Archive for the ‘Keynotes programmes’ Category

B flat major

B flat major

B flat Intro

Hello and welcome, and this really is the beginning! Three facets of the key for this programme, B flat major. B flat for short. B flat the expansive key as shown in the opening of Brahms’ 2md Piano Concerto; Bflat the key for brass instruments; B flat the key for a drinking song.

B flat has the flabby muscularity of a wrestler who has just started to go to seed. There is a beery, oom-pah side to it – no doubt the brass connection there. It’s the easiest key for trumpets, cornets and euphoniums – or should that be euphonia? But B flat has an alter ego – an effervescent, bubbly side; a bouncy liquid (champagne this time) good humour.

We will hear examples of all thes facets of this key today.

First the bibulous, beery side. Two drinking sings: The Student Prince and then La Traviata. Eat drink and be merry in B flat.

Romberg – Drink, drink, drink

Verdi – Brindisi, La Traviata

Now it’s time for a quick march or two – brass instruments to the fore. 4 in a row, in fact. First Gounod’s soldiers will march in and out again. Then we’ll shift to America for the Battle Hymn of the Republic; to France for Hector Berlioz’ amazing version of La Marseillaise, and finally to Athens to see what Beethoven’s Turks have done to it. A-1234,1234……

Gounod – Soldiers’ Chorus – Faust

Trad. – Battle Hymn of the Republic

Berlioz – La Marseillaise

Beethoven – Turkish March from The Ruins of Athens

The expansive side to B flat is well illustrated by the first movement of Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto. As we heard at the start of this programme, the first theme on the solo horn sets the pace and the generous proportion of the piece.

Brahms – 2nd Piano Concerto 1st movement

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the effervescent side to B flat that I referred at the start of the programme is to hear how Brahms uses it in the 4th and last movement of this self-same concerto. A complete contrast yet the same key.

Brahms – 2nd Piano Concerto 4th movement

Now a bubbly B flat medley: Poulenc first – the first of his Mouvements Perpetuelles for piano. Then Don Giovanni will sing about bubbly; more Mozart after that – the perky finale of his last piano concerto. Prepare to have your nose tickled.

Poulenc – Mouvement Perpetuelle 1

Mozart – Champagne Aria, Don Giovanni

Mozart – 27th Piano Concerto 3rd movement

Beethoven certainly knew how to have fun in B flat. I point you to the 2nd movement of his little 8th symphony while playing you the last movement of his 4th symphony. Listen out for the bassoon solo in the second half.

Beethoven – 4th Symphony 4th movement

Did you hear the bassoon? I think the Herr Beethoven wasn’t uninfluenced by the fact that the lowest note on the bassoon is B flat when he chose the key for the “Turkish” part of his famous Ode to Joy. (By the way, have you ever wondered what Beethoven owed to Joy, and indeed who Joy was??) He starts this section with repeated bassoon B flats. Another B flat march, by the way.

Beethoven – Turkish section Ode to Joy (the first 3 minutes)

Ending in a bright D major – reminding us of that wonderful key.

Now for something quiet. The Irish composer and demonstrator of other people’s pianos, John Field is best known for one piece – his Nocturne in B flat.

And then listen to Chopin’s Prelude in B flat. It’s really a Nocturne – a form of music invented by Field.

Field – Nocturne in B flat

Chopin – Prelude in B flat

Shostakovich’s Prelude and Fugue now. The Prelude is a perpetual motion piece. The Fugue has a bouncy theme in triple time.

Shostakovitch – P & F in B flat

Back to the bibulous. A rare example of Mahler writing in B flat. A hell-raising defiant drinking song from the Song of the Earth, Das Lied von der Erde. In truth the piece is not in B flat – it’s in A minor, Mahler’s tragic key, but when the singer first declaims, it has shifted to B flat because Mahler knows that it’s the right key for a drinking song.

Mahler – Trinklied

Now the Bach Prelude and Fugue in B. The Prelude is an improvisation-like piece of rapid playing (most satisfying); the Fugue more placid with a subject (heard first) and a regular counter-subject making for a satisfyingly symmetrical composition.

Bach – P & F in B flat

Now how shall we end? Beery, bibulous or bubbly? The latter, I think. Here’s the sparkling champagne of the final movement of Mozart’s Gran Partita for winds. Listen to the high spirits of the clarinets playing in the home key, praising the composer for his unerring understanding of their capabilities. On you marks, get set, go!

Mozart – Finale, Gran Partita for winds

I think it would be appropriate at the end of this beery, bibulous programme to leave you all with a ‘Cheers’ from me and from B flat major!

 

A major

A MAJOR

Fine Music Radio welcomes you to Keynotes!

Chopin Prelude in A 1st 2 bars

A wander through the musical keys

Chopin Prelude in A 2nd 2 bars

And here is your guide, Tony Westwood

Chopin Prelude in A 3rd 2 bars

 

Hello and welcome; today we meet A major. I must start with a warning: Do not trust A major. A major has a smile but it is vacuous. A major has bright eyes, but there is nothing behind them. A major is shallow; it is really difficult to have a meaningful relationship with A major.

Witness the experience of Felix Mendelssohn. He had great trouble getting his Italian Symphony to work. He sweated blood over it. The reason is surely that he chose A major. You cannot squeeze Italian vigour out of her – all you will evince from is her empty smile.

