Archive for October, 2010

G minor

G minor

Hello and Welcome! The key for this programme is G minor. G minor is a shy violet – but inside beats a heart of pure, raw passion. Her plaintive gentleness hides a fiery soul of molten lava.  So we’re in for a mixture of plaintiveness and passion. I hope you’ll stay with me.

Shakespeare wrote about G minor in the following terms: She never told her love, but let concealment, like a worm in the bud, feed on her damask cheek; she pined in thought; and, with green and yellow melancholy, she sat like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.

Well, here’s a green and yellow piece: plangent, plaintive and poignant – Chanson Triste by Tchaikovsky

Chanson Triste – Tchaikovsky

And if you want more of the same, try Sibelius’s Valse Triste.

Now listen to this – a marvellous illustration of how keys can dictate to composers how they compose. Here are 5 short tunes, each by a different composer and each is a descending phrase, bringing our the sadness that is part of G minor.  I think you’ll recognise more than one of these tunes.

Descending tunes

Well, do you believe me? Those pieces were Albinoni’s Adagio, Chopin’s Nocturne in G minor, Beethoven’s Bagatelle in G minor, the 3rd movement of Dvorak’s 8th Symphony and The Shepherd Boy, a Lyric Piece by Grieg. – And now in the same order we’re going to hear all 5 pieces.


Chopin Nocturne in G minor

Beethoven Bagatelle in G minor

Dvorak 8th Symphony 3rd movement

Grieg Shepherd Boy

Those pieces in G minor with descending tunes were Albinoni’s Adagio; then there was Chopin on the Piano – Nocturne in G minor. The Beethoven Bagatelle followed, and then we had Dvorak, Symphony No 8, the 3rd movement. We finished with a wistful Shepherd Boy sitting on a rock somewhere, not Schubert’s rock, but Grieg’s rock. That was a Lyric Piece in G minor.

The violin is very at home in G minor. Bitter sweet or passionate? Choose the violin. To illustrate the bitter-sweet here is Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the 2nd movement.

Violin Concerto 2nd movement – Tchaikovsky.

The violin and G minor: that was Tchaikovsky, the 2nd movement of his Violin Concerto.

And now the passionate violin. This is Bruch’s Violin concerto, in G minor of course, the first movement.

Bruch – 1st Violin Concerto 1

Did you note how all the violins join in the G minor passion at the end of that – the 1st movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto? I think we should allow those orchestral violins a little more flashing of the eye, don’t you? Here’s Brahms!

Brahms – Hungarian Dance No 1

The gypsy passion of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No 1 in G minor. And now to some Preludes and Fugues. Chopin’s Prelude in G minor is a very passionate affair:

Chopin Prelude in G minor

And  now JS Bach’s Prelude in G minor followed by Shostokovitch’s Fugue in G minor. We’ll mix up the centuries a bit, shall we?

Bach – Prelude Book 2

Shostakovitch –Fugue in G minor Start at 3 minutes and 23 seconds

A change now. Some quite passionate music hiding behind English reserve. Elgar: his Enigma theme – or at least its G minor counter theme – and his G minor friends pictures within – just the G minor ones.

Enigma Variations – Elgar


HDS-P (the first 50 seconds of this clip)




Elgar and his friends pictured within. Well, at least some of them. His Enigma Variations – the G minor ones at least. What is the most famous G minor theme ever? This one made it to the pop charts in the 1970s!

40th symphony 1st movement – Mozart

Mozart 40, do you remember that? I spared you the version with the rhythmic backing . That was the version with oboes, Mozart’s orchestration – so much more suited  G minor than the version he did with clarinets, I think.

The 3rd movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony seems to have set off a little bit of a trend in G minor 3rd movements. Here are 3 orchestras and 3 composers – Mozart, Schumann and Schubert – so here we have Mozart’s 40th Symphony 3rd movement, Schumann’s Spring Symphony 3rd movement and Schubert’s 5th Symphony 3rd movement, more or less simultaneously.

