Archive for September, 2016

Bedrock Bach

Bach/Busoni Chaconne in D minor from Partita for solo violin: bedrock Bach. I hear solid ground set down by Johann Sebastian Bach on which Western Classical music has been built – harmony, sequence, cadence. Solid, fundamental, progenitive, massive, permanent. Resonant, spreading outwards and forward right to the day on which I am listening, and for years beyond. Bedrock D minor; unmoved, unmovable D minor. I do hope so……

A key moment 37000 feet up

Friday 26th August, up in the air, plugged into the BA entertainment system, a moment occurs. Simon Rattle sets off Prokofiev’s 1st Piano Concerto in an unequivocal D major. I know that the composer thumbed his nose at key conventions by writing his iconoclasm in D flat major, every 19th century composer’s creamily beautiful chocolate box key. A little wrestle with self-serving (I realise) regret takes place, and then I decide to embrace the semitone upward shift to the bright grandeur of D major as the new metier for this opening flourish – a new piano concerto to enjoy! I do enjoy it, perhaps partly eased by the anticipation that Prokofiev is going to throw the concerto’s key to the Siberian wolves when the conventional opening is over. After that, except when the opening musical material returns, key is immaterial.

Squeezed out

There have been no posts for a while in this thread (or any others). Here is the reason why, I conjecture. 2016 has brought upon me (careful and significant choice of preposition) a monumental amount of work related to health services and medical education. Simultaneously the health of my parents has been an abiding concern, requiring application, thought, adjustments, creativity, love. Among all these preoccupations, music and in particular the changes chronicled here have not been able to engender emotional energy – the emotional energy required to engage with translation of feeling into short bursts of analytical or soul-inspired verbal expression. Indeed, the emotional space to react to a key-related experience has been constrained by the other demands on my psyche. I don’t remember actively turning from the emotional import of musical changes experienced in the car, concert hall or home; I do remember feeling ‘there it goes again’ sometimes, but there was never sufficient focus or head-space to give it meaning.

This changed – happily! – about 3 weeks into a holiday in August. Enough emotional space had been gained in that time of altered rhythm for me to hear, feel and think again about my musical tonal journey. I must learn the lesson that these 5 months might teach me about balance.  But read on……

O night divine!

Being of an age at which loss of function becomes an increasing feature of the landscape, I accept that my loss of the sense of key and tonality is something that I must adapt to. Perhaps I will be able to manipulate the psychological aspects of the tonality sense to ‘hear’ in a new and satisfying way. I have not found a mechanism for this yet. Rather I find myself relishing the times when I hear pieces in the way I was used to (and expected to). This Christmas I was the pianist at Christchurch Kenilworth’s service of Nine Lessons and Carols. One carol the orchestra and choir performed was ‘O Holy Night’ by Adolph Adam. There is no particular key that this needs to be sung in: one need to make sure that the sopranos can reach the wonderful climactic top note that occurs in the repetition of the ‘Fall on your knees’ section of the chorus – O night divine! Our version is in D flat and the arranger had given broken chord triplets to the pianist that continue with ever greater sonority through the verses and chorusses. I relished this: here was an opportunity to hold on to this beautiful key almost literally. Playing the notes allows me to hear at the correct pitch, I have discovered. Somehow the topography of piano keys under my hands, the ‘shape’ of the key on the keyboard  corrects the sensory shift that is occurring in my brain. So for five or so wonderful minutes my forearms and fingers could play the rippling chords with progressive power while my brain and my soul heard and gloried in the synthesis of orchestra, organ, piano and 4-part choir making their music in D flat major, the key that has given us Un Sospiro by Liszt, the Raindrop Prelude by Chopin, Khatchaturian’s Spartacus Adagio, in Adam’s inspired song.

For more about D flat major and its twin key C#minor, click here.

[This is a re-post as the last version of this seems to have been the subject of a spam attack. Can’t think why!]


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