Let’s listen to the 1st movement of this symphony – known in our household as “The Mermaid’s Lagoon” from a chapter heading in a recording of Peter Pan in which this music is used as the background. You’ll hear the rhythm in the woodwinds – “The Mermaid’s Lagoon”!

Mendelssohn – Italian Symphony 1st movement

Young Felix Mendelssohn also put his Song without Words called ‘Spring Song’ into A major. “Song without feeling’ rather:

Mendelssohn – Spring Song.

I think Robert Schumann understood A major. He cast a fair proportion of his Album for the Young in the key. “Album for those who have not yet achieved full maturity’ – very apposite for A major. Here’s a sequence of the A major miniatures from the Album:

Schumann – Album for the Young excerpts.

Serge Prokofiev also understood that A major is all surface, but he did not take it lying down. In his 6th Piano Sonata he pulls and pushes her around, threatening to turn her into A minor unless she capitulates and shows some spunk, which he eventually does. Arm wrestling with A major:

Prokofiev – 6th Piano Sonata 1st movement

If we want to get to the reason for A major’s shallow artifice, we must turn to Chopin’s little 16 bar Prelude in A that started the programme. Watch the corner of her mouth on each of the sets of 3 repeated chords. Yes, it is a little self-satisfied. A major is revealed as a narcissist! A study in self-absorption, Chopin’s Prelude in A major:

Chopin – Prelude in A

Debussy and Nijinski had cottoned on to A major’s self-absorption. The self-contemplation of the Faun one dreamy afternoon.

Debussy – L’apres midi d’un faun

In truth that piece is in E major but the flute oscillates across A as if it knows that that is key the Faun was really dreaming about itself in.

What is it with the flute and A major as in that piece? Was Mozart right to question the instrument’s commitment to good music? Here are Debussy’s Shepherd, played all alone and in A major. Loneliness – or complete self containment?

Debussy – The Little Shepherd (Children’s Corner Suite)

Another wind instrument now. Mozart’s two major works for the clarinet are written in A – because they’re easier to play on the A clarinet. As someone brought up arrangements of these works for the more common on B flat clarinet, these works have never sounded quite right to me. But that’s no reason to deny them to you. Here is the last movement of the Clarinet Quintet – a set of variations on a bouncy theme.

Mozart – Clarinet Quintet 4

Mozartian grace conquers A major. Here for me is the apogee of Mozartian grace in A major: the 1st movement of the 23rd Piano Concerto. Not how the 2nd chord completely expels A major’s incipient solipsism and provides warmth and vulnerability at one stroke – and insight I learnt many years ago from the writer and broadcaster, Anthony Hopkins.

Mozart – 23rd Piano Concerto 1st movement

How does Shostakovich cope with A major in his P & F? In the Prelude he stays in the key longer than I’d have expected before succumbing to his tendency to escape. The fugue reveals that he understands A major’s emptiness. The theme is simply made up of the broken chord of A – and it’s an Allegretto, that most nondescript of speeds. Hardly worth the fuss for the composer, one suspects.

Shostakovich – Prelude & Fugue in A major

Oh brooding spirit of Beethoven, what do you make of A major? Away with Fauns! Away with pipes and flutes! Away with nymphs dancing delicately in the pale moonlight! Let’s dance!!

Beethoven – 7th Symphony 4th movement

And now I’m going to unravel my own arguments about poor A major. One of the happiest pieces I know is in A; a piece that I recommend for dispelling the blues, the greys, the dumps. The “Alla Marcia” from Sibelius’ Karelia Suite, the brightest spot in this composer’s output. So I leave you with a light heart, I hope, after nearly an hour of ambiguous A major.

Sibelius – Alla Marcia from Karelia Suite

 

G major

G major

Part 1 (Beethoven 4th Piano Concerto opening Piano statement)

Part 2 (Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue excerpt)

Part 3 (Shostakovich Prelude in G excerpt)

Hello and Welcome. In this programme we explore G major. I wonder if you noticed that the 3 little excerpts that introduced this programme had more than the key in common? They all had themes that employed repeated notes. You might say ‘coincidence’ for Gershwin

Part 2

and Beethoven

Part 4

but I’m sure that Shostakovich

Part 3

had Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto in mind

Part 1

when he penned his Prelude

Part 3

More from that Shostakovich later.

As illustrated by the tiny bit of his music we heard in the introduction, G major was a serious key for Beethoven despite the fact that his most light-weight piano sonatas were in G. This programme’s most profound musical statement comes from him (any guesses?), but G major is generally a light key. It is bright sunlight on green leaves; it is a friendly smile; it is gambolling of lambs in spring; it has its emphasis on uncomplicated fun. It is Haydn; it is Dvorak.

Here to illustrate is the 1st mov’t from Dvorak’s 8th symphony. It starts a little darkly in G minor but the sun soon breaks through in the form of a happy, tootling tune on the flute – the quintessence of G major.

Dvorak – 8th Symphony 1st movement

The sunny opening of Dvorak’s 8th Symphony in G major. Let’s get in early with some Haydn as G major is really his key. And here’s a coincidence – that Dvorak symphony, number 8, was Opus 88; here is the final movement of Haydn’s 88th Symphony – in G major! You can just imagine Papa Haydn humming this little tune on his way to work.

