Archive for December, 2017

Christmas Carols in A flat major

The Big Three Christmas carols are usually sung in G major – Once in Royal David’s City, O Come All Ye/You Faithful, and Hark the Herald Angels Sing. At one of Vox Cape Town’s Nine Lessons and Carols services last week, I sang them all in A flat major. Everybody else sang in G major even if they did not know they were doing so. My voice was not a semitone out (I trust!); I was in my own universe of A flat major because that is what I heard. Top F, the highest note the tunes reach, is at the edge of my range requiring extra vocal and diaphragmatic effort. I felt that extra effort, even though in the real world i was singing top E, a semitone lower, and therefore more comfortable. Why did my vocal apparatus which was singing E make me feel that I was singing F? Presumably the altered brain overrode the muscles of the respiratory system’s upward messages.

Sibelius 1 and 2

These two symphonies have thrown up a perspective each on my changing musical sensibilities.

I have an album of CDs containing Sibelius’ first 3 symphonies and a couple of tone poems in the car for commuting listening.

No 1 is in E minor. From the clarinet solo at the start through all the modulations, the strong E minor first movement never wavered from its root in the key. This reminded of how E minor has been capable of grounding my hearing in E such that E major when approached from E minor is less likely to shift up into F major than when it appears on its own. For some reason, E minor is proving to be one of the strongest keys in resisting aural transformation. It is less upwardly mobile, it seems. Is this from an emotional bond (I doubt it as E minor is not one of my ‘heart’ keys), or something to do with a specific combination of frequencies? Or its root in folksy music?

No 2 is in D major. Or was. No longer are those first repeated key chords in D major. No longer are is the final apotheosis in the bright brassy key of D major. I have strongly aware of D major as the timbre and character of this most popular of Sibelius’ symphonies (and the first one I met back in the Bulawayo of my musical awakening in the 1970s). They are both solid E flat major now. But (and here is the thing) no matter. I loved the first and last movements in the new key. The finale was undoubtedly enhanced by being in the grand key of E flat major. I could sing along with those stately themes excitedly, having been vouchsafed something wondrous amongst all the unsettledness of this auditory change and transition.

Knowledgeable readers of these musings may be wondering what happened to the darker D minor repetitious sections of the Finale in Symphony No 2. They murmured and undertook their slow building crescendi in something that was more like E flat minor than D minor, but was neither.

Chopin’ and changing

Ursula is playing the piano. The first chord was a B flat major one. As I tuned in, I realised that it is Chopin’s Prelude in A. But no longer. Next piece is a Chopin Mazurka in A minor – in A minor. Now it is the Henselt Berceuse that ought to be in G flat major but is in G major. Back to Chopin – the Prelude in B minor is. Schubert’s pogo stick Moment Musicale in F minor is flirting with F sharp minor but seems to be holding its own. End of recital.

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