I have been enjoying Schumann’s symphonies while travelling around Cape Town in my car. I have a 2 CD set containing the 4 works. Numbers 3 & 4 are on the same CD. Having listened to them in sequence,I was finally going through number 4 which is D minor. The last movement is in D major after the cautious rather sinister transition from the 3rd movement. As so often happens these days, the music shifted up a semitone along the way and I was aware that we were to end the symphony in a resounding E flat major, not in D. At least I was to end it thus – other listeners with a sense of key and pitch would hear the D chords, and players had diligently played in 2 sharps as instructed by Robert Schumann.

As it ended I realised that the CD would start again and the first movement of the 3rd Symphony The Rhenish would begin. This is in E flat major. How would it sound after the apparent E flat of the 4th? In E major i.e. a semitone up? Would my shifted pitch perception carry through to the new movement? Or at the same E flat pitch? Was E flat major strong enough in my apperception to hold its tone? I had about 4 seconds to think about this before the crashing first chord of the Rhenish came in. E flat major certainly – all the boldness and grandeur of the key was there, but it was at a sharper pitch and was definitely more genuinely E flat than the false E flat major at the end of the 4th symphony.

I repeated the excercise a few days later with the same result.

I suppose that there must be overlapping ranges of pitch that sound as a specific key within my brain, with narrower ranges for the stronger keys. These are not likely to be fixed since what happens before the music influences how I am going to hear a specific frequency for the tonic of the key. I would be grateful if all musicians from now one would play a bit flat and tune their instruments a little below the standard frequency to allow me to enjoy stable sense of key again. I really do not enjoy flat keys being sharp keys and vice versa.