Towards a History of Absolute Pitch Recognition

  • PDF:

Absolute pitch recognition, more commonly known as "perfect pitch," has been a controversial subject for much of the past century.1 Is the faculty inborn or is it acquired? Is it a measure of musical talent? The recent literature is filled with opposing views of its worth, running the gamut from Natasha Spender's defense of absolute pitch possession in the New Grove Dictionary as "a sensory and aesthetic life-enhancer," to a cutting remark in Diana Deutsch's Psychology of Music comparing possessors with idiot savants. One study points to the relative rarity of the phenomenon in the general population: "less than one-hundredth of one percent possesses absolute pitch," and another reports: "eighty-seven percent of a group of specially gifted concert performers had absolute pitch."2 This reinforces the popular notion that the ability is limited to a few exceptional musicians, and yet David L. Burge is now claiming great success in teaching "perfect pitch" to any adult who follows his listening exercises.3 In all the literature, however, there is little attempt to examine the topic from a historical perspective. What was the attitude towards absolute pitch recognition in previous centuries?

To begin with, it seems that the term "absolute pitch recognition," or in the original German, "absolutes Gehör," was first coined by Karl Stumpf in his Tonpsychologie, 1883-90.4 Since this is the start of scientific research into the phenomenon, let us examine briefly Stumpf's accomplishments and the nature of subsequent research activities. Stumpf was a pioneer in experimental psychology at the University of Berlin and was himself a possessor of absolute pitch. He conducted pitch recognition tests on himself and three other possessors, including the famous violoncello virtuoso and composer David Popper. He found that each tone was recognized on the basis of its own specific quality—what has come to be known as tone chroma or pitch color: the C-ness or D-ness of a pitchand that the high speed of judgment disallowed intervallic comparison with an inner reference tone. He also found that there was a wide range in pitch recognition abilities, with Popper being far superior to the other subjects.

Stumpf's initial research inspired many follow-up studies, which extend chronologically from such turn-of-the-century contributions as the long article by Otto Abraham in the Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft of 1901 to the current work done by psychomusicologists. Some of the early research, however, was misguided in that the researchers failed to understand the nature of absolute pitch recognition. For example, several experimenters claimed success in teaching absolute pitch recognition to adults: they were able to improve pitch recognition rates from average errors of 5 to 9 semitones to errors of only 4 to 6 semitones.5 But to identify a pitch with allowable errors of intervals of a major third or greater (allowing C to be identified as vol27id132 or E) is not to have absolute pitch. Such studies prompted a strong reaction from the physiologist A. Bachem of the University of Illinois College of Medicine. As a possessor, he was "amused by the fact that the most extensive work on 'absolute pitch' was conducted by psychologists who did not possess this faculty and that it was done on large groups of students, none of whom possessed this faculty either."6

The more recent studies are usually conducted in a very controlled, scientific manner. But again there is a lack of understanding of the nature of the ability and the experiences of the possessor. (For example, pure sine-wave tones are often used in clinical tests of pitch recognition, synthetic sounds which may be true indicators of "pitch" in the literal sense of wave-frequency, but which are sounds foreign to common musical experience.) As a result, many of the findings of such studies add little to our understanding of the phenomenon. Dale Reubart writes in 1985, "To the practical musician much of [the research] seems singularly myopic, naive, and atomistic. A great deal of effort has been expended, for instance, 1) to determine whether absolute pitch actually exists, 2) to determine if those claiming absolute pitch somehow are 'cheating' (i.e., relying upon some kind of relative pitch), 3) to determine how 'absolute' it is (i.e., whether errors in pitch discrimination involving intervals smaller than a semitone negates 'absoluteness'), and 4) whether or not errors involving octave transposition should count as errors."7

The best research on the topic is still that by Bachem in the six articles he wrote between 1937 and 1955, published mainly in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. He made a study of 103 cases of absolute pitch possession and devised the classification system shown in Figure 1.8


Figure 1. Types of Absolute Pitch.

