Archive for September, 2019

A flat key holding a flat key?

In this case the key is A flat major. Jean was playing the piano while waiting for the arrival of our grandchild for a morning of joy. She started playing the A flat major slow movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Not unexpectedly I heard it in A major. I repeated the experiment I have chronicled before: I came up next to her and looked at her fingers playing all the flats and my sense of the key change back to A flat major without any change in the actual sound.

Two days later we were privileged to attend a piano recital by David Earl. First on his list was that Pathetique Sonata. It is in C minor which has remained (so far) one of the strong keys for me. So the first movement was thoroughly satisfying in this questing minor key. I wondered what would happen to the slow movement. I needn’t have worried – it was wonderfully held in A flat major even after the intrinsic modulations that Beethoven incorporates, right through to the gentle chords at the end. And of course the Finale stayed in C minor always through.

David Earl follow the Beethoven with some Chopin Impromptus. The first one was the A flat major one which carried on the tradition of sounding in the key. The test came with the F sharp major Impromptu. F sharp major is a weak key, and I fully expected to hear things in G major, a semitone up. This did not happen until the key changed in the D major central section. Things went awry at this point as D major rapidly shifted into E flat major which it tends to do these days. And from then on the the rest of the Impromptu was in the wrong key. And the C sharp minor Fantasy Impromptu which followed did something most disturbing: it started in D minor and the middle section was in D major. This totally altered the feeling of the piece, disappointingly. It almost made a nonsense of it.

Schumann’s Carnaval was to come in the second half of the recital. This is entirely in flat keys with A flat major as the base key. It is one of my favourite musical suites and I have enjoyed playing it to the best of my ability on the piano. I know how the pieces feel under the fingers. So when David started playing in what seemed to be A major, I thought I would be in for over half an hour of further disappointment. However as the first section was coming to an end, I saw his finger playing a white note where A major would have had a black note. And miraculously the music transmuted back into A flat major. Every one of the miniatures from then on was in the correct key and I had a wonderful Carnaval experience.

The flowers that bloom in the spring

Little pink flowers have appeared in Cape Town’s grass verges. There are carpets of white daisies on the side of Signal Hill. First signs of spring. Oh no! This was written when our dams were almost empty after yet another winter of failed rains. Happily in spring 2019 things are looking better, but we have been warned..

The flowers that bloom in the spring Tra-la

Breathe promise of hellish sunshine.

As they merrily pout and they preen Tra-la

It’s drought and parched dryness they mean Tra-la:

A summer of bowsers in line

Yes, a summer of bowsers in line.

So that’s what I think when I say that a thing’s

Unwelcome as flowers that bloom in the spring.


Unwelcome as flowers in spring.

(With apologies to WS Gilbert)

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