Haydn – Symphony 88 4th movement

So Haydn, so G major. The last movement of Haydn’s 88th Symphony. Lots of string music there and its interesting how many composers have written in G major for string ensembles. Strings of a feather flock together in G major, it would seem. Here are some examples. See if you can identify them.

Bach 3rd Brandenburg Concerto 3rd movement

Grieg – Holberg Suite 1st movement

Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik 1st movement

Dag Wiren March from String Serenade

Tchaikovsky Waltz from String Serenade

G major strings, strings and more strings. The 3rd movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3; Grieg’s Holberg Suite, the 1st movement; Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; The march from Dag Wiren’s String Serenade; and, from Tchaikovsky’s String Serenade, the Waltz. From groups of strings we’re going to the heart of the programme and a solo violin. Beethoven was able to stop the world in G major. The key’s inherent lightness is put aside and it is infused with a Zen-like calm; a quietness, deeply vibrating and spiritual. Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, the 2nd movement.

Beethoven – Violin Concerto 2nd movement

The slow movement from Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. She was playing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Let’s continue our exploration of G major.  Here’s a piece that is known by its key: Minuet in G. But is it Bach’s Minuet in G, Beethoven’s Minuet in G or Paderewski’s Minuet in G?

Paderewski – Minuet in G

Paderewski’s Minuet in G for the piano. We move now from Polish music to English music. There’s a type of English dance music that can only really work in G major. So here’s my favourite example written by a Welshman called German.

German – Shepherd’s Dance from Henry VIII

That lovely piece look rather odd when written down on my piece of paper. My piece of paper says German Shepherd’s Dance, but that wasn’t a group of Alsatians running round the maypole. It was Edward German’s Shepherd’s Dance from Henry VIII. Now let’s complement that English dance written by a Welshman called German, with a German dance written by an Englishman from the Welsh border. One of Elgar’s Songs From the Bavarian Highlands. Light and bright in G major , of course.

Elgar – From the Bavarian Highlands 1st movement

Elgar’s The Dance from the Bavarian Highlands Suite. G major is a key that, while widely used in the Baroque and Classical periods, seems to have died out once the Romantics appeared on the scene. Is it too light and bright? Brahms tried it out. His 1st Violin Sonata is in this key but only the 1st movement; the last movement is in G minor. Likewise his only symphonic movement in G keeps shifting into the minor. A cloud passes in front of the sun. Listen:

Brahms – 2nd Symphony 3rd movement

The shifting tonalities of Brahms 2nd Symphony 3rd movement. Earlier I promised you some Shostakovich. Well, I’m going to stick to my promise and here is the Prelude with its repeated notes.

Shostakovich Prelude in G

Shostakovich’s Prelude in G major played by Keith Jarred. And here’s the Chopin Prelude. Bright and liquid  – a bubbling rivulet in spring sunshine.

Chopin – Prelude in G

Sunshine on running water – Chopin’s Prelude in G played by Martha Argerich. Another view of G major from the Romantic period now. The airiness of G major produced a child’s view of the heaven for Gustav Mahler – Simplicity and that certain type of light. Here’s part of the 1st movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony – a series of innocent tunes – flutes and bells in the lead.

Mahler – 4th Symphony 1st movement

All sunshine without clouds, all smiles without tears: G major in heaven by Gustav Mahler. The 1st movement of his 4th Symphony. I wonder if it’s possible to write something as complicated and intellectual as a Fugue in G major. Well, Bach managed it!

JS Bach  Fugue in G (start at 3’20”)

The lightness of G major preserved in that Fugue by Bach. It’s time to round off our exploration of G major and we must end with a sunny piece of music. What shall it be? One of the best examples I know is the 1st movement of Mozart’s 17th Piano Concerto so let’s end with that.

Mozart – 17th Piano concerto 1st movement.

Ending our G major excursion with a sunny smile – the 1st movement of Mozart’s 17th Piano Concerto. And so we say farewell to G major and Keynotes. Good bye.

Orphan Keys

ORPHAN KEYS

Part 1 Chopin Scherzo in B flat minor excerpts

Part 2

Part 3

Hello and welcome. In this programme I’m bringing together a number of keys of which that was one example – that was B flat minor in Chopin’s Scherzo in B flat minor.  – I’ve called these key Orphan keys because they’re not heard very ‘orphan’. They’re keys with 5 sharps or flats or 7 sharps or flats. Unless you‘re a composer like Bach or Chopin or Shostokovitch and set yourself the task of writing a composition in every key, you have to make a deliberate choice to use one of these keys. The only one that really caught on was D flat major: we heard that in another programme. So in this programme we’re going to hear music written in B flat minor, G sharp minor, B major and A flat minor. That the major keys with 7 sharps or flat – that’s C sharp major and C flat major – haven’t been used much is not surprising: it’s just too much of sweat. I have yet to see a piece in A sharp minor. That said, I’ve lined up some good music in this programme; worthy of anything that’s gone before. I’m going to start with B flat minor and Chopin as we sampled in the introduction. This key induced in him a tearaway frenzy. He just goes mad. Listen:

Chopin – Prelude in B flat minor

I’m not making this up, you know! That was Chopin’s Prelude in B flat minor, and here’s some more B flat minor by Chopin – the last movement of his 2nd Piano Sonata in B flat minor. Just as crazy..