A. Genuine absolute pitch, based upon immediate recognition of tone chroma.

I. Universal

a. Infallible (for every range of all musical tones, even noises) (7)
b. Fallible (for most musical instruments with half-tone and octave errors) (44)

II. Limited

a. As to region (8)
b. As to timbre (5)
c. To both (7)

III. Borderline

a. Inaccurate (17)
b. Inaccurate and variable (2)

B. Quasi-absolute pitch, based upon a standard and the interval sense.

I. With aural standard (violin a, middle piano c) (3)

II. With vocal standard (singing, humming) (10)

C. Pseudo-absolute pitch, described as absolute pitch by several authors,
based upon estimation of tone height [studied 7].

Total (103)


Strictly speaking, absolute pitch is found only in group AI. Judgment is fast, decided, and accurate—an assertion of fact, not an opinion. When errors occur they are usually semitone or octave errors. Sometimes the ability is limited to the middle region of the musical scale, or to one or two instruments. Quasi-absolute pitch is found among violinists, who often remember the tuning A-pitch and use this as a reference note for intervallic comparison, or among singers who use their lowest note as a standard—which requires some humming. The pseudo-absolute pitch group just guesses at the tone height and with training can achieve a high degree of accuracy, but this is not the genuine faculty.

A recent explanation of the phenomenon, in terms any layman can understand, is that by David Burge in his Perfect Pitch handbook of 1983. Burge makes an analogy between hearing pitch colors and seeing visual colors, since both involve sensitivity to wave frequency. "Perfect pitch is just the ability to hear colors in the sound spectrum—very similar to the way the eye sees colors in the visual field."9 He exposes many common myths about perfect pitch. For example, it is not pitch memory (Bachem's pseudo-absolute pitch). It is not an advanced degree of relative pitch. Relative pitch is on the surface level of perception—a horizontal hearing experience—whereas perfect pitch penetrates deep inside the tone to recognize pitch color—a vertical type of hearing. It is not a hindrance to musicianship but rather a boon to hearing, since it improves listening and writing skills, memory, ability to play by ear, and improvisation. Those possessors who become confused when forced to transpose are lacking in relative pitch skills. And those who complain about supposed drawbacks are usually seeking recognition of their superior hearing abilities.

Concerning the genesis of absolute pitch, Bachem had concluded that possession was an innate gift, influenced by heredity. "It seems that genuine absolute pitch cannot be acquired in adulthood and unless a certain predisposition exists, it cannot be acquired in early life either. This predisposing factor, or the ability to acquire absolute pitch, occurs in highly talented musicians (prodigies, conductors, composers, and concert pianists) with decidedly greater frequency than in average musicians (orchestra players, piano teachers, and piano tuners). There is evidence that heredity plays an important role in this ability factor, just as it does in other factors of musical and other talents."10 Thus it was this hereditary predisposition that caused a child, on its own, to pay close attention to pitch and consequently develop absolute pitch.

This elitist view has led to hostile reactions on the part of music educators and psychologists, very few of whom seem to possess absolute pitch. In recent writings on the psychology of music, possession is usually played down, even trivialized. For example, John Davies writes the following in his 1978 book The Psychology of Music: "In the past, perfect pitch has tended to be viewed with a certain degree of reverence. Nowadays, however, there is less interest, and it is generally accepted that a sense of relative pitch is crucial to musical performance, whilst perfect pitch is little more than an unusual curiosity which confers little or no musical advantages on its possessor."11

One of the main opponents of absolute pitch is Dixon Ward, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota. He sees little advantage in the skill and describes possessors as "insufferable." He concludes his long two-part review of the literature on absolute pitch, published in Sound in 1963, with the admonition: "I advise, therefore, against blinding your children in order to increase their chances of attaining excellence at pitch-naming; they are not likely to thank you for it."12 He goes even further in his article for Deutsch's Psychology of Music of 1982. After citing research that has found this ability in some idiot savants and in "lower organisms" like the dog and rat (but not the cat), he concludes: "It appears that absolute pitch is typical of either musical precociousness or mental retardation. So if you have it, be sure it is for the right reason."13

But rather than being a special innate ability—a gift bestowed on the chosen few—as Bachem would have it, absolute pitch may merely be contingent upon the age at which musical training was begun. After all, language development—particularly accent—is also dependent upon age. This is the conclusion D.C. Sergeant draws from a poll made of a representative sample of the Incorporated Society of Musicians of England for his doctoral dissertation of 1969. See Figure 2.14 Of those professional musicians whose training began between the ages of two and four, 92.6% had absolute pitch, while of those who started studying after the age of fourteen, none had it.


