Music of the Day


A lovely performance of Henry Purcell’s (1659-1695) An Evening Hymn upon a Ground: Now that the sun hath veil’d his light, Z 193.

Emma Kirkby, soprano
Anthony Rooley, lute
Christopher Hogwood, organ

In case you have ever noticed how older music sounds different (and not simply because of the style), it’s because the tuning of the instruments were quite different from today’s. Our instruments are now tuned to concert pitch A = 440 Hz (the measurement of the sound vibrations of different pitches), while older instruments were slightly mellower, and had a lower vibration of A = 390 to around 400Hz. It would vary depending on the tastes of the musicians, the instruments (stringed instruments would need continuous tuning – over tuning the instruments would put too much stress on the strings), the setting, and the room, unlike today where all instruments must remain at 440 Hz. There were some composers before 440 was the set standard who preferred their instruments tuned above 440, giving a brighter, more awake sound to the music. However, going too far in that direction can sound too piercing and can be almost painful after a while if over tuned. Early music listeners enjoyed a less strict tuning basis, and a mellower tuning that was more enjoyable to the ear.


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