G minor 3rd movements

Just escaping disaster by the skin of their teeth were the following 3 orchestras: bravely sticking to Mozart’s 40th Symphony 3rd movement were Sir Charles Mackerras and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Inserting the 3rd Movement of Schumann’s Spring Symphony were the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alexander Rahbari and getting their oar in with Schubert’s 5th Symphony 3rd movement were the Wes Deutsche Sinfonia, Dirk Jures conducted. And it cost a lot to get them all so please don’t complain.

A fury of passion to end with. Saint Saens in racing mood in the last movement of his 2nd Piano Concerto in G minor. A tear-away tarantella. Get ready, GO!

2nd piano concerto 3rd movement  – Saint-Saens. (Young pianist in action)

Orchestra and pianist working up a considerable sweat there: they were playing Saint Saens’ 2nd Piano Concerto 2nd movement. I think G minor has been revealed to be a lot more than a shy violet.

And with that it’s goodbye from G minor and Keynotes and me. Till next time, from Tony Westwood, Goodbye.

When Harry met Frederica


Harry Potter was a wizard.  At least, he would be a wizard when he had completed his studies at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  ‘At least,’ thought Harry, ‘I would’ve been able to practise wizard’s spells if it wasn’t the holidays.’  Pupils of Hogwarts School were forbidden to use magic when at home.  Home.  Harry walked down Privet Drive disconsolately.  Number four Privet Drive was where Harry lived in the holidays but he could not think of it as home.  Home was where your parents lived.  Harry’s parents had died in horrible circumstances.  He now lived with his Uncle Vernon Dursley and Aunt Petunia and they went ballistic if Harry even mentioned his wizarding parents, James and Lily.  There were no other Potters in his life.  Oh, he had good friends at Hogwarts – Ron and Hermione were the best friends anyone could have – but no family.  No Potters.


Family. Frederica Potter, her flaming hair now streaked with ash, thought about the families to which she had belonged.  ‘Belong’ – such an inclusive word until tilted back into the past tense when it denoted the opposite.  This undistinguished suburban street meant families.  The determined symmetry and sameness of its houses filled her with a profound horror that quickened her pace.  Nuclear families.  The nucleus, held together by the strong nuclear force but apply the right stimulus and it shatters with incredible force.  Frederica had belonged to a nuclear family.  What had held her highly charged father and neutral mother together?  Bill and Winifred, grandparents to Leo, both now dead, interred (even in the emptiness this thought evinced, Frederica savoured the word’s Latin root.  Root, ground.  A satisfying connectedness.) on the Yorkshire moors of her childhood.  Her sister Stephanie, also highly charged, long dead.  And pale brother Marcus – a neutrino perhaps?

Then there was the other family in the small Kennington flat.  Such arrangements are called female-headed households these days, thought Frederica.  Two women, Frederica and Agatha, one child each.  That was no more, too.  Agatha was now famous and rich on the back of books of magical tales.  Those tales had held the family together as Agatha read them in instalments on Sunday nights.  And since Leo, Frederica’s son, had moved to the USA (‘where all the real intellectuals of England go nowadays’, he had said) to pursue a career in the philosophy of science under the influence of Popper, Penrose and Peacocke, she had no family.  (Frederica’s mind skidded past the dreadful, melodramatic death of her second son, Luk’s child.)  She had thought she was Lessing’s free woman.  No Lessing, she now felt, only lessening.  No Potters, only pottering.  Pointless pottering down soul-starved streets.


Harry walked faster.  Aunt Petunia would have a fit if he was late for tea – even if she only ever gave him dry toast while her fat son Dudley ate cream buns and mountains of fudge.  Harry wished he could just jump on to his Nimbus 2000 broomstick, slalom through the identical chimneys of Privet Drive and zoom down the one on the roof of number four.  The punishment there would be!  But it would be worth it just to see the looks on the three Dursleys’ faces.  He was passing the gate of number six when – CRASH!


Magic – that was a word to conjure with.  Frederica smiled ruefully at the tricks the mind plays – ‘even at my age’ – as she hurried on.  Agatha had found magic.  But Frederica understood herself well enough by now (64 years old ….. ‘will you still need me?’) to know that it was connectedness that she sought, not magic.  Understanding, a theory of everything.  Physicists chased that and missed the human.  Biologists – even deep thinkers like Luk – were as earthbound as the nematodes they studied.  Theologians lost it at first base.  (The influence of the USA is all-pervasive these days, thought Frederica, thinking simultaneously of metaphor and of Leo.)  Perhaps only novelists could encompass it all.  Thomas Mann with The Magic Mountain.  Magic again!  Any other novelist post-Eliot…..?