Figure 2. Relation of Age of Commencement of Training to Absolute Pitch.



This statistical tally still leaves many issues unresolved. For example, perhaps serious training was begun at such early ages as two and three because of signs of musical precociousness, including the presence of absolute pitch. And perhaps those possessing this faculty as children became professional musicians because of all the attention and positive reinforcement they received. Now that so many children are getting an early start, through the Suzuki and Yamaha music programs, it will be interesting to see what transpires in the next generation of musicians. According to one preliminary study, "85% of the children who go through the Yamaha program in Japan develop absolute pitch."15 Does this mean that one day possessors may number in the majority of musicians?

Let us now turn to a consideration of absolute pitch in the pre-Stumpf era, that is, before 1883. There are many research problems involved, not the least of which is the absence of a convenient term like "absolutes Gehör" to identify the phenomenon. However, a preliminary search has uncovered such comments as the following from Mathis Lussy's Traité de l'expression musicale of 1874: "To be able to tell, by the ear, in what key a piece is written . . . is one of the rarest, most essentially spontaneous and artistic [faculties]; it is difficult to acquire, even with the most persevering and methodical practice."16 And following a paper presented in 1876 by Alexander Ellis to the Royal Musical Association there was an unresolved discussion about whether the faculty of naming notes on a piano, sight unseen, was a natural gift or something acquired.17

Earlier in the century an interesting discussion of the topic appeared in Stendhal's Life of Rossini (1823). An elderly clerk from the War Office is described as possessing perfect pitch to such a degree ("une justesse d'oreille tellement parfaite") that if he were passing by a building site he could tell exactly what notes were produced when the workmen's hammers chipped at a block of stone. He could name the pitches of all kinds of noises, including the screeching of a badly rigged pulley or the unoiled wheels of a farm wagon. If he heard a barrel organ playing out of tune, he would call out the wrong notes. The point Stendahl makes is that even with this great sensitivity to pitch, this "freakish gift," as he calls it, the man was unmusical. "Music gave him no pleasure whatsoever": when given a choice of tickets he invariably chose straight theatre over a production with music!18

My research on the related area of key characteristics has brought to light several intriguing passages which may be of significance to absolute pitch recognition. (Key characteristics were the emotional meanings attributed to the musical keys by many theorists and composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)19 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the great French philosophe and educator, wrote in his Dissertation of 1743: "Why does a piece played in A major no longer have the same expression that it had in G major? It is not possible to attribute this difference to the change in tonic, since, as I have said, each of the tonics taken separately has nothing in it which can arouse a feeling other than that of the highness or lowness of sound heard. It is not by the sounds proper that we are moved: it is by the relationships that they have between them. . . . But these relationships have slight differences between them . . . which cause this variety of expression in music, [a variety which is] felt by every delicate ear—felt to such a point that there are few musicians listening to a concert, who do not recognize in which key one is playing at the moment."20 Rousseau clearly eliminates pitch as a factor in distinguishing between keys. In common with most other eighteenth-century writers on the subject, he attributes key characteristics to the slight variations in interval size caused by unequal temperament.

Leopold Mozart, in his violin method of 1756, posed the following rhetorical questions: "Even if all the modern keys seem to be constructed only from the scales of C major and A minor . . . how is it that a piece which, for example, is transposed from F to G, never sounds as pleasant and has a totally different effect on the emotions of the listeners? And how is it that a well-practiced musician, on hearing a composition, can instantly specify the key note, if [the keys] are not different [in character]?"21 According to Leopold Mozart, key recognition—instantly identifying the keys by name—was a common ability among practiced musicians. A similar view was expressed by the opéra-comique composer A.-E.-M. Grétry in his Mémoires of 1797: "Why (it has been asked a thousand times) is there such a great difference between one key and another on the clavecin, the piano, the harp, the organ? . . . Be it that temperament serves as the clue for these instruments; be it that the open strings serve for the fingered instruments: there is no musician with a practiced ear who does not know, upon entering the corridors of a theatre, or a church where the organ is being played, or a salon where a harp is being strummed, which key is being performed."22

