorate at Indiana University, where she studied with Menahem Pressler. I heard Menahem perform with the Beaux Art Trio in Tanglewood when I attended Merrywood Music camp.

Another favorite from the Indiana school was Gyorgy Sebok, also known to Janove, who presented Masterclasses at the Oberlin Conservatory when I was a student.

Gabriela Montero, concert pianist and improviser who performed in Fresno, was a pupil of Rosalina Sackstein, one of my family members through marriage. I played for Rosalina when she visited my uncle and aunt in Hartsdale, New York. Sackstein was Chair of the Piano Department, University of Miami.

On that note, I’ll pause until more “connections” rise to the surface from my deep-layered, fuzzy memory.

Oops, I forgot that I spotted an Oberlin alumna at Seymour Bernstein’s You Tube Channel site. He featured “Lydia Seifter,” who was a member of the Jack Radunsky “rat pack.” (A group of his students, including myself, formed a clique at the Oberlin Conservatory)


Enough said.

If you have “connections” to share, please send. There’s no telling where all this could lead! We might be related.


Most recent documented Oberlin CONNECTION: to David and Eleanor Bidwell through John Bidwell, Authors Den contributor

My family’s genealogy

My High School Years:

Music, Life, and Memories (Recollections of Lillian Freundlich)

Piano teachers and students/Reluctant Farewells