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12 June 2017, 14:29
Beethoven's tuning fork
The historic item is held in the British Library
In amongst the many treasures in the British Library is Beethoven’s laundry list, a set of his kitchen accounts… and his tuning fork. Here’s a recording of what it sounds like.
The British Library holds many of the country’s most treasured books and documents – but did you know it also has a sound archive and holds a whole host of other artefacts as part of its music collections?
Take Beethoven, for example.
The library holds his laundry list and a set of kitchen accounts. But perhaps most fascinatingly, it also holds the composer’s tuning fork.
It’s not often you can say with some certainty that you’re listening to a sound that also reached the ears of one of the greatest composers who ever lived.
But here it is.
Modern tuning forks resonate at 440 Hertz (giving the standard modern pitch for A). This one resonates slightly higher, at 455.4 Hertz. It’s kept in a wooden box with walnut veneer – as pictured above.
In 1803 Beethoven gave it to the violinist George August Polgreen Bridgetower as a gift. Bridgetower gave the very first performance of Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata – for which the composer himself played the piano.
Here’s what Amelie Roper, one of the curators at the library, wrote about what happened, on the BL’s music blog:
‘Bridgetower’s own memorandum of the event records an alteration he introduced in the violin part. This pleased Beethoven so much that he jumped up exclaiming “Once more, my dear fellow!”. He also presented Bridgetower with his tuning fork.’
After that the tuning fork passed through the hands of Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, among others. It was presented to the library by Vaughan Williams’s widow, Ursula, in 1992.