Archive for October, 2013

Beethoven bucks the trend

I was sitting at my desk preparing a lecture on diarrhoea for paediatric students. I was feeling quite tired so I thought I would put on some music to help me focus while working. Who better than Beethoven? I chose the finale, the Ode to Joy from his Choral symphony. I was not surprised by the cellos and basses announcing the famous theme in E flat major instead of D major. The usual semitone shift; a shrug of the tired shoulders. I next tuned in (great music helping me to concentrate on something else – worrying?) in the wonderful prolonged fugato section where Herr von B pitches two themes against each other and shifts the key continuously. My pitch perception lost any sense of where we were tonally. Soon I was back in the throes of explaining rationales for aspects of diarrhoea treatment. I next connected with the Ode in what I think of as the ‘Tochter of Elysium’ ├é┬ásection: we are briefly in G major and things are speeding up. And they sped into D major for me as in the music. Mediated by the G major transition, my tonal appreciation was able to get me back to the real key all the way to the final excitingly wild apotheosis. So Beethoven bucks the trend: nowadays the shift is usually from the right to the wrong key; today the opposite occurred. But then that’s what you might expect from Beethoven……

Tchaikovsky’s 1st Pain Concerto

No mispelling. It was painful. I switched on the car radio, set as usual to FMR. They were in the middle of the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s 1st piano concerto. I know the piece well, having bashed my way through the piano part in my youth. B flat minor, shifting into its beautiful 5 flat cousin D flat major. I instantly knew that I was hearing the music one semitone higher in B minor, a sharp key. It was all wrong. I listened for a while but had to turn it off. As I thought about the song-like slow D flat major second movement that would have come next pretty certainly shifted away from the key that gives it its wonderful lyricism, I experienced a deep sense that I had lost something important. Would I ever again experience the music with any meaning, any satisfaction?

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