At that moment there was the dull thud of flesh hitting flesh.  Frederica, knocked backwards by the force of the impact, felt her ankle twist sharply and a tearing pain in the old jagged scar on her calf.  An image of Nigel, her brutal but sexually adroit ex-husband who had inflicted the injury with an axe, swam through her consciousness.  Heavily, she hit the pavement and a small body landed on top of her.


‘Oh dear, what have I done,’ cried Harry, retrieving his glasses from the road.  Frederica looked at her injured leg.  Great gouts of blood were welling up from a gash in her ankle.  ‘Can I help you?’ he said anxiously.  Blood, always blood, thought Frederica with a mixture of despair and anger.  Menstruation, childbirth, the Blood of Christ, poppies.  ‘Here. Here’s my hankie,’ said Harry, tying it tightly round her leg.  Frederica escried a zig-zag motif on the boy’s white handkerchief.  ‘A present from Hagrid,’ Harry explained.  Although almost faint with the pain, she lifted her eyes to her interlocutor’s face.  A thin boy with fern-green eyes, a syzygial zig-zag scar on his forehead.  (A vision of two identical blond heads and burning crossed Frederica’s mind’s eye.)  What had this boy suffered?

‘That’s better, I hope?’ Harry asked, moving his hands away from her leg with the delicate finger movements he had seen Madame Pomfrey do in the sick bay at Hogwarts.  The Ministry of Magic couldn’t object to a little bit of magic to help this old Muggle, could they?  Her severe expression softened.  ‘That feels better,’ she said.  The old Muggle was quite bony.  Her face had a hungry look, Harry thought.

In mitigation of his part in the collision, Harry offered ‘My name is Harry Potter.’

She said, with a surprised smile, ‘That’s strange. I’m also a Potter. Frederica Potter.’ ‘Potter is a common name in England, isn’t it?’ asked Harry, thinking of his parents.

‘Not in English novels,’ said Frederica, exploring the apparent coincidence further.  She sat up.

Harry sat next to her on the pavement.  ‘Why would a writer give the name Potter to a main character?’ asked Harry.

‘It is a plain name, isn’t it?’ agreed Frederica, who was feeling a lot better. ‘No heroics attached.  Potter – potty…’

‘Under the bed or loopy,’ grinned Harry.

‘Pottering, potting….’



‘And pans in the kitchen.’


‘More creative. Are you a writer?’ Harry looked into Frederica’s narrow, angular face.

Frederica was well versed in this area of self-appraisal.  ‘No – more of a teacher.’

‘Oh’, said Harry, disappointed. ‘The only grown ups I ever seem to speak to are teachers, except for Hagrid.’

‘But I’m not your teacher’, insisted Frederica, touched.  ‘I hardly speak to children now that my boy has grown up, Harry.’  Looking at this boy, Frederica experienced hot, hot waves spreading as from an Icelandic geyser from the crown of her head to her throbbing ankle.  ‘No, no! That’s not true:’ as the warm tears flowed ‘I had a second son named James. He died…..’

‘Your son….. he was called James…..Potter?!’ stammered Harry.  His eyes widened and his heart beat inside his chest like the wings of a giant bird.

‘No!’ cried Joanne Kathleen (or was it Agatha?)

‘Stop!’ demanded Antonia Susan (or was it Frederica?)

‘Ho! Give us a chance.’ A portly figure in a policeman’s uniform was seen puffing, grampus-like, up Privet Drive.  ‘Harold Potter at your service,’ he said shaking Harry’s hand with gusto and giving Frederica an affable peck on her moist, lined cheek.  ‘The latest in a long line of Harold Potters in the force, going back to old Lord Ickenham’s time.  He was quite a lad was Pongo Twistleton’s Uncle Fred, so my grandfather told me.  What he didn’t get up to at Blandings…..’