Today we would most likely ascribe key-naming ability to absolute pitch recognition. But in the eighteenth century there were other factors that aided in key identification, in particular, unequal temperament. The slight variations in interval size produced by the tuning systems then in use made the keys close to C major more suitable for simpler, purer affections while the keys more removed from C, and hence more dissonant, were reserved for harsh, unusual emotions. Grétry also mentioned the factor of open strings on string instruments as a cause of key characteristics. Open strings made sharp keys like D, A, and E majors brighter sounding than flat keys like vol27id132 or vol27id132, which used many stopped strings. Thus, there were actual physical reasons why keys should sound differently—and these were in effect aids to note identification. These differences between keys are by and large lost today. Equal temperament, improvements in the construction of wind instruments, and an avoidance of open strings have all combined to produce a much more homogeneous sound. Keys are now supposed to sound alike.

It is interesting in this regard that David Burge, in teaching perfect pitch to adults, begins by distinguishing between the "vibrant," "brash" quality of the note vol27id132 and the "softer," more "mellow" quality of vol27id132. These descriptions of quality are consistent with the late-eighteenth, early-nineteenth-century sharp-flat theory of key characteristics. According to this theory, the sharp keys became ever brighter, livelier, and wilder as one progressed upward through the circle of fifths, while the flat keys became ever darker, gloomier, and softer as the number of flats increased. Thus vol27id132 major was often described as brilliant or piercing and vol27id132 major as solemn and mellow. Key quality was dependent primarily on the visual effect of the key signature and not on pitch per se since pitch had not yet been standardized. (According to Arthur Mendel, the first organized attempt at establishing a standard pitch was the recommendation of a' = 440 by the Deutsche Naturforscherversammlung of 1834.)23

The only eighteenth-century theorist to stress the importance of pitch as the primary cause of key characteristics was Johann Mattheson. This great German theorist, notorious for his duel with G.F. Handel, also argued that the ethical effects of the ancient Greek "keys" were not determined by the placement of the semitones but by pitch. He even proposed an experiment of sorts: "If I play a piece for a farmer in the transposed Mixolydian octave species d e vol27id132g a b c d and immediately thereafter in the transposed Ionian d e vol27id132g a b vol27id132d and he notices the difference, I will pour him a beer. But if I play in C minor a few times and then strike D minor and he does not sense this difference, he has neither ears nor soul."24 Mattheson's concern with pitch as a determining factor in key characteristics must have led him to specify that his lengthy list of key affects, published in Das neu-eröffnette Orchestre of 1713, applied to Cammer-Ton (chamber music pitch) and not to Chor-Ton (church music pitch). (Mattheson had explained that Chor-Ton was one to one and one-half tones higher than Cammer-Ton.) Mattheson seems to have been the only eighteenth-century theorist who mentioned pitch standards in connection with key characteristics. This concern with pitch makes us suspect that he was a possessor of genuine absolute pitch. This is further strengthened by the following passage from his Exemplarische Organisten-Probe of 1719: "Each tone that is set as the key-note of a mode possesses in itself, as a sound, such individual characteristics (which distinguish it completely from all other sounds and imbue it with a totally different art, figure, name, strength, and nature) that even though equal temperament should be introduced everywhere today through royal ordination, one does not have to fear that one key will sound like every other key and nothing be gained thereby."25 This reads like a description of tone chroma.

