Archive for January, 2017

Ek weet nie!

My recent post on Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony refers. I have just listened through the second movement on a recording with the Cincinatti Symphony conducted by Paavo Jaevi that I have on CD. The music stayed in its written A major key and the various modulations all the way through, ending gently on a low cello and double bass A. As they say in Afrikaans: “Ek weet nie!”

Gently rocking between the keys for a musical moment

Schubert’s Moment Musicale in A flat major has a gently rocking theme, sicilienne-like. Listening to this piece played by Andreas Schiff today, I expected to hear it in A major i.e. on the storey above A flat major. What happened was more complicated than that. I heard it in A flat major, but I was able to hear it A major if I wanted to, reverting to A flat major by a  similar act of will. In my mind there was a translation going on with me able to visualize the notes on the keyboard in either key. Notably this visualization followed what I heard rather than led the changes.

I wonder if the fact that Schubert’s chordal theme has a C at the top of the chord was the reason that the piece began in the correct key for me, despite the overall shifts that are taking place. C is a stronger note in my musical hard-wiring than A flat, in all probability because that note is where I started in piano lessons at the age of five.

The gentle rocking between the keys was a strangely soothing  experience.

E major major regrets

A list of the E Major pieces whose loss I most regret:

Brahms 4th Symphony slow movement heads the list without doubt
Grieg’s Morning from Peer Gynt, its crepuscular sweetness undermined in its new key
Spring from The Seasons by Vivaldi, its vernal brightness cheapened
The slow movement of Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto, the clarinets’ accompanying triplets which I played many years ago with the National Symphony Orchestra in Zimbabwe dislocated by the new key
The slow movement of Beethoven’s 3rd piano concerto, its profundity (so evident from its first two piano chords) lightened

There are other pieces where the special characteristics of E major (warmth, richness, chocolaty smoothness) were not so intrinsic to my enjoyment.
For example, Chopin’s famous slow piano Study in E major I can listen to in the new F major without feeling cheated.

A whiff of E major

FMR’s Midday Concert contained Rachmaninov’s E minor 2nd Symphony.  I turned it on just as the ravishing clarinet solo starts after the strings have set the stage in the slow movement. This should be in A major but is wasn’t. I could trace the line of notes in B flat major, without any surprise. A major was never a strong key in my world. After all its newly-gained B flat beauties the movement faded to contrabass plucked low B flats.

I anticipated the vigorous Scherzo to follow. E major it should have been but judging from recent experience F major was to be expected. Was E major possible? Yes! For 4 seconds the orchestra was playing in the written key. 4 seconds, then everything was in F major, 2017’s E major.

E flat major’s final capitulation

After writing the previous post, I wondered to myself:
How I would know that E flat major had gone the way of E major. What would represent the final nails in the key’s coffin?
This train of thought was set off by Elgar’s overture In the South that was the track on the CD in my car as I drove back from work late on New Year’s night. I don’t know which key he wrote it in but I suspect it was E flat because it sounded like E major to me. Elgar and E flat means Nimrod and the second symphony.
I thought, “I will know that E flat major is gone forever when Nimrod and the middle section of Jupiter from Holst’s Planets are heard in E major.” A day I don’t look forward to.

New Year Reflection

In the last two days of 2016 certain things regarding key shifts became clear.

E major no longer exists in the original. All pieces that I know are in E major I now hear in F major from the start. Two examples seemed to clinch this fact. Ursula played Beethoven’s early Piano Sonata in E and it sounded in F from the first note. On the radio a performance of Chopin’s Scherzo in E wasn’t for me – it was in F.

During our New Year celebrations, we had allowed YouTube to choose the order of background musical events starting with Alfred Brendel playing Schubert’s Impromptues. The one in E flat major with its running right hand I know under my fingers so well that I can, for a party piece,  dislocate the right hand from the left allowing the right to end up well ahead of its partner. Well, it was in E major in sound, demonstrating as 2017 starts that E flat major is going the way of E major (both imitating what has happened to that key as well becoming that key). The contrasting B minor sections of the same Impromptu were however solidly in B minor.

Later, thanks to YouTube’s algorithm for choices for the Westwoods’ Google identity, Mr Brendel was required to play Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. According to my altered key sense he was required to play it in E major. But, of course, he wasn’t.

One more bit of evidence for how far the cahnges have gone since I first noticed them relates to Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, mentioned more than once in these reflections: I turned on my car radio when leaving the hospital to find myself in the middle of the first movement of the symphony. I wondered which key I would hear it in. Once it had worked out where we were among the modulations in the movement, it was clear that Felix’ A major that he had battled with (see the A major Keynotes programme) was in B flat. Maybe he should have done it all in that key to start with! It sounded perfectly good. But there was further evidence of the complexity of this change process as we moved from movement 1 to movement 2. The B flat note at the top of the solid B flat final chord of movement 1 became a clear A note as the strings started the movement 2. Same note, different sound yet the same pitch. Was it because I was anticipating the D minor of this movement, D minor being a key that has not begun its migration in my sensory apparatus to the same extent as most other common keys? or was it because I know the sound of an A in this context very well and this foundation is reinforced by A being the tuning note for orchestras?

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