Joanne Kathleen looked at Antonia Susan as Pelham Grenville, smiling, twiddled his pencil: ‘Why did we choose Potter?’

Cape Town

21st June 2003

Dr Schmittendahl Part 3

His researches begin.

As to a child with cystic fibrosis



A goodnight kiss and my heart is torn again –

The taste of tears.



The well of life trapped within you.

My eyes have run dry now.



Oh, that runs forth in rivers from you –

Shimmering in my eyes.



Blood of my blood.

A joy tainted.



Seven days out of seven you labour,

The mark of Cain visible on your brow.



Fly, swoop, soar in it: fight for it,

My breath of life.



F major


Hello and Welcome. The key for this programme is F major. F major is the simplest of the keys. It’s unselfconscious, innocent and undemanding. It does not worry about its place in the world. It is like a quiet, gently pretty younger sister in an 19th century novel, sitting in a corner, contentedly doing her tatting or some such needlework. Do not expect complex musical statements or thought-provoking originality from F major.

To illustrate F major’s temperament, let’s take a little Bagatelle by Beethoven that most aspirant pianists will have had to learn quite early on in their studies. It contains a simple tune that Beethoven gently bends around but never twists into a complex shape.

Beethoven Bagatelle in F

And while the piano is open, let’s enjoy another simple F major piece that young pianists are likely to meet: JS Bach’s 2-part invention in F.

Bach2 part Invention in F

Narry a hint of gravitas so far, you’ll agree. Well, let’s put F major’s character to the test by wheeling in Johannes Brahms. Brahms finds it difficult not to sound a note of gravitas, but in his 3rd symphony, when he wanted to express how carefree he was feeling, how light were his spirits, he turned to F major. This is Free and Frolicsome, Brahms style.

Brahms 3rd Symphony 1st movement

Not entirely unscathed is F major, I fear, but we shouldn’t have trusted Brahms – he writes the last movement of that “Free and Frolicsome” symphony in a minor key! But to restore the key’s reputation I wish to point out how it tamed the bombast and philosophic churnings of the great Gustav Mahler. When he met F major in his airy Austrian composer’s retreat, he succumbed to her quiet, uncomplicated charms by paring down his vast orchestral cravings to a piece of night music, almost chamber music-like in scale with mandolin and gentle guitar. The 4th movement of his 7th Symphony.

Mahler 4th movt 7th Symphony

The perfumes of the night in the 4th movement of Mahler’s 7th Symphony. And now we can be wafted off into dreamland with Traumerei by Robert Schumann – a very small F major piece compared with the Mahler, but there are connections in the shaping of certain phrases and in the harmonies.

Schumann Traumerei

Traumerei or Dreaming from Scenes from Childhood by Robert Schumann. Mr Schumann, please will you stay. We’d like to hear how that younger sister we heard of earlier is depicted in you Piano Concerto, in the 2nd movement, the Intermezzo. Don’t look at me – look at the 1st movement, look at the 3rd movement. I’m just in between, just in between, just in between.

Schumann Piano Concerto 2

We’ll stop that before it gets into the big stuff. That was the Intermezzo from Schumann’s Piano Concerto .

Now back to the solo keyboard again for our Preludes and Fugues. Chopin’s Prelude first. The F major prelude, though not easy to play, is constructed very simply. In the upper voice is a repeated rippling phrase; and in the lower voice there is a short repeated melodic phrase.

Chopin Prelude in F

43 seconds of F major , ending with a little question mark. In Shostokovitch’s Prelude in F, the younger sister we talked about earlier stands up. She’s worthy of second look, quite statuesque.

Shostokovitch Prelude in F

In Shostokovitch’s Fugue in F major a simple theme is treated very classically. This is Shostokovitch controlling himself under the influence of F major.

Shostokovitch Fugue in F (starts at 3’48”)

I think we’ve had enough of Preludes and Fugues. Let’s get into some slushy stuff. Here’s one of those pieces that’s known by the key it’s written in. Melody in F by Anton Rubenstein

Rubenstein – Melody in F

A beautifully schmaltzy version of Melody in F by Rubenstein. And now another take on F major’s simplicity – clod hopping lack of sophistication. Ask Beethoven. Why did he choose F major for the Pastoral Symphony? Just listen to the 3rd movement. Peasants’ merry making. [Pause] You don’t believe me, do you? I call my first witness. Robert Schumann, what do you say, Robert?