The problem of different pitch standards in the eighteenth century must have been a thorny one to possessors of absolute pitch. In Bach's time, the chamber music pitch was often a major second or even a minor third lower than the pitch of the organ in church, and the pitches of various organs in the same town might not agree. This is probably why most theorists dismissed absolute pitch as a cause of key characteristics. But how did possessors deal with varying pitch standards? We have many accounts of the difficulties that the playing on wrongly-pitched instruments entails. For example, Percy Scholes records this anecdote: "MacDowell, a most able pianist, playing on one occasion the so-called 'Moonlight' Sonata (which 'every schoolgirl plays'), got through it with the greatest difficulty; the piano being at a pitch to which he was not accustomed, he experienced the distress of playing the piece in one key and hearing it in another, which, he said, 'nearly knocked me out'."26 Max Planck, the famous German physicist, makes a similar observation in an article for the Vierteljahrsschrift für Musikwissenschaft of 1893: "As a child, as long as I relied upon only one single instrument, a piano, I possessed a very pronounced absolute feeling for tones, to the extent that, being summoned once to play a familiar march, which I knew very well by memory, on a strange piano tuned somewhat low, I had to break off after the first few notes because I was immediately completely confused and did not possess the skill to make a hurried double transposition: once in my head in a lower key and then again on the keyboard back in the earlier key. Nowadays, having heard a lot of music at many different pitches, my tone feeling is no longer so secure; I am able, with effort, to imagine quite well the tone of C up to a half tone higher or lower."27

What Planck has described here is termed "lability" or adjustment ability, and it seems that some possessors tolerate a rather wide band of frequencies, usually about a semitone in width, as the acceptable pitch for a particular note.28 Perhaps in the Baroque era the experience of different pitch standards caused possessors to develop more skilled adjustment faculties. Certainly musicians were trained to be adept at transposition. The adoption of low pitch (a' = 415) by "Baroque" orchestras today requires similar adjustment skills.

But what do we really know about the hearing abilities of eighteenth-century musicians? If absolute pitch is due to both heredity and early training, then is it not possible that this ability was in fact more common in earlier eras when the children of musicians were expected to follow the family trade? Or did the experience of hearing the same pieces at different pitches discourage the development of this faculty? This latter argument has been used by proponents of the "unlearning" theory of absolute pitch, who claim that the innate ability to develop absolute pitch is quite widespread, even universal, but that it is trained out of most people by the greater emphasis on relative pitch, especially by systems using a movable "doh."29

Just how common was absolute pitch among the great composers? According to Bachem, "it is well known that practically all great musicians with only a few exceptions possessed absolute pitch."30 This appears to be a commonly held view, and yet I do not know of any scholarly study that has dealt with this matter. The main research problem here is the lack of documentary evidence. In general, very little is known about the childhood experiences of Baroque-era composers. We have Mozart and his phenomenal ear to thank for the increased knowledge that exists of later composers as children, for it is often in the anecdotes about childhood abilities that we find evidence of absolute pitch possession. For Mozart, we have Herr Schachtner's account of the seven-year-old recalling that the "Butter Geige" which he had played several days earlier was tuned an eighth of a tone lower than the violin he was currently practicing.31

Similar stories are told of other child prodigies, in particular the English musicians William Crotch and Sir Gore Ouseley. Crotch, as a two-year-old in 1777, was already giving concerts on the organ. Daines Barrington reported in his Miscellanies of 1781 that "the accuracy of this child's ear is such, that he not only pronounces immediately what note is struck, but in what key the music is composed. I have the satisfaction of being confirmed by Dr. Burney, with regard to both these extraordinary facts; who adds, that the child distinguished any particular note, when he was but two years and half old, by laying his finger upon that key of the organ."32 Ouseley, born in 1825, was said to have remarked at age five: "Only think, papa blows his nose on G."33 The Harmonicon of 1833 reports that "his organ of hearing is so fine that, with his eyes closed, he instantly names any musical sound produced; and so discriminating is this sense in the child, that, when a note is struck on an instrument, tuned either above or below the usual pitch, he immediately discovers, and accurately states, in what the deviation consists. A chord of four notes being sounded, he named each note exactly, though at some distance from the instrument, and with his back turned to it."34 These contemporary accounts suggest that the ability to name pitches was considered a rare and remarkable feat.

A systematic search through autobiographical or eyewitness accounts of other famous musicians might prove to be profitable. A quick perusal of composers beginning with the letter "B" has produced the following anecdotes from which we can surmise that Balakirev, Bartók, Sterndale Bennett, Bizet, and Brahms had absolute pitch.


I recall very well having had, from my infancy, a very well-developed sense of sound, for, when visiting the house of my uncle, Vassily Yasherov, I reckoned that his piano was tuned a tone lower than ours.35


When he was seven years old, his parents were delighted to discover that he had absolute pitch. "He could identify notes and even some chords immediately upon hearing them in another room," wrote his mother.36

Sterndale Bennett.

