I was talking this monring about Cage's 4:33 and I mentioned that I'd love to see a score for an orchestra tuning. It's one of the most recognisable sounds in concerts and has many distinctive musical aspects in various combinations:

  • the initial oboe,
  • the tuning of each string,
  • apparent exchanges and "battles", as players alternate,
  • ocassional scales,
  • often a comically late brass honk,
  • the slow subsiding as tuning ends,
  • often the tap of the baton,
  • the following moment's silence.

It seemed to me that at some point in the joyous 1960s, some wag must have prepared a full orchestral score of this general cacophone, that some poor band be put through the effort of reproducing it precisely. We had a vague idea that Hoffnung may have done it. I'd love to see the score. I'm sure it will be amusing just to read it, to see the notation, and to hear, like the "Pianists" in Carnival of the Animals.

Does anyone have a link to such a thing, or have a proper bibliographic reference. Has it ever been scheduled along with 4:33? :-)

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    That might be fun. I've long thought the very first notes of Beethoven's 9th reminds me of tuning, but it doesn't have all the elements you describe. Seems like an opportunity for you to make a fun composition! Jun 29, 2016 at 17:18
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    You've got it a bit backwards: the battles and scales better have happened during warmups, or someone's going to get beaten about the head with a (spare :-) ) violin bow. Anyway, I once played a concert band medley of Sgt.Pepper tunes which started out with a pseudo-warmup sound. Jun 30, 2016 at 11:24
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    In P.D.Q. Bach's "Howdy" Symphony ("discovered" in 1976 by that joyous '60s wag Peter Schickele), the orchestra tunes about halfway through the first movement. But in the score it's just notated as an unmeasured bar with the instructions "tune & noodle". Jan 23, 2017 at 18:01

2 Answers 2


John Corigliano's oboe concerto starts with the oboe tuning, as part of the first movement. I have no idea how it's notated for the ensemble, though knowing the composer, I doubt it's very precise.

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    That's a beautiful effect, like someone emerging from among a picturesque chorus to sing their aria. Jun 29, 2016 at 17:27

You may want to check out Tuning Up by Edgard Varèse. It's not exactly what you're looking for, but it's an earlier example than the Corigliano mentioned earlier.

I also wanted to mention a story I once heard. It may be apocryphal, but I don't believe it was. I've forgotten the source, so I wanted to share it in case anyone else knows any more details:

A famous non-Western musician joined a famous Western composer to the former's first orchestra concert. The lights dimmed, and the oboe played its tuning pitch. When at last the orchestra became silent after about 30 seconds, the non-Westerner turned to his colleague, thrilled by what he had just heard, before he was informed that it was "just" the tuning note. As I remember it, these microtonal fluctuations were something that his musical culture really valued, and so he was so excited to hear something so close to "his" music in this foreign country. Meanwhile, the Westerner, whose culture was not geared towards microtonality, never once thought to actually listen and experience the tuning practice.

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    Which is almost the reverse of the Ravi Shankar story; where, after the first 'collection of noises' made on stage the [western] audience applauded appreciatively. He took the mic & said, "Thank you. I hope you appreciate our music as much as you did our tuning up."
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 29, 2016 at 20:24
  • I'm fairly sure it's apocryphal - I've heard it many times, with different nationalities and occupations. Jun 29, 2016 at 22:02
  • @Tetsujin - that could well be true. The first sitar recital I went to, I felt the performer was taking an absolute age with his tuning checking, etc. After about 7 or 8 minutes, he stopped, and everyone applauded - it was his first number.
    – Tim
    Jun 29, 2016 at 22:05
  • As opposed to "Tuning Up" by Ken Aldin, which is more about pyramids. Jun 30, 2016 at 1:06
  • There's a little of that at the start of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress.
    – user1845
    Jun 30, 2016 at 8:24

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