Chopin – Piano Sonata No 2 – 4th movement

I hope you could make sense of that. I couldn’t. In that Sonata the first movement is also very wild but it is tempered by G flat major. The third movement is the famous funeral march, but I’m not going to play that because we’re going to have a funeral march in another key later in the programme. Staying with B flat minor, here’s another composer who was induced to write something very tearaway in the key – Tchaikovsky. He writes a very energetic Russian Dance as the 3rd movement of his 1st Piano Concerto. I’m going to fade him before we get to the big B flat major climax because I’ve got another piece in B flat minor to follow.

Tchaikovsky – 1st Piano Concerto 3rd movement

Tchaikovsky – the last movement of his 1st Piano Concerto in B flat minor, demonstrating its wild side. Now JS Bach is going to take us to B flat minor in another form. The other side of the emotional spectrum – controlled dignified sorrow in his Prelude in B flat minor.

JS Bach – Prelude in B flat minor

In the fugue the sorrow becomes more overt. There’s sob between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the theme, and Bach, unusually, uses 5 voices to explore this sad little theme.

JS Bach – Fugue in B flat minor (start 3’04”)

B flat minor’s sadness in Bach’s Fugue in B flat minor. Other examples of B flat minor in this mood are Samuel Barber’s Adagio, and A Furtive Tear by Donizetti. I’m going to move on to another key now – G sharp minor. And we’re going to stay in Prelude mood. Here are 3 preludes by 3 composers who had to write in this key because they were doing their series of preludes: Bach, Chopin and Rachmaninov.

Bach – Prelude in G sharp minor

Chopin – Prelude in G sharp minor

Rachmaninov – Prelude in G sharp minor

3 preludes in G sharp minor: And here’s another piano piece in that key. La Campanella by Liszt. The repetitive tintinabulations of D# may be the reason for his choice of this unusual key for this essay in florid pianism.

Liszt – La Campanella

An essay in G sharp minor – La Campanella by Liszt. And now by miraculous sleight of hand we’re in A flat minor. No, it’s not really very clever: G sharp and A flat are the same note. So A flat minor sounds exactly the same as G sharp minor, but it looks very different on the page. Beethoven chose A flat minor to write a funeral march in his A flat major piano sonata. It is one of only two movements in this key by Beethoven, both in A flat major piano sonatas

Beethoven – Funeral March from Piano Sonata in A flat

If A flat minor is solemn and funereal in that piece, Richard Strauss found a lyrical side to the key in his 1st Horn Concerto 2nd movement. In choosing the key he made it a devil to read but divine to listen to so we’ll forgive him.

R Strauss – 1st Horn Concerto 2nd movement

And now it’s time to move away from minor orphans keys to a major orphan key – B major. Brahms loved the dark colours of B major. The longest and most sombre of the piano Ballades is in this key and for richness you cannot beat his Piano Trio in B. Here’s another supreme B major Brahms piece. The slow movement of his 2nd Symphony. There can be few pieces that match this for the combination of beauty and concentration. I think it’s the key that makes the difference.

Brahms – 2nd Symphony 2nd movement

The warmest of B majors in Brahms’ second movement from his 2nd Symphony. We’ve left Shostakovitch out of our other orphan keys in this programme so I’d better give him his play here.  Oddly he hears nothing of what Brahms heard in B major and gives us a very silly little prelude and a light-hearted fugue.

Shostakovitch – P & F in B major (there is a gap between the 2 parts in this video)

And here’s somebody else who had an upbeat view of B major, but I think I know why Verdi chose B major for La Donna e mobile and I think you will too when the tenor sings the last note.

Verdi – La Donna e Mobile

A top B provided by Verdi – the last note of La Donna e mobile. Verdi could have chose to put such an oom-pah piece in B flat major which is the oom-pah key, but he ratched it up one note in order to give a spectacular chance to the tenor. From one opera composer to another and from a tenor to a soprano. The climax of T&I by Wagner is in B major. Here is Isolde winding herself to the B major climax that Wagner provides in the Love’s Death.

Wagner – Liebestod

The B major ending of Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner. I’ve chosen as the last piece in this programme of orphan keys and orphan piece of music by which I mean it’s not heard very ‘orphan’, and yet it’s the piece heard most often by the composer Arnold Bax. But before we play it, let me point in the direction of a wonderful B major piece. The 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. And if you’re needing another B major fix, try the end of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. And now let’s end with the Bax. This is Tintagel in which Bax uses B major to conjure up both the mystery and the pageant of King Arthur’s castle. And by a wonderful coincidence that’s in Cornwall which is also where Tristan and Isolde is set.

Bax – Tintagel

The B major battlements of Tintagel by Arnold Bax. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of the more unusual keys. They were worth exploring, weren’t they? Goodbye from them and from Keynotes and goodbye from me.