The boys had been holding an extra examination on their own account, and Ella found them striking on a piano confused handfuls of notes, which Bennett, from a distant corner of the room, was naming to their great satisfaction.37


His back turned toward the instrument, the child, without hesitating, named all the chords struck for him, chords deliberately chosen in the most recondite tonalities.38


When his father began teaching him his notes on a neighbour's piano he was stupefied to see the five-year-old looking out of the window, yet naming each note correctly.39

Unfortunately, the trend in recent scholarship has been to omit such "sentimental-anecdotal" accounts from biographies—and for twentieth-century composers there is a particular lack of such information.

Although it appears that many composers were possessors, it does not necessarily follow that lack of possession signifies musical inferiority. For another side of the picture, let us hear from Brahms: "Brahms set very little store by the gift of absolute pitch. Herr Emil Hess recalls that when Miller zu Aichholz was once rhapsodizing about this gift, the Master demurred: 'I have known two people who understood something of music. One of them plagued himself in vain for a lifetime to learn absolute pitch. The other took no pains because he knew he could never acquire it. One of them was called Julius Stockhausen; the other—Richard Wagner. Still, you know, in spite of their lack, both had some idea of music!'"40 Stockhausen, a famous singer, comments further in his Gesangsmethode of 1884: "There are composers who have become famous without possessing absolute pitch. I remember Meyerbeer, for example, who always carried a tiny tuning fork or pitch pipe in order to compare and test what he heard."41 Besides Wagner, Schumann is also cited (by Percy Scholes) for failing to possess this faculty. Perhaps the relatively late age at which these composers started formal training resulted in their lack of possession?

In conclusion, I have attempted here to raise some of the problems and issues involved in a study of the history of absolute pitch recognition. Perhaps when more evidence has been gathered to indicate just how many composers of the past did or did not have this ability, and what they thought of it, we can make more informed judgments about its value. I personally do not know of a single possessor who would be willing to give up this ability. David Burge praises pitch hearing in these glowing terms: "To the color ear, the entire pitch spectrum is a dazzling display of distinct sound colors which dance within their musical framework and blend in various ways to form the different chords and tonalities. . . . By comparison, the ear that has not penetrated to this depth of experience lives in a shadow musical world 'painted' only in shades of 'grey' pitches which, though individually distinct, are somehow all the same."42 Natasha Spender, in the New Grove, presents a similarly vivid defense of possession: "Arguments that absolute pitch is of doubtful value to a musician (particularly one engaged in transposition) strike one as if a majority of colour-blind people were to tell a minority of normally sighted ones that, even if they wished to be painters, colour vision is more trouble than it is worth."43 If absolute pitch is a desirable feature of musicianship, then perhaps the note names should be taught to two- and three-year-olds just as visual colors are. The success or failure of such endeavors might put to rest once and for all the nature-nurture controversy.

1The term "absolute pitch recognition" is used in this paper in the traditional and commonly-accepted sense of "recognition" of pitches (by note-naming). The distinction between "passive" absolute pitch—the ability to label immediately the pitch of a sound given no other sound as a reference—and "active" absolute pitch—the ability to produce (sing or whistle) any pitch immediately on demand, without reference to any other sound, is a recent categorization that does not affect the historical discussion.

2Natasha Spender, "Absolute Pitch," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 20 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1980), 1:29; W. Dixon Ward and Edward M. Burns, "Absolute Pitch," in The Psychology of Music, ed. Diana Deutsch (New York: Academic Press, 1982), 449; A. Bachem, "Absolute Pitch," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 27 (1955):1180; Spender, "Absolute Pitch," 28.

3David L. Burge, Perfect Pitch: Color Hearing for Expanded Musical Awareness (Wilmington, Delaware: American Educational Music Publications, 1983). Previous attempts to teach absolute pitch to adults have met with little success. Time will tell if Burge has indeed succeeded in this endeavor.

4Karl Stumpf, Tonpsychologie, 2 vols. (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1883-90; reprint ed., Hilversum: Knuf, 1965), 1:139-40, 280-81, 286-87, 305-13; 2:380, 553-56.