Schumann The Merry Peasant

That was Schumann’s clodhopping Merry Peasant. Will my second witness  to this aspect of F major’s character please step forward? Engelbert Humperdinck. No, Not that one! The Hansel and Gretel one. Here’s simple song sung by Gretel. Very rural, very simple, even to the point of having birds singing!

Humperdinck – Gretel’s song

That rustic song sung by Gretel in Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck was in F major. Now do you believe me about this aspect of F major’s character? Let’s listen to Peasants Merrymaking by Beethoven and jum p from there to the last movement in which we meet the merry peasants recently refreshed by water from a storm singing a tune based on the basic chord of F major. F major, or course.

Beethoven Pastoral Symphony 3,5 movements

Movements 3 and 5 of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, number 6.  And as the ignorant peasants went back to their back-breaking work, we heard a French Horn in the back ground. Perhaps it was a hunt? The French Horn is very at home in F major. When Richard Strauss, whose father was a horn player, wished to demonstrate and use the horn’s agility as a representation of the practical joker of German legend, Till Eulenspiegel, he wrote in F and gave the French Horn a very prominent part.

R Strauss – Till Eulenspiegel

Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. And we’re not finished with horns. Here comes another hunt though these horns are played on the violin!

Vivaldi Autumn 1st movement

That was the 3rd movement of Autumn from the Seasons by Vivaldi. The violins giving a good representation of a hunt and horns. Horns again and a rural setting, but now we shift from the French Horn to the English Horn or cor anglais. Both instruments are tuned in F. I don’t know if Hector Berlioz had this in mind when he gave the cor anglais a prominent part in the rural 3rd movement of his Symphonie Fantastique – maybe it was the peasant again – but it is in F major and we’re going to listen to it now.

Berlioz – Symphonie Fantastique 3rd movement

After that, I think we need to give that young sister a second look. What sad motifs is she weaving into her handwork? She is clearly more melancholic than our first judgement suggested.

Perhaps we should marry her off. And so, as we come to the end of the programme, we have to choose between making her A Merry Wives of Windsor – or A Bartered Bride. A wife or Bride? Both are in F major. I think I’ll take the bride because she has the better joke – one of Frank Muir’s bon mots. He suggested that there was one thing he could say about Bedrich Smetana, the composer: he always knew which side his Bride was Bartered on!

Smetana – Bartered Bride Overture.

Bedrich Smetana’s Bartered Bride Overture . And with that we’ve reached the end of our exploration of F major. I hope you’ll join me next time when we explore another key in Keynotes. Good bye.


Simplicity and Innocence

Chopin                                                     Ballade in F major (Contrasting restless D minor section in the middle)

Mahler                                                      Adagietto from 5th Symphony (another example of the taming of his vast orchestral cravings)

Mozart                                                      Minuet in F (one of the first pieces he wrote)

Clodhopping simplicity

Another migrant

As I wrote on the Personal and Family page, I come from a family of migrants. My work has brought me into contact with another set of migrants – children with sickle cell anaemia from central Africa. Their parents and relatives, the ones who bring them to the hospital, are mostly Francophones. My dusty schoolboy French is not up to helping these families negotiate the complexities of a genetic blood disease with its myriad unpleasant complications, and the complexities of our health system.

I put out a request for a volunteer interpreter via the Alliance Francaise. Ten days later Yves phoned. Yves, whom I fetched from the station the next day, is an asylum seeker (he has his papers) from the multiple coups of Congo Brazzaville. He was a high school English and French teacher there, but here in South Africa he has eked out a living as a private Frecnh tutor for three years. Why did he respond to our request for an unpaid interpreter? ‘I am a Salvationist. I want to give to people in need’, he said. He hopes that perhaps an opportunity will arise from this placement. He also needs something to do. It does seem strange that South Africa does not snap up a well-educated man like this to strengthen our struggling education system. I hope that the needs of our little migrants will assist this migrant (me) to help that migrant (Yves) to become as settled as I have.

