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Tuning the Antipodes: Battles for performing pitch in Melbourne

Simon Purtell examines the many controversies associated with pitch standards in Melbourne, discovering their impact on the tuning of the city’s orchestras and organs, and its defence, municipal and Salvation Army bands.

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Examining the many controversies associated with pitch standards in Melbourne over more than a hundred years, Simon Purtell discovers their impact on the tuning of the city’s orchestras and organs, as well as its defence, municipal and Salvation Army bands. This fascinating history involves famous local and touring singers, conductors and organists, including Nellie Melba, Malcolm Sargent and William McKie, revealing just how complex a problem it was to ensure that Melbourne’s music-makers remained in tune.

 “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has  nothing on the saga of ‘Pitch, pitch, that cursed pitch’: the seemingly endless and frequently caustic attempts to establish a uniform performing pitch for music in the Antipodes. It is a typically Melburnian drama of mixed deference to Britain and stubborn upholding of local interests that the author so eloquently and patiently chronicles, and it ranges from the almost theocratic interventions of Dame Nellie Melba at the beginning of the twentieth century to the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Festival of 1972. At the same time, it will have been a battle taking place comparably in all the major cities of the British Empire and beyond, though each with its peculiar twists and turns. What Simon Purtell has done is show us, in immaculate detail, just how pervasive and intricate, not to mention costly, this tectonic realignment of a fundamental element of musical infrastructure must have been in all places over a very long period of time”.

Emeritus Professor Stephen Banfield
Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth
University of Bristol 

Simon Purtell completed a PhD and was Louise Hanson-Dyer Postdoctoral Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne. His research interests include the history of performing pitch, music-making in Australia and the publications and sound recordings of Editions de l’Oiseau-Lyre. He is currently working in strategy and policy for the University of Melbourne.

Published: December 2016 | Paperback: xiv, 214 p. | RRP $55 AUD
ISBN: 9780734037848 (paperback) | ISSN: 1325 5266 | (Volume 14 in the Australasian Music Research series)


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