Every cloud has a silver lining and I suppose I ought to have realised that a change in hearing that shifts the sense of pitch may on occasion lead to enhanced sensibility. This happened this week at a concert given by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. We were treated to a choral treat: Brahms’ German Requiem with a massive choir in the excellent acoustic of the Cape Town City Hall. (The acoustic is excellent unless you are seated under the gallery, where muddy and muted are two apt adjectives for the aural experience of orchestral music.) We were in the gallery. I don’t know the Requiem well. One cannot avoid knowing “How lovely is thy dwelling place’, and the opening chorus is reasonably familiar. The rest I could identify as Brahms if tested and would have a stab at it being the Requiem as the Alto Rhapsody is the only other choral Brahms that I know. This was a wonderfully sonorous and poised performance, and as it settled into its quiet exit in the last movement (the programme told me about the work being in the shape of an arch), I was ready to enjoy heavenly harmonies. And come they did, in a glorious F sharp or G flat major. How perspicacious of Brahms to choose either of those twin infinite keys to bring this work of  ‘solace in sorrow’ to an end. As the final chords in the woodwind faded away the conductor stood immobile in the ensuing silence, just what those two keys would have demanded. They continued in one’s consciousness, connecting one with the eternal.

Today, two days later, I thought I’d re-live part of Thursday’s experience and listen to our recording (Rattle and Berlin Phil live on EMI). The music mixed with the mundane in our family life and indeed I stopped in the middle to bake some biscuits (thus is the infinite reduced by the quotidian).  I read the CD leaflet and learned that the work begins and ends in F major. The flats and sharps of F sharp major or G flat major that I had heard two evenings before were aural delusions, a neurological remix. But I can still feel what I felt in the City Hall. Our CD moved to the final movement. And in our family room the final movement today was in an unexceptional F major. In the middle of the track, I had experienced some tonal ambiguity and we nearly landed in the 6 sharp or flat keys, but as the movement faded once more and Sir Simon conducted the woodwind chords, he, I and the Berlin Phil knew that Brahms wrote in F major and we were playing it and hearing it in the original key. I don’t know what Brahms thought; I don’t know what Sir Simon thought; but I felt cheated. In this case, bring on the delusions….