5Reported by A. Bachem, "Various Types of Absolute Pitch," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 9 (1937):147.

6Bachem, "Absolute Pitch," 1180.

7Dale Reubart, Anxiety and Musical Performance: On Playing the Piano from Memory (New York: Da Capo, 1985), 105.

8Bachem, "Various Types of Absolute Pitch," 149-50.

9David L. Burge, Official Transcript of the Perfect Pitch Workshop (Wilmington, Delaware: American Educational Music Publications, 1983), pt. 1, p. 31.

10Bachem, "Genesis of Absolute Pitch," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 11 (1940):439.

11John Booth Davies, The Psychology of Music (London: Hutchinson, 1978), 132.

12Dixon Ward, "Absolute Pitch: Part II," Sound 2/4 (1963):41.

13Ward and Burns, "Absolute Pitch," 449.

14Rosamund Shuter-Dyson and Clive Gabriel, The Psychology of Musical Ability, 2d ed., rev. (London: Methuen, 1981), 125.

15Reubart, Anxiety and Musical Performance, 118, n. 32.

16Mathis Lussy, Traité de l'expression musicale (Paris, 1874), 6; in English as Musical Expression, trans. E. von Glehn (London: Novello, 1885), 7.

17Alexander J. Ellis, "On the Sensitiveness of the Ear to Pitch and Change of Pitch in Music," Royal Musical Association Proceedings 3 (1876):32.

18Stendhal, Life of Rossini, trans. Richard N. Coe (New York: Orion, 1970), 312-13.

19For a full discussion of the topic, see my book A History of Key Characteristics in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983).

20Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dissertation sur la musique moderne (Paris: Quillau, 1743), 52-53: "Pourquoi cet air joué en A mi la ne rend-il plus cette expression qu'il avoit en G re sol? Il n'est pas possible d'attribuer cette différence au changement de fondamentale; puisque, comme je l'ai dit, chacune de ces fondamentales, prise séparément, n'a rien en elle qui puisse exciter d'autre sentiment que celui du son haut ou bas qu'elle fait entendre: ce n'est point proprement par les sons que nous sommes touchés: c'est par les rapports qu'ils ont entr'eux; . . . Mais ces rapports ont entr'eux de légeres différences . . . qui causent dans la Musique cette variété d'expressions sensible à toute oreille délicate, & sensible à tel point, qu'il est peu de Musicien, qui en écoutant un concert, ne connoisse en quel ton l'on exécute actuellement."

21Leopold Mozart, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule (Augsburg: Lotter, 1756), 59: "Und wenn gleich alle die heutigen Tongattungen nur aus der Tonleiter (C) Dur und (A) moll versetzet zu seyn scheinen; . . . woher kömmt es denn, daß ein Stück, welches z.E. vom (F) ins (G) übersetzet wird, nimmer so angenehm läßt, und eine ganz andere Wirkung in dem Gemüthe der Zuhörer verursachet? Und woher kömmt es denn, daß ein wohlgeübter Musikus bey Anhörung einer Musik augenblicklich den Ton derselben anzugeben weis, wenn sie nicht unterschieden sind?"

22André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry, Mémoires, ou essais sur la musique, vol. 2 (Paris: Imprimerie de la République, 1797), 358-59: "Pourquoi (a-t-on demandé mille fois) y a-t-il une si grande différence sur le clavecin, le piano, la harpe, l'orgue, entre une gamme et une autre? . . . Soit que le tempérament serve d'indice pour ces derniers; soit que les cordes à vide en servent pour les instrumens doigtés, il n'y a pas de musicien dont l'oreille est exercée, qui ne sache, en entrant dans les corridors d'une salle de spectacle, dans une église où l'on touche l'orgue, ou dans un salon où l'on pince la harpe, dans quelle gamme l'on exécute."

23Arthur Mendel, "Pitch in Western Music since 1500: A Re-examination," Acta Musicologica 50 (1978):12. See also Mark Lindley, "Pitch," New Grove, 14:779-86.