D major

D MAJOR

Part 1 Mozart Haffner Symphony

Part 2

Part 3

Hello and welcome.  You will have picked up that the key for this programme is bright and energetic. That’s D major. D major is brassily bright. It has the brilliance of gold, of the sun, the summer sun, yellow fields of wheat. There is no key so positive as D major; so confident that all is well with the world. D major is a Handel chorus. Hallelujah! Amen! God save the King! (more of that later), but, look – here comes the golden sun!

Haydn Sunrise from The Creation

Odd planet this – here comes another sun!

Debussy La Mer Sunrise

2 effulgent D major suns. The first to rise was a representation of the first sun ever to rise – the sunrise from Haydn’s Creation. And the second was a sunrise over the sea from La Mer by Debussy. So you can see that this is going to be very bright programme. Let’s start with the brightness of the D major Haffner Symphony by Mozart that introduced the programme. Hit it, Wolfgang!

Mozart – Haffner Symphony First movement

The 1st movt of Mozart’s Symphony no 35 known as the Haffner.  Even old, serious Johannes Brahms couldn’t resist the exuberance of D major. The final movement of his D major 2nd symphony starts softly but the true character of the key soon has to break out.

Brahms Symphony 2 4th movement

Brahms – liberated by D major in the last movement of his 2nd symphony. Prominent trumpets at the end there really enjoying themselves. We’ll have some more D major trumpets later. At the beginning of the programme I spoke of D major’s golden colour. William Walton used D major when he set gold to music in Belshazzar’s Feast. He slips into a flat key for silver but the whole section ends in a riotous D major. Gold does not lose its lustre in Williams Walton’s hands. ‘Praise ye the Gods’ and do it in D major.

Walton Belshazzar’s Feast – Praise Ye the Gods

The height of Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton. I think a change of pace of called for. There is another side to D major. Bucolic, a little bumbling, more relaxed, always good-natured. Still bright, too, but now the brightness of yellow leaves and an Indian summer. This is Beethoven. His Pastoral – not symphony, but sonata for the piano. The 4th movement gives a good idea of this aspect of D major’s character.

Beethoven – Piano Sonata (Pastoral) Last movement

And if you’re looking for other examples of D major the bucolic key look no further than the first movement of Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the first movement of Brahms’ 2nd Symphony, Alven’s Swedish Rhapsody No 1 and almost any Trio section of almost any third movement of almost any symphony in D major or D minor. Here’s a nice example from Grieg:

Grieg – Wedding Day at Troldhaugen

Wedding Day at Troldhaugen by Grieg illustrating D major’s rural side. Now it’s time for our dose of Shostokovitch – if that’s the right word. Prelude and Fugue in D major. The prelude has the sunniness we’ve come to expect from this key, and the fugue is a very light hearted affair – it chuckles from beginning to end.

Shostokovitch Prelude & Fugue in D

Chopin’s Prelude in D is gone in a moment, a mere puff of air. Just a stretch of the fingers for a pianist limbering up for stronger meat.

Chopin Prelude in D

Tossing off Chopin’s Prelude in D in 30 seconds. There is a seraphic side to D major.  A foretaste of heaven. Here is In Paradisum, literally In Heaven, from Faure’s Requiem. I follow that with another paradisial work: the second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. So a quiet interlude in an otherwise bright and confident programme. There’s another kind of confidence here:

Faure – Requiem In Paradisum

Mozart  – 2nd movement from Clarinet Quintet

The 2nd movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.  Before that we heard the In Paradisum from Faure’s Requiem. And if you’re looking for other D major Paradisial pieces try the last movement of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony or the Ave Verum Corpus by Mozart. The Angels’ farewell in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius is also in a heavenly D major.

Now back to big, bright, golden, brassy D major. Here’s the Overture to the 1st Orchestral Suite by JS Bach. A chance to hear some wonderful Baroque trumpets in D. This piece is somewhat longer than the pieces we usually play in these programmes but it makes up for the fact that we will not be sampling one of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues.

Bach – Overture to Orchestral Suite Number 1

Well, I hope you’re full up with golden D major and golden Bach. Back to choral music now. Beethoven of course and obviously cast the Ode to Joy in his Choral Symphony in D major and large parts of his grand Missa Solemnis are in the key, but in this programme, let’s hear the choral efforts of his mentor, Franz Joseph Haydn as he exhorts the harp to wake up in D major.

Haydn – Awake the harp

Awake the Harp from The Creation by Haydn. But if anyone made D major his own key for choruses and trumpets, it was George Frederick Handel. And so let’s end the programme with Handel and a chorus and brightness and kings and amens and for evers and hallelujahs….

 Handel ‘…..and blessing’

–  yes, and blessings – in D major.

Handel – Zadok the Priest, Hallelujah, Worthy is the Lamb, Amen all mixed up

My excuse is that I didn’t have time to play them all and couldn’t decide which one to play! The four Handel D major choruses included were the Hallelujah Chorus, Zadok the Priest, Worthy is the Lamb and of course the Amen Chorus. And now D major, Keynotes and I will make a rapid exit left. Amen and Goodbye!

 

 

D minor

D MINOR 

Part 1 Toccata in D minor on organ (2 bars)

Part 2 Toccata in D minor on organ (next 2 bars)

Part 3 Toccata in D minor on organ (next 2 bars)

Massive arpeggio

Hello and welcome.

