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 Post subject: Berliner Gramophone speed setting by ear!
PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 2:05 pm 
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Victor O
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"Don't Deny Yourself the Sheer Joy of Orthophonic Music"
Joined: Mon Jan 01, 2018 11:46 pm
Posts: 69
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Hi everyone, I am digitizing a Berliner record from about 1899 (the "McNeil Schottische" by cornet players Anton H. Knoll & Marie McNeil), and I am having trouble getting the speed right. I know that Berliners were usually recorded anywhere in rpms from the high 50s through the low 70s. As such, how do I go about digitizing this disc at the speed it was truly recorded at without having the sheet music for it available or a notation on the label? It is not announced, so I also can't set even an approximate speed by listening to the pitch of a voice.

Here is what I know: When I play it at 78 rpm, the tune sounds in Db Major and the tempo is much too fast for a schottische (which is around normal walking pace, if I am not mistaken). Knowing that the cornet is a Bb transposing instrument, I tried slowing the turntable down to allow the melody to sound in Bb Major (minor third), but then the tempo is too slow and feels like it is dragging. Does anyone have any advice in this arena? I have digitized Berliners and records of unknown rotational speed before, but I have always had some reference point to go off of, and in this case I don't have anything.

Thanks!


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 Post subject: Re: Berliner Gramophone speed setting by ear!
PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2018 3:30 pm 
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Victor I
Joined: Mon Nov 21, 2016 11:49 pm
Posts: 171
jmad7474 wrote:
Hi everyone, I am digitizing a Berliner record from about 1899 (the "McNeil Schottische" by cornet players Anton H. Knoll & Marie McNeil), and I am having trouble getting the speed right. I know that Berliners were usually recorded anywhere in rpms from the high 50s through the low 70s. As such, how do I go about digitizing this disc at the speed it was truly recorded at without having the sheet music for it available or a notation on the label? It is not announced, so I also can't set even an approximate speed by listening to the pitch of a voice.

Here is what I know: When I play it at 78 rpm, the tune sounds in Db Major and the tempo is much too fast for a schottische (which is around normal walking pace, if I am not mistaken). Knowing that the cornet is a Bb transposing instrument, I tried slowing the turntable down to allow the melody to sound in Bb Major (minor third), but then the tempo is too slow and feels like it is dragging. Does anyone have any advice in this arena? I have digitized Berliners and records of unknown rotational speed before, but I have always had some reference point to go off of, and in this case I don't have anything.

Thanks!


I would try C major. The speed did rise gradually through the 1890s, and was *somewhat* settled in the low 70s by the time of the first Victor recordings. The transposing instrument factor doesn't mean that the cornetist couldn't play other keys -- just that two extra sharps are added to any key signature.

Written Bb major = cornet C major = 0 sharps/flats
Written B major = cornet C# major = 7 sharps (unlikely)
Written C major = cornet D major = 2 sharps
Written Db major = cornet Eb major = 3 flats


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 Post subject: Re: Berliner Gramophone speed setting by ear!
PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2018 8:45 pm 
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Victor III
Joined: Tue Jun 24, 2014 10:12 pm
Posts: 738
It took me a while to figure out what you are doing, or at least what I think you’re doing. You write that you adjusted the speed to match two keys, Db Maj and Bb Maj. I assume you don’t have absolute pitch* so I was wondering how you did that. But then I guessed you adjusted the speed to match those keys, that is, you could “tune” the phonograph speed to match how you played the piece on the piano. Is that correct? (Doesn’t need to be a piano.) I don't think this really gets you anywhere because you don’t have a fixed reference point: you could adjust the speed to match any key. I think it was a good idea to try Bb, but of course a Bb trumpet can be played in any key. And, yes, having the sheet music might help but there’s no guarantee that the two performers didn’t transpose the composition themselves into a different key or that it was written in C Maj to be played in C Maj. In any case, you don’t have the sheet music, as you point out. Bottom line: I think you’re stuck. I think you need to do what early listeners did: adjust the speed to your liking. I suspect you know that already.

_______________________________________

*Forgive me if I’m wrong about that as only a small percentage of the population has it—lucky you if you do


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 Post subject: Re: Berliner Gramophone speed setting by ear!
PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2018 6:29 pm 
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Victor III
Joined: Tue Jun 24, 2014 10:12 pm
Posts: 738
I find this to be an interesting question, how to set the speed. I've also talked to a colleague at work who plays the cornet. I play the piano. Unlike a violin, both the cornet and piano are quantized. I hit A above middle C, and if my piano is properly tuned, that's 440 Hz. Other notes are for fixed frequencies. Ditto for the cornet. A violin, on the other hand can take on sliding values. Because this Berliner recording is of a cornet duet, you know it was played in some fixed, unspecified key. You also know that 78 rpm corresponds Db Maj. (I assume you had adjusted the speed of phonograph to match that key when the melody is played back on a piano or some other instrument.) And you have adjusted the phonograph speed to reproduce some other, slower speed so the key matches Bb Maj, which is too low. The true RPM lies somewhere between those two limits. There are two keys in between: B Maj and C Maj. You can also find the corresponding RPM's for those two keys, one of which will be the correct speed at which the recording was made. The point about the piano and cornet being quantized means that the phonograph can not take on just any RPM value between your two limits but only allowed speeds that match those two keys. In other words, the phonograph speed is also quantized. You might not be able to state conclusively what is the correct speed but you will have narrowed it down to two possibilities. Well, those are my thoughts. I hope they are useful.

John


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 Post subject: Re: Berliner Gramophone speed setting by ear!
PostPosted: Wed Aug 01, 2018 5:56 am 
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Victor I
Joined: Thu Apr 27, 2017 5:52 am
Posts: 172
Location: Redruth, Cornwall, U.K.
There is another complication, arising from the fact that 'concert pitch' (A=435–440) was not universal 120 years ago; in Britain and the U.S.A. a higher level, developed in London in the 1850s and known as 'Philharmonic pitch', was widely used until the end of the century. In this the A was set at 452 cycles, about a quarter-tone above the 440 level. In Britain the reaction against this and in favour of European concert pitch began in the 1890s – I do not know what was the case in America – but the change was far from immediate; thus many surviving harmoniums made after 1900 are still calibrated to Philharmonic pitch*, and most of these are American-made. In the 1890s there must still have been a multitude of pianos and other keyboard instruments tuned to the higher pitch.

*I once took part in a performance of Rossini's Petite messe solennelle in the original scoring (two pianos and harmonium) which was reduced to utter farce when it emerged, on the morning of the performance, that the harmonium could not play in tune with the pianos.

Oliver Mundy.


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 Post subject: Re: Berliner Gramophone speed setting by ear!
PostPosted: Wed Aug 01, 2018 4:32 pm 
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Victor III
Joined: Tue Jun 24, 2014 10:12 pm
Posts: 738
Oliver: My colleague the cornet player has recently made me aware of this. He calls it "high pitch" and "low pitch" tuning. A week ago I was totally unaware of this. Since then I have found an entire Wikipedia article on this subject (which I have yet to read). Yes, this complicates the matter. I think the best any digitizer can do is make the digitization and then be able to explain the choices he or she made. I never thought about the "archeology" of reproducing early recordings until the original poster posted his post. A very interesting topic.


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