Schiller Institute on YouTube Schiller Institute on Facebook RSS

Home >

Roncole Festival Revives
Verdi's Tradition and A=432 Hz

By Carlos Valdivieso
August 2015

Giuseppe Verdi.

On Aug. 11-13, in front of Verdi's birthplace in Roncole, Italy, the first Roncole Verdi Festival was held in honor of maestro Giuseppe Verdi, with three evenings of concerts and visits to the birthplace.

The event was interesting in itself, not only because it presented Verdi at his birthplace, but because it demonstrated that Classical music can be self-financed--an important signal today, when Classical culture is the object of official neglect and budget cuts. But the festival also had a historical and scientific significance, since all performances were at the scientific pitch, or "Verdi pitch" of A=432 Hz, as opposed to today's tuning, which varies from 444 Hz up to 448 Hz and even higher.

View full size
Roncole Festival

Like other musicians of his time, Verdi knew that tuning the A above middle C to 432 Hz situates the well-tempered musical domain in harmony with the laws of the physical universe and how human beings perceive it. That's why in 1884, Verdi wrote a letter to the Music Committee of the Italian government proposing the adoption A=432 Hz "for mathematical needs." His request for a scientific pitch was supported by the physicists Joseph Sauveur (1653-1716), Charles Meerens (1831-1909), Félix Savart (1791-1841), and also by the Italian scientists Archimede Montanelli (1848-1932) and Bartolomeo Grassi Landi, and thanks to their endorsement, a decree was adopted which established this "scientific pitch."

The rush to high tuning started at the time of Russian and Austrian military bands, and later during Wagner's influence (with a pitch between 440 Hz and 450 Hz), and it was the outcome of the search for a brilliant sound. In 1939, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, imposed a pitch of A=440 Hz, without any scientific criteria, and despite a French referendum by 25,000 musicians who voted against this choice. After that, in London, A=440 Hz was established as the standard pitch, and to this day this arbitrary choice has been kept.

View full size
Roncole Festival

That is why this small but great-hearted Festival in Roncole is so important, since it opens up a discussion on whether one should look for a brilliant sound, or go back to the natural and scientific pitch chosen by Verdi, which improves the color of the voice and respects the laws of physics. Since 1988, the Schiller Institute has been campaigning to return to Verdi's pitch, beginning with the first conference on scientific tuning at the Casa Verdi in Milan. A petition issued by that conference to adopt A=432 Hz was subsequently signed by more than 2,000 musicians all over the world, including such opera stars as Piero Cappuccilli (who gave the first example in both tuning at the Casa Verdi), Carlo Bergonzi, Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballé, Alfredo Kraus, and Mirella Freni, and it inspired a bill introduced into the Italian Parliament in 1988 ( The conductor of the Roncole Verdi Orchestra was Maestro Silvano Frontalini, a profound scholar of Verdi's works, promoter of the festival, and determined supporter of the Verdi pitch. Movisol and the Schiller Institute asked him a few questions after the concert.

Interview with Maestro Frontalini

Movisol: Thank you, Maestro, for these three great concerts! First of all, we would like to know how you got the idea of this festival?

View full size
Roncole Festival

Frontalini: The festival was initially the result of unemployed musicians, who were broke and asked themselves "What are we going to do? Do we change professions and become waiters? Do we commit suicide?" And we decided instead to create a job ourselves. We organized ourselves, spoke to the communities and asked them, "Let us organize concerts, we will live off the ticket proceeds and some local private sponsors, and we will not ask the City of Busseto for any money at all." And as a matter of fact, we received no money, only the location. I asked for an endorsement from the Ministry of Culture, which would have cost them nothing, and they did not even care to answer. So we are left in the jungle, abandoned to ourselves, but despite this we managed to create a festival which even an opera house would dream of.

Roncole Festival
Christian Lanza.

Movisol: So, one can say that the festival was born out of love for music and voluntary work?

Frontalini: Yes, from the voluntary work of musicians and some other people who helped us, since we could not have done it alone. We did find an association which believed in this project.

Movisol: Let's talk about A=432 Hz, or Verdi's pitch. How did you get the idea of performing at this pitch?

Frontalini: It was my idea. I knew it would involve logistical problems, but on the other hand it was a small festival, nobody knew us, and it would make no sense to perform the usual Verdi arias which are performed everywhere else. So I decided, in Verdi's honor, to invent something which nobody else had done here. We did not manage to get to 432 Hz--we got to A=435--but A=432 remains the target. There are studies of "musicotherapy" which show that 432 Hz produces physical benefits.

Movisol: Why is it so difficult to get to 432 Hz. Was it problems with the wind instruments?

Roncole Festival
Silvia Rampazzo.

Frontalini: Because it requires a lot of money. We should buy two oboes, two bassoons, and two Baroque flutes, which together cost around 25,000 Euro, or rent them, and they're asking for 1,000 Euro a day. String instruments and brass instruments have no problem lowering their tuning, but flutes do. With oboes and bassoons we managed by getting longer reeds, but with the flute it is not possible, because they are built for A=440 Hz, and if you bring them down to A=432 Hz you get off-pitch in the high notes. But this idea of A=432 Hz moved something: I was invited by a number of communities in this area to make a feasibility study on A=432 Hz.

Movisol: Some people oppose Verdi's pitch, arguing that a higher tuning makes the sound more brilliant. What do you say to them?

Frontalini: I share Verdi's idea. Sure, with a lower tuning the music is less brilliant, but the color of the sound is better, you can build a better blend of the sound. Musicians understand this, other people don't. It gains in musicality.

Movisol: On behalf of Movisol and the Schiller Institute, we thank you for your time, and hope to see you again next year for the second edition of the festival!

Frontalini: You're welcome, thank to you for your support, and see you next year!

After the concert, we also interviewed some of the singers--sopranos, tenors, and baritones--asking them how was it to sing in this lower tuning, and all of them answered the same way: Singing is much easier, particularly in the register shifts. This demonstrates what Lyndon LaRouche has been saying all along, that "music is based on the human singing voice," and that instruments should adapt to it, not the other way around.