Österreichische Höhe Stimmung
Austrian High Tuning

Below is an excerpt from an essay about the history of the Austrian High Tuning by Andreas and Anna Zenker in the Festschrift zum 25-jährigen Bestandsjubiläum der Emaus Junger (here in translation and with additional annotations) :
Information about the High Tuning

The high tuning in the Austrian brass music until the 1960s was nothing unusual, rather the everyday.

Origin of the High Tuning

The Imperial-Royal regimental music was the model for the civilian brass bands, which from 1885 had to align itself uniformly with the tuning key a' = 461.5 Hz.1

The question of the tuning pitch  of regimental music in the Imperial Army is closely related to the general situation in the area of the pitch and frequency determination of the historical wind instrumentation up to the middle of the 19th century. The tuning pitch of the military music was probably derived from the cornett pitch of the city piper ("Zinkton der Stadtpfeifer"). The tuning pitch is rarely mentioned in writings on military and brass music, although in the case of the co-operation of several bands there were necessarily problems with this non-uniform pitch. Nevertheless, it was possible to organize so-called monster concerts with the available instruments, for example on September 26, 1853 on the occasion of the Olomouc Grand Maneuvers, in which several regimental bands were combined into a sound body by Andreas Leonhardt, which can only be imagined and realized with uniform pitch.2  There were, however, events where two military bands were playing together, producing a disharmony so violent that one of them had to be commanded to silence.

The atmosphere of the Imperial-Royal military bands, depending on the origin and producer of the wind instruments, was between 441.827 Hz and 485, 677 Hz for the pitch a', which corresponds approximately to [a difference of] a whole tone. Of the 103 regimental bands, only 12 bands were not in the range of the 1891 high tuning of a' 461 Hz.

The Unification of the High Tuning

In Vienna, the newspaper had already reported the introduction of the normal French pitch in Vienna's court orchestras in the 1860s, and also that the introduction of the new pitch in the army was already a matter of principle. The reality was not entirely in harmony. In 1885, a tuning conference was convened in Vienna, in which some delegated military band directors (Karl Komzák played a major role) and teachers of the Vienna Conservatory under the chairmanship of Joseph Fux, in order to fix the military tuning. The most eloquent advocate of the normalization of the orchestral pitch to the Imperial-Royal military music in the Donaumonarchy [Austro-Hungarian Empire] was the music critic Eduard Hanslick. He was the first to demand a higher pitch. "Since military musicians are mainly playing outdoors and have to work at a greater distance, a sharper, brighter sound is indispensable to them, a higher mood. " The most important thing for him, however, was a uniform pitch of all regimental music in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. A conversion to the "deep" Parisian mood would in any case not be enforceable for reasons of cost anyway and a common music with singers and civilians was not necessary. Since most music bands already had a pitch of approx. 460 Hz, it was not far from fixing the tone for the military bands in this region.

Before the convocation of the international Vienna tuning conference, a questionnaire concerning the occupation as well as the origin and manufacturer of the instruments, the purchase price, etc. with attached tuning fork was sent to all commanders of the Imperial Infantry Regiments and the War Navy. The respective band masters should adjust the tuning fork of their pitch and return to the Imperial War Ministry. This determined the differences in tuning in the table. The evaluation confirmed the partial large differences of pitch up to approximately one whole tone and the majority of the band playing. It was also compared and practically tested the sound effect of normal-tuned and high-pitched military marching music. Komzák then proposed to consider the tone a' with 921.733 simple oscillations per second (i.e., 460.8665 Hz). 3   This tone is exactly one-half higher than that of the Parisian pitch conference, which is decided by the Normal-a 'with 870 / sec. (i.e., 435 Hz) and, expressed mathematically, corresponds to the multiplication of the frequency of the a 'of the Parisian tuning of the ratio of two juxtaposed halftones of the tempered tuning:

This so-called "high pitch" was fixed in 1891 as the compulsory norm for all military music of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Like the cornett's pitch in the wind instruments of the 17th and 18th centuries, it was intended to give the wind sound a greater brilliancy and a strong carrying capacity. While the regimental music in the wind instrument unit had to adapt itself to this new norm, the military string orchestras received the then international standard pitch (a '= 435 Hz).

Downfall of the High Pitch

The "high pitch" remained in Austria until the end of the Second World War, and even tapped far beyond this, although the normal pitch of a '= 440 was fixed in 1937. The association of the military music bands with avocational and amateur wind musicians was great, which is why the village musicians played in the high pitch. Most of them did not have the financial resources to buy a whole new set of instruments after the war.  

Special thanks to Andreas Zenker, director of the Emaus-Jünger, for graciously providing historical background of the Austrian high-pitch tuning,

1.  The "Golden Age" of military music began with the 19th century.  Almost every K & K Regiment wanted to have its own military music, and by the second decade military bands began to perform concerts. The popularity of these public Platzkonzerte gave the military captains great prestige. In addition to marches, melodies from operas and operettas, popular songs, and potpourris were very popular.  Political statements, however, were strictly forbidden, giving rise to competing civilian bands to accompany political events.   