24Johann Mattheson, Das beschützte Orchestre (Hamburg: Schiller, 1717), 82: "Ich will einem Bauern / e.g. aus der specie Octavae: d e fis g a h c d, Mixo-Lydii transpositi, und dann gleich darauf aus dem d e fis g a h cis d, Jonici transpositi, vorspielen / und wann er den Unterscheid merckt / will ich ihm einschencken. Ich will ihm aber ex. gr. das c. mol nur ein paar mahl / und hernach das d mol anschlagen; wann er diesen Unterscheid nicht empfindet / so hat er entweder keine Ohren oder keine Seele." See also the discussion in my book, 52-55.

25Johann Mattheson, Exemplarische Organisten-Probe (Hamburg: Schiller & Kissner, 1719), 101: "So hat ein jeder Ton / der zum Fundament eines Modi gesetzt wird / quà sonus, schon solche Eigenschafften an sich / die ihn von allen andern Klängen völlig und sattsam unterscheiden / ihm eine gantz andere Art / Figur / Nahmen / Krafft und Natur ertheilen / wenn auch die gleichschwebende Temperatur heute diesen Tag / durch Kayser- und Königliche Verordnungen / allenthalben eingeführet werden solte / so daß man deswegen nicht befürchten darff / es werde bey solcher Einrichtung ein Modus wie der andre klingen und nichts gewonnen seyn."

26Percy A. Scholes, "Absolute Pitch, Sense of," The Oxford Companion to Music, 10th ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), 3.

27Max Planck, "Die natürliche Stimmung in der modernen Vokalmusik," Vierteljahrsschrift für Musikwissenschaft 9 (1893):428-29: "So lange ich als Kind nur mit einem einzigen Instrument, einem Klavier, vertraut war, besaß ich ein sehr ausgesprochenes absolutes Tongefühl, derart daß ich einst, aufgefordert einen mir sehr wohl im Gedächtniß bekannten Marsch auf einem fremden, etwas tiefer gestimmten Klavier zu spielen, nach den ersten Tönen abbrechen mußte, weil ich sogleich vollständig verwirrt wurde und nicht die Fertigkeit besaß, in der Eile die doppelte Transposition zu machen: einmal im Kopfe in eine tiefere Tonart, und dann wieder auf den Tasten zurück in die frühere Tonart. Heutzutage, wo ich vielerlei Musik in vielerlei Stimmungen gehört habe, ist mein Tongefühl lange nicht mehr so sicher; es gelingt mir mit Aufwand einiger Mühe ganz gut, den Ton c bis zu einem halben Ton höher oder tiefer mir vorzustellen."

28See Ward, Sound, 34; Scholes, "Absolute Pitch, Sense of," 3; and Spender, "Absolute Pitch," 27.

29Ward and Burns, "Absolute Pitch," 435.

30Bachem, "Absolute Pitch," 1185.

31Otto Erich Deutsch, Mozart: A Documentary Biography, trans. Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe, and Jeremy Noble (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1965), 452-53.

32Daines Barrington, Miscellanies (London: Nichols, 1781), 312.

33Scholes, "Absolute Pitch, Sense of," 3.

34F.W. Joyce, The Life of Rev. Sir F.A. Ouseley (London: Methuen, 1896), 7.

35Edward Garden, Balakirev: A Critical Study of His Life and Music (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 22.

36József Ujfalussy, Béla Bartók (Boston: Crescendo, 1972), 18.

37J.R. Sterndale Bennett, The Life of William Sterndale Bennett (Cambridge: University Press, 1907), 15.

38Mina Curtiss, Bizet and His World (New York: Knopf, 1958), 16.

39Robert Haven Schauffler, The Unknown Brahms (New York: Crown, 1933), 36.

40Schauffler, Unknown Brahms, 181.

41Julius Stockhausen, Gesangsmethode (Leipzig: Peters, 1884), 1: "So giebt es auch Komponisten, die berühmt geworden sind, ohne ein absolutes Gehör zu besitzen. Ich erinnere z.B. an Meyerbeer, der stets eine kleine Stimmgabel oder Pfeife bei sich trug, um damit das Gehörte zu vergleichen und zu prüfen."

42Burge, Perfect Pitch, 12.

43Spender, "Absolute Pitch," 29.

Read 10072 times

Last modified on Tuesday, 23/10/2018

Go to top