top of page

Music at war 432 Hz or 440 Hz, that's the question.

432 Hz versus 440 Hz: delve into the astonishing history of the frequency war!

In this article, Ursula Michel explores the fact that the vast majority of music today is tuned to a frequency of 440 Hz, whereas it was traditionally tuned to 432 Hz.

The vast majority of music today is tuned to a frequency of 440 Hz, whereas for a long time it was tuned to 432. This development has given rise to the most far-fetched theories, ranging from Nazi conspiracies to mystical numerology.

Musicians know it, others don't really, but the vast majority of music is tuned to a frequency of 440 Hz. For many, this standard might be of little interest, yet for some years now it has been the subject of controversy, even of a conspiracy theory verging on the Godwin point.

Is there really a natural frequency, swept away by the Nazis to control people through music? Does our DNA really vibrate at 432 Hz? Once we've sorted out the real from the fake, what remains of this mystical-conspiratorial thesis?

In 2014, when the late Prince was invited to chat with his fans after signing up on Facebook, he only deigned to answer one of the thousands of questions asked: it concerned his choice of the frequency 432 Hz, the "absolute standard" for the Kid from Minneapolis.

To understand this interest in 432 Hz instead of 440, we need to understand what a frequency is. As Amaury Cambuzat, leader of the Ulan Bator group, explains, a frequency is "the number of complete cycles of vibration in one second. Low-pitched sounds have a low frequency, for example between 16 and 500 hertz, while high-pitched sounds have a high frequency, for example over 8,000 Hz. The human ear hears from 20 to 16,000 Hz. A useful zone, as it corresponds to the frequencies of the human voice and the familiar sounds of our activities: 500 to 3,500 Hz.

But the standardisation of pitch (frequency) only dates from the middle of the 20th century. In ancient times, music was adiastatic, i.e. there was no interest in reproducing the same reference sound from one performance to the next. According to musicologist Romain Estorc, "it wasn't until the beginning of the 11th century AD that Gui d'Arezzo, in his work Micrologus, around 1026, developed the theory of solmisation, with the names we know today (do re mi fa sol la si) and put forward the idea of a note that was always the same pitch".

Thus, over time, the idea of creating a precise, unchanging note to which to tune took shape. But which frequency to choose? That depends on the instruments, the nature of the materials used, the region and the era. Romain Estorc continues: "To give an example, in Bach's time, A was at 392 Hz (466 Hz were also used), but in other places, it was possible to have a C at 500 Hz, etc." But it was not until the 19th century that the instrument was really invented.

But it was really in 1884, in Italy, that composer Giuseppe Verdi obtained a government decree to set the pitch at 432 vibrations per second. Then, in 1939, at an international conference, the International Federation of National Standardisation Associations adopted the pitch of 440 Hz, which was ratified at a further international conference in London in 1953.

In summary, this article explores the rivalry between the frequencies of 432 Hz and 440 Hz in the context of musical history. It highlights the controversial theories and beliefs associated with these frequencies, while emphasising that the standardisation of musical frequency has evolved over time according to cultural and historical contexts.


bottom of page