2. The 20th of September, 1853 is long remembered as a great day in the history of military music of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. On that day the Emperor invited the Russian Czar Nicholas I, the princes of Prussia, Bavaria, and Wurttemberg, and other archdukes and high-ranking officers. A massive concert was organized with a total of 1500 musicians, from 13 infantry, 13 hunting corps, 11 cavalry regiments, and 300 drummers under the musical direction of Andreas Leonhardt (see below). In addition to the marches, the music included the particularly solemn horn signal Zapfenstreich (Tattoo) of the Austrian army attributed to Michael Haydn. Over the course of many decades a ceremonial emerged, which developed into a military drama called “Der große Zapfenstreich.” In the Austrian army, this solemn military evening music, which only took place on special occasions, was performed for the first time in 1769 in a reign of the infantry regiment Count Lacy. Military captain and composer Christian Andreas Leonhardt was born on April 19, 1800 in Asch near Eger, Bohemia. He received his musical training with H. Payer in Vienna and H. Klein in Pressburg, and entered the band of Imperial Regiment No. 2 in 1818. He served as Kappelmeister with several regiments before going to Graz in 1835, where he became professor of voice and choirmaster of the Grazer Männergesangverein. In 1850 as he became Kapellmeister of the IR No. 60 in Vienna, and was called one year later in the newly created office of the Armeekapellmeister. As such, he was entrusted with the reorganization of military music, including the systematization of signaling and marching tempo, retiring 1862. He continued to teach at the Viennese Hofopernschule until his death on October 3, 1866 in Vienna. He became fairly wealthy with the organization of so-called "monster concerts" on special occasions (as in 1853 in Olomouc) as well as in the establishment of the military Kapellmeister-Pensionsvereine in 1860.

  3. The peculiar practice of reckoning frequency of sound waves by counting the compressions and rarefactions separately (half cycles), is apparently due to the influential German acoustician Ernst Florens Friedrich Chladni who called them einfache Schwingungen  ("simple oscillations"). This method, of course, leads to frequency calculations of twice the number of cycles per second (Hertz) used today, just as a mechanical metronome clicks twice during each full cycle.  Chladni's landmark book on acoustics was published in both Germany (1802) and France (1806) where this practice was adopted for most of the nineteenth century. In England and elsewhere, however, sound frequency continued to be calculated in full cycles per second (which Chladni called "doppel Schwingungen") following the eighteenth century acoustical theories of Sauvert, Newton, et. al.  The English mathematician, Augustus De Morgan, called this "swing-swang", like the complete cycle of a pendulum. 


Anzenberger, Friedrich, Symposiumsbericht: Symposium zur Musik der Hoch- und Deutschmeister in der Donaumonarchie, Books on Demand, March 29, 2016

Anzenberger-Ramminger, Elisabeth; Fastl, Christian, "Leonhardt, Christian Andreas", in: Oesterreichisches Musiklexikon Online, Access: April, 2017.

Broucek, Peter, Ein General im Zweilicht, Die Erinnerungen Edmund Glaises von Horstenau, Böhlau Verlag Wien, 1980

Chladni, Ernst Florens Friedrich, Die Akustik, Breitkopf und Härtel, Leipzig, 1802

Chladni, Ernst Florens Friedrich, Die Akustik (Neue unveränderte Ausgabe), Breitkopf und Härtel, Leipzig, 1830

Chladni, Ernst Florens Friedrich, Entdeckungen über die Theorie des Klanges, Wiedmanns Erben und Reich, Leipzig, 1787

Chladni, Ernst Florens Friedrich, Traité d'Acoustique, Chez Courcier, Paris, 1809

Chladni, Ernst Florens Friedrich, Über Longitudinalfschwingungen der Saiten  und Stäbe, Nebst bengefügten Bemerkungen über die Fortleitung des Schalles durch feste Körper (excerpt) in Magazin für den neuesten Zustand der Naturkunde mit Rüchsicht auf die dazu gehörigen Hülfswissenschaften, Johann Heinrich Voigt, ed.,  Der Akademischen Buchhandlung, Jena, September, 1797

Donkin, William Fishburn, Acoustics: Theoretical, Part 1, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1870
Mousson, Albert, Die Physik auf Grundlage der Erfahrung,  Friedrich Schulthess, Zürich, 1879

Zenker, Andreas, and Zenker, Anna,  Festschrift zum 25-jährigen Bestandsjubliläum der Emaus-Jünger, Bubnik, Ebenau, 2013

Zieger, Stefan, Die Österreichische Militärmusik. Die Burgenländische Militärmusik. Seminararbeit zum 3. Jugendreferenten – Seminar West 2009/10

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