Phantom laugh

Sorry about that. After that introduction there can be little doubt about which key we’re exploring in this Keynotes programmes. Yes, it’s D minor. That was Bach’s Toccata in D minor – well, the beginning of. Like C minor, D minor is a serious key. But, where with C minor’s weighty dialectic one senses that things may improve through the efforts of mankind – that is, C minor is humanist – with D minor there is no such expectation. Where C minor is Nietzsche, D minor is Sartre. D minor is a fatalist. (I hope you are taking notes.) That said, there is a capricious rather sinister flip side to D minor, a product no doubt of its missing sense of a future.

Phantom laugh

Sorry about that. Let’s start with Dvorak. This sunny composer caught the D minor bug. Here is his 7th Symphony, last movement showing D minor’s darker side. Though this being Dvorak, the sun does peep through at times.

Dvorak – 7th Symphony 4th movement

The final movement of Dvorak’s D minor 7th symphony. That was Dvorak taking things unusually seriously, imitating Brahms, I think. So let’s have Brahms and see what he was imitating. A very true piece of D minor – the first movement of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No 1. It doesn’t get more serious than this, in my view.

Brahms – Piano Concerto No 1 1st movement

The opening 5 minutes of Brahms’ Piano Concerto in D minor. I think that within the confines of a whole D minor programme that’s about as much as we can take. Let’s have something lighter now; something to cleanse the emotional palate. Some tick tock Baroque; the regularity in JS Bach’s Prelude in D minor.

JS Bach – Prelude in D minor

Thank you for ending on a major chord, Mr Bach, we needed it. The Prelude in D minor by JS Bach. For Mozart D minor was the darkest of keys. The fateful key. Don Giovanni gets his comeuppance in D minor.

Mozart Don Giovanni excerpt

The Requiem is in D minor.

Mozart Requiem excerpt

For this programme I have chosen the 3rd movement of the D minor Piano Concerto Number 20. In this unsettled Allegro Mozart tries to exorcise his demons by ending with a trite almost cocky tune in D major but it is not antidote enough – the taste of D minor lingers.

Mozart – 20th Piano Concerto 3rd movement

Many composers have taken on D minor to express their deepest and most serious thoughts. Think of Beethoven – the Choral Symphony, Franck’s Symphony, the 9th symphony of Bruckner, Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, Schumann’s 4th symphony, Brahm’s 3rd Violin Sonata, we heard Dvorak’s 7th Symphony earlier. I’m going to bypass the 1st movement of any of these works in case the roof of the studio collapses under the weight of them given the heaviness we have already subjected ourselves to. So let’s take a Scherzo from one of them: also in D minor but a different feel to D minor. Let’s hear the orchestra banging about in D minor in the Scherzo from Beethoven’s D minor 9th Symphony.

Beethoven – 9th Symphony 3rd movement

The Scherzo from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Playfulness as befits a Scherzo, but somehow very serious at the same time. Now here’s another composer banging about in D minor. We’re shifting to the capricious rather sinister side of the key’s nature. This is the weird 3rd movement of Mahler’s 7th Symphony.

Mahler – 7th Symphony 3rd movement

Ghostly banging about in the 3rd Movement of Mahler’s 7th Symphony, also known as Symphony of the Night. And now the D minor phantoms are released….

Phantom laugh

….the demons that Mozart dreaded. Two composers for the theatre put their phantoms of the night in D minor. Who are they?

Sullivan – Ruddigore excerpt

Lloyd Webber – Phantom excerpt

Paintings that come to life in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Ruddigore and the Phantom of the Opera by Lloyd Webber: demonstrably D minor demons. And I think I know where Lloyd Webber got his D minor idea from.

Bach  Toccata Part 1

Phantoms in films always play the organ and they always play Bach’s Toccata in D minor, don’t they?

Phantom laugh

Well, he seems to agree. Now, let’s extricate ourselves from gloom and phantasms. Here’s a Scherzo in D minor that is truly light hearted and playful.

Litolff – Scherzo

The Scherzo from Concerto Symphonique No 4 by Henri Litolff. And Francis Poulenc was also able to lighten D minor – try the 1st movement of his Double Piano Concerto. Now listen to what D minor did to Frederick Chopin. Chopin’s Prelude in D minor is an angry existentialist tirade. You feel that if the usually wispy Frederick could have ripped the keys from the piano and flung them at the fates he would have done.

Chopin – Prelude in D minor

Tearing the keys off the piano: Chopin’s Prelude in D minor. The D minor Prelude is the last in Chopin’s set of 24 preludes. It is also the last in Shostokovitch’s set of 24 preludes and fugues in all the keys. Shostokovitch put extra effort into his last P&F. They are thematically linked and just as we think the Fugue is ending, he introduces a theme from the prelude at double speed and then combines it with the fugue theme (which first appeared in the Prelude) in a massive climax to his whole magnum opus. Shostokovich’s Fugue in D minor.

Shostokovitch – Fugue in D minor

A round of applause, please, for Shostokovitch and the culmination of his P&Fs – the Fugue in D minor. Let’s have a Schubert song now. Here’s a young woman sitting at her spinning wheel having a tête-à-tête with – well, this is Schubert and this is D minor – it’s a tête-à-tête with Death.

Schubert – Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel

Schubert’s Gretchen playing her spinning wheel in D minor. Some listeners may wonder why there have been so few Schubert lieder or any other lieder in these Keynotes programmes. The reason is quite simple. Singers seem hardly ever to sing the songs in the original key. They so often transpose them into keys that suit their voices that amateurs like me are left with no sense of the original key. But to make up for the deficit I’m going to take us out of D minor for a moment into the sunny key of G major. A breath of fresh air will do us some good. Here are some G major roses on the heath.

Schubert – Heiden roslein

Heiden Roslein by Schubert and, if you don’t know what happened to those G major roses, I’d better not disabuse you, but is was something very D minor-ish. More G major next time on Keynotes. I’m  ending the programme with Richard Strauss who, in his Burlesque in D minor, takes the key by the scruff of the neck and says “Laugh, damn you!”. Enjoy the timpani solos.

R Strauss –  Burlesque

The first part of Richard Strauss’ Burlesque for piano and orchestra. Let’s hear how the piano and timpani take leave of each other at the end of the work.

R Strauss Burlesque ending

Well, that little drum stoke signals the end of our D minor programme. I hope you have not become demented by D minor. Do come back next week – I promise a major key for you in our final Keynotes programme. From me and from D minor….

Phantom laugh

…..and from him and from Keynotes, Goodbye.

 

F minor

F minor

Part1 Cymbal crash and racing music Mahler 1st Symphony Finale

Part 2 Noisy clashing music from Vaughan Williams 4th symphony

Part 3 Beethoven Pastoral Symphony loudest bit of Storm

I imagine that after that introduction that one or two listeners have already switched off. Welcome to you and thanks for staying! When I was preparing this series of programmes, I planned to miss out the key for this programme, F minor. I knew I’d end the hour with a tension headache. But in the interests of artistic integrity, I overcame my feelings and here we are. F minor it is. F minor is a dysphoric key, a dysthymic key. Let me interpret for all non-psychiatrists. It don’t feel so good, all is wrong with the world and it can’t be put right; indeed F minor hasn’t the wit to do so. It complains and mopes. Every now and then there’s a little backbone and some beauty, it must be admitted. But never the strength of the other unhappy flat keys D minor and C minor, or the gentle accepting sadness of G minor or A minor. So we’re in for an unhappy time, but once again appeal to artistic integrity – yours, dear listener. Let’s start with an overture. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture in F minor, which, to keep us sane, ends with a triumphant piccolo-led F major.

Beethoven – Egmont Overture

From F minor to F major in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. If there’s an unhappy key, you can be sure that Tchaikovsky wrote in it – and he wallowed in F minor. Unassuaged Fate toys with this tortured soul in the first movement of his 4th Symphony. There are moments of respite but F minor dominates.

Tchaikovsky  – 4th Symphony 1st movement

Part of the 1st movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony in F minor. We’ll have another 4th Symphony later in the programme. Let’s have a little respite and peace. I’m going to play our Bach and Shostokovitch Preludes back to back as they are similar in feel. F minor producing parallel inspirations over the centuries.

Bach Prelude Book 2

Shostokovitch F minor Prelude Shostokovitch’s very similar Prelude in F minor on the piano. What next? Well, hold on a musical moment, here comes Franz Schubert, on his pogo stick.

Schubert – Moment Musicale

The F minor Moment Musicale by Schubert. Back now to the typical restlessness of F minor with the 1st movement of the Appassionata Sonata by Beethoven.

Beethoven –  Appassionata Sonata 1st movt

A  section of the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata in F minor. That mood is also found in Chopin’s F minor Prelude. It’s an angry outburst. It sputters and hisses like a pot on the boil. Irritable, restless. F minor.

Chopin  – Prelude

F minor’s angry restlessness in  Chopin’s Prelude in the key. By one of those wonderful coincidences without which the world would be so much the poorer, our last 3 composers of the programme have names beginning with V – Vaughan Williams, Verdi and Vivaldi. But before we get there, I want to show you how Chopin, whose Prelude we’ve just heard, brought his lyricism to bear on F minor and pulled its sting, making the key sing. Here’s part of the his 2nd Piano Concerto in F minor.

Chopin – Piano Concerto 2, 1st movement

Quite a lot of restlessness nonetheless. I think that 1st movement of Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto in F minor only sounds so nice because he makes a lot of use of the wonderful key of A flat major which, through also having 4 flats, is closely related to F minor. Now here’s a surprise. A light-hearted piece in F minor. Paul Dukas cast his Sorcerer’s Apprentice in F minor. A piece that is amusing for us as observers but pretty serious for the drowning trainee, one would think. Maybe Dukas sensed that. We pick it up where the broom starts to come to life..

Dukas – Sorcerer’s Apprentice

We started Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice where the broom came to life and ended where the broom had been split in two and was about to come to life in multiple forms. And now

Fiddler excerpt

It’s a

Tradition

For Jewish songs in musicals to be in F minor. I suspect it’s a combination of the pentatonic scale

Scale

that underpins the folk music of European Jewry and the vocal range of the average cantor. Whatever it is, here are two examples from the musicals: The Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof and Fagin Reviewing the Situation in Oliver!. Fagin also ‘Pick’s a pocket or two’ in F minor. It’s

Tradition

After all….

Sabbath Prayer

Reviewing the Situation

I fiddled with Fagin a bit at the end there to emphasise my point. We heard Fagin thinking it out again from Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and the Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof. For those who only know the Vaughan-Williams of the Greensleeves and Tallis Fantasia or The Lark Ascending, this next piece will come as something of a shock. This is his 4th Symphony. The conductor Edgar Cree claimed to have heard the composer imply that this music is atonal. I don’t think it is. It’s merely an expression of toothache, perfectly described by dissonances galore and F minor. We’ll hear part of the 1st movement.

Vaughan-Williams 4th Symphony 1st movement.

The 1st movement of Vaughan Williams’ F minor 4th Symphony. That was our first F minor V. Here’s the second – Verdi. Who’s the nastiest character in all Verdi Opera and all Shakespeare? Iago, of course, from Otello or Othello, and what’s his key as he praises his cruel God? – F minor.

Verdi – Otello

Iago’s Credo – I believe, in F minor from Otello by Verdi. If that was a cold, callous and cruel person, we move now on to something perhaps less unkind. Winter and our 3rd V: Vivaldi. A different kind of F minor restlessness with a rub of the hands and a stamp of the feet but at least in familiar territory, that of the Seasons.

Vivaldi – Winter 1st movement

The 1st movement of Winter in F minor by Vivaldi, the Seasons.  I implied earlier that we’d end the programme with the 3 Vs. But I can’t really leave you with either toothache, cruelty or cold fingers, so I’m going to end with some T. T for Tavener. John Tavener’s Song for Athene uses F minor and a deep F in the basses that goes on all the way through the piece. I suspect the cantors are back with F being the lowest note that most basses can get a real resonance from. For me the F minor expresses a person in the spiritual wilderness and then the music changes into F major and suddenly it’s heavenly. A reminder perhaps that in our F minor times, F major is not impossibly far away.

Tavener Song for Athene

John Tavener’s Song for Athene. And with that we seem to have said goodbye to F minor, so it just remains for me to say Goodbye from Keynotes and me. Goodbye.

 

B minor

B minor

[Short B minor motivs as introduction – Elgar Violin Concerto, Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture, Schubert Unfinished Symphony 1st movement, Liszt Piano Sonata]

Ah, yes. Good evening. There’s a very special sense to tonight’s key of B minor. Did you feel it in the introduction? B minor is a reflective key. It has a mature view of the world and, without losing hope, knows that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s in late middle age, seated in a chair on the verandah with a glass of red wine. A grandchild is dandled absent-mindedly on the knee while past success and failures are mused upon.

Who better to express this than the prematurely aged Johannes Brahms. His Clarinet Quintet. The intimacy of a string quartet, the mellowness of the clarinet – and B minor. The first movement.

Brahms Clarinet Quintet 1st movement

It is characteristic of a good B minor piece that there is a short phrase or motiv stated right at the start. We heard some of them in the introduction to this programme. Schubert’s 8th Symphony – the Unfinished – does it in the cellos and basses.

Schubert Unfinished Symphony 1st movement

Elgar’s Violin Concerto also starts with a defining motiv. Its energy rises and then falls back. The time for triumphs is past. No Pomp and Circumstance here.

Elgar Violin Concerto 1st movement

I’d better play something more upbeat before we all nod off to sleep on our verandahs. Here are Brunnhilde and her sisters riding the skies in their helicopters. But I have a bit of a surprise for you. You had no idea that the Valkyries were closet troglodytes, did you? Fasten your seatbelts. We’ll be coming down in Scotland

Wagner Ride of the Valkyries – these two pieces are spliced where Wagner has oscillating F sharp to G motes in the strings and so does Mendelssohn

Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture

Bit of bumpy ride but we got there. Note that the Hebrides Overture which is where we ended also has a motiv.

Anyway, it’s time to brush ourselves down, straighten out the tie and get serious again. Shostokovitch P&F in B minor. The Prelude imitates the clipped rhythms of some Baroque dances. The Fugue is more relaxed.

Shostokovitch P&F in B minor

Staying in Russia but moving to Tchaikovsky who couldn’t resist a minor key. His last utterance, the 6th Symphony, is in B minor; the key chosen perhaps, not on its own merits, but because he could exploit the lowest notes of the bassoons in the opening and in the last movements. Also when the 1st movement gets going, he uses the strained upper register of the violas to set forth the main theme and its associated defeated anxiety – pure psychiatry. Here are those 2 movements.

Tchaikovsky – 6th Symphony 1,4

After that all that’s needed is a glass of contaminated water to round off the evening. Let’s save ourselves from the abyss with some lively Chopin. His 3rd Piano Sonata is in B minor. The final movement is a hell-for-leather dance;

Chopin – 3rd Piano Sonata 4

Now that’s what I call piano music! I think we should stick with Chopin. Here’s his Prelude in B minor. A melancholy tune for the left hand and halting sighs in the right.

Chopin – Prelude in B minor

Earlier we visited the seashore of Western Scotland. Now we’re going to the land where coral’s lie. B minor suits this particular strand (excuse the pun) in Elgar’s character and singing his song is Dame Janet Baker whose voice just oozes B minor.

Elgar – