Archive for June, 2018

Siegfried not ideal

The Siegfried Idyll is a work I have always enjoyed for its cocoon of beautiful sounds, expressing love for wife and newborn baby (admittedly while Wagner nods vigorously in the direction of his vast Ring Cycle). It is cast in E major for the majority of the time, especially when the strings are taking the front line.

FMR’s Karen Miller introduced this work in the 13 instrument version last night. I knew that I would not hear it in E major, so I was ready for disappointment as the first octave leap on the strings announced that it would be in F major, a semitone up. But while the warmth of the ‘sharp key that masquerades as a flat key’ was not there, the beauty of the music overcame this deficit, such that I had very pleasant time with the themes, leitmotivs and gentleness that makes this the wonderful work that it is. The A flat major middle section was in A major – a little confusing to hear all those sharps when I was reconciled to not hearing them in the extended E major sections.

So, not ideal, Siegfried – but still enough Idyll to satisfy this listener.

Beethoven symphonic slow movements – a census of where the sense is

Having had the A minor experience a few days ago, I thought it would be interesting to conduct a census of the other slow symphonic movements of Beethoven. I have known them well for decades; I have played in performances of all of them (clarinet or oboe) with the Bulawayo Philharmonic Orchestra and National Orchestra of Zimbabwe in the 1980s.

So each one has an expectation and a subsequent experience:

Symphony No 1. F major. Expectation: No change because F major is proving to have a resilience beyond that expected of her gentle undemanding soul. Experience: as expected. Unvarying F major, and no modulation flirted with the raised semitone.

Symphony No 2: A major. Expectation: it might start in A major but would soon sound in B flat and its related keys. Experience: B flat major from the first chord till end last one.

Symphony No 3 (Eroica). C minor with C major ‘maggiore’ section in the middle. Expectation: To remain in the funereal C minor, but every now and then flirt with a switch to C sharp minor. C major section would not change. Experience: Totally solid in all its magnificence.

Symphony No 4: E flat major. Expectation: I would not be surprised if from beginning to end or soon after beginning it would be be in E major. E flat major is an unsteady key in this phase. This movement is the least well known of all the Beethoven symphonic movements to my cognitive and emotional brains.Experience: unequivocal E flat major. The Beethoven influence?

Symphony No 5: A flat major. Expectation: Unswerving A flat major, but a frisson of concern that I would be let down. Experience: No let down. A flat as it should be. Towering C major explosions unimpeded by doubts about key.

Symphony No 6 (Pastoral): B flat major. Expectation: Very unlikely to shift into B major with all its spiky sharps. Experience: A ghastly experience. I chose a version on Youtube in which the whole thing is a quarter tone sharp from concert pitch. This threw me out completely. The beginning was in a flat C major – nearly a whole tone from the expected B flat major. Gruesome! It was a relief to find (by rushing to the piano to check the key) that it was not because of my hearing that this happened. I did make myself listen to the whole thing, flat C major cuckoos and all. I will find another recording to do the test with.

Symphony No 7: See recent post on this movement that engendered this census.

Symphony No 8: B flat major, but not really a slow movement. But as with No 6, unlikely to shift into B major.

Symphony No 9 (Choral): B flat major again with Excursions into D major, G major and E flat major. Unlikely to shift as in the other B flat movements, but an expectation that it would quite easily happen soon because B major’s character would fit well with the smooth string scales as they become more and more liquid as the movement progresses. Experience: All the keys were as they should be, beginning to end. I wondered if the regular key shifts battened things down.


A minor musical wonder

I wonder if the wonderful A minor second movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony will be the last piece of music to capitulate to the semitone shift? I am listening to it now. ‘A minor A minor A minor A’ it repeatedly and rhythmically intones in this most spare and Spartan of keys. Unchangeable surely?

Duet for One

Jean and I have just watched ”Duet for One’, a film about a concert violinist with multiple sclerosis starring Julie Andrews. Naturally, music for violin features prominently. In particular the slow movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto appears at emotional nodal points.

This movement which I love deeply is in a profound manifestation of E flat major. I expected it to appear in E major, given the state of my key-sense transition. Whenever this music appeared, it remained in E flat, unswervingly.

Perversely I found myself wanting the music to shift. I wanted to hear what it would sound like a semitone up in E major. I wanted to know what my emotional reaction to the transposed tune, harmonies and orchestration would be.

I have no doubt that one day I will know.

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