My parents, bringing almost nothing with them from Zimbabwe, have been welcomed; Yves, bringing an education and a sincere willingness to contribute, has not.

Dr Schmittendahl part 2

I have added a little more of this story today. The illustrious doctor goes to medical school. Click here

C major


Hello and Welcome! This is the first of series of programmes in which we will travel through the musical keys. You will recognise their names: C major, A minor, B flat major and so on. We will sample music that illustrates the character of particular keys. Yes, keys have character, often more than one, and different composers may have seen different features of the same key. Major keys tend to be happy, brighter; minor keys sadder, more brooding – but these are only general rules as we shall see. It’s not just character that makes a composer pick a particular key. It might be the range of a prominent or solo instrument, the type of voice he wishes to work with. Brass instruments are happier in flat keys; strings in sharp keys. Which key a piece of music is in can be read from the extreme left of the written music. Anyone who has tried to learn music knows that the more sharps or flats there are to the left, the more difficult the music is to read.


In this first programme we start with the key that has no sharps or flats on the left of the written music – C major. On the piano the C major scale played only on white notes so it’s often where you start when learning the instrument.

Here’s Claude Debussy illustrating some piano exercises in C major in his Dr Gradus ad Parnassum from the Children’s Corner Suite for piano.

Debussy: Dr Gradus ad Parnassum from Children’s Corner Suite

Debussy reproducing the sound of C major piano exercises in Dr Gradus ad Parnassum from Children’s Corner.

The budding C major pianist on his or her way to Parnassus is likely to meet this little melody early in his or her studies.  This piece – called Melody – is the first piece in Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young. It’s what you learn soon after that great moment when both hands are put on the keys at the same time:

Schumann: Melodie from Album for the Young

The fundamental simplicity of C major seems to have exerted its influence on composers. Haydn represented the beginning of all things with a solid C at the beginning of his oratorio, Creation. C And the first arrival of light on the scene of Creation blazes in a C major chord after some murky music in C minor and E flat major.

Haydn: ‘And there was Light’ from TheCreation

….. ‘in the beginning’ of Haydn’s Creation.

And here’s Richard Strauss at the beginning, right down on the lowest note of the double basses – the note being a fundamental C, of course. The dawn of humans was the way Stanley Kubrick saw this piece of music in his film 2001 A Space Odyssey

Strauss: Opening of Thus Spake Zarathustra

The opening of Thus Spake Zarathustra by Richard Strauss.  Back to Haydn now and his creation, Creation. When they first appear, Adam and Eve sing in C major wearing little more than an oboe in their naked bliss.

Haydn: ‘Von deiner Gut’, o Herr und Gott’ from The Creation

Adam and Eve singing in C major.

A number of composers took up the challenge presented by the musical keys and wrote a series of pieces covering the full range – every major and every minor. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well Tempered Clavichord contains 48 Preludes and Fugues, 2 in each key. This set is known in the trade as the 48. The first 24 constituted the first attempt to cover all the keys in one work. Bach put together the other 24 later in his life. Here’s Prelude number 1 of the 48 – in C major. I’m sure you will recognise it – and might even hum some Gounod to it.

JS Bach: Prelude in C major

Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Prelude in C major.  Now for the Fugue in C major. At the risk of boring the more weathered listener, I’m going to give a short explanation of what a fugue is before we hear our first in this series of programmes. A composer writes a theme that is played completely alone, by itself. Here’s the theme. Bach F in C subject.  Listen again.  You get the feel of it? Well, once this theme is stated, it appears again and again in the texture of the music like a bouncing ball while other things go one around it – sometimes it’s under the music, sometimes on top, sometimes in the middle. If the composer is feeling really clever he may put the theme in upside down or stretch it out or play little bits of it and generally have fun – both musical and it must be said – at times, intellectual. The best composers always preserve the musicality of their music in these exercises. So here’s the daddy of them all, Johann Sebastian Bach and his C major theme again Bach F in C subject,  followed by what he does with it. Follow the bouncing ball…..

JS Bach: Fugue in C major

How did you enjoy that?

Frederick Chopin also wrote a Prelude in each key. His Prelude in C is a tribute to Bach’s, I think. It’s faster but each bar has just one chord, shifting the colours in the same way as Bach.

Chopin: Prelude in C major

Chopin’s Prelude in C, the first of his 24 Preludes. In the 20th century when the range of musical expression was much wider than it was for Bach, Dimitri Shostokovitch had some fun tying himself down to writing short pieces in a single key. Like Bach he produced a Prelude and Fugue in each key. Here is the Prelude in C major by Shostokovitch.

Shostakovitch: Prelude in C major

Shostokovitch’s Prelude in C, the first of his 24 essays in all the keys. Here is the slow theme from hi s Fugue in C. Shos F in C subject This C major fugue contains not a single sharp or flat, not a single black note. What control for someone like Shostokovitch!

Shostakovitch: Fugue in C major (The Fugue starts 2’38” into this performance)

Shostokovitch ‘s Fugue in C major

The basic nature – (if one may use that term after hearing Adam and Eve)  – the basic nature of C major also brings some big statements from composers. Here’s Chopin’s first Etude for piano. It strides over the landscape like the immortal El-dils from CS Lewis’ Voyage to Venus.

Chopin: Etude in C major

Jupiter, the God and the planet, brings a larger than life C major, too. Holst first – Jupiter from the Planets – and note the middle section with the well-known tune in the grandest of all the keys, E flat major. More of that key in a later programme.

Holst: Jupiter from The Planets

Jupiter in C major – composer Gustav Holst.

Although he didn’t attach the name to it, Mozart’s final symphony, known as the Jupiter – in C major – has all the attributes of that Olympian. The first movement is solidly Jovian:

Mozart: Jupiter Symphony 1st movement

The Jupiter Symphony by Mozart otherwise known as number 41. And Brahms in his 4th symphony makes an Olympian statement in the Scherzo. One can hear the Jovian laughter through this C major  – rich certainly, but not really funny somehow – but that’s Brahms.

Brahms: 4th Symphony 3rd movement

Olympian Laughter as it has been described – the 3rd movt of Brahms’ 4th Symphony.

Now a little surprise. The fundamental simplicity of C major expressed in the tune and variations in the slow movement of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. Another Big Bang from Haydn, perhaps?

Haydn: 2nd movement of Surprise Symphony

The second movement of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. C major in all its simplicity.

And now – Allegro ordinario: “an ordinary quick speed” – that is Gustav Mahler’s take on C major. He writes a massive Rondo in C at the end of his very varied 7th symphony. He does this in part, I think,  to get repeated high fanfares at the top of the range of a group of trumpets in C. Listen out for them. Now, clear the decks, here comes a fanfare on the kettle drums:

Mahler: Finale 7th Symphony opening

The sound of the Finale of Mahler’s 7th Symphony.

Have you noticed how little tenderness there has been in this programme? It is difficult to squeeze the softer and more sophisticated emotions out of C major. Felix Mendelssohn managed it though, in the 2nd movement of his violin concerto. Quite a feat – especially on the violin whose sweetness is better suited to more complex keys as we shall see in future programmes.

Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto 2nd movement

The tender C major 2nd movement of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Now to end here is the piece which holds the record for the most C major chords in a single symphonic movement. I remember when my music appreciation was dawning in my teen years hearing this played and wishing it would never end. The way Beethoven writes it, my wish was nearly granted! The famous last movement of the 5th symphony. The darkness of C minor is gone: the glory of C major has triumphed.

Beethoven: Finale from 5th Symphony

I hope enjoyed meeting the first of our Keys – C major and will join me when we explore another key in Keynotes. Good bye



Learning the Piano

Clementi                                  Sonatina in C

Mozart                                     Variations on Ah vous dirai-je, maman.

Dohnanyi                                Variations on a Nursery Theme (Beware – begins in a grappling C minor)


Wagner                                    Overture from  Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg
(Fundamentalists when it came to German songs!)

Beethoven                               Symphony No 1 1st movement (His first Symphony) and
last movement (Beethoven plays with C major scale)

Large statements

Schubert                                  Symphony No 9 (The Great)

Schubert                                  The Wanderer Fantasy

Tchaikovsky                           Serenade for Strings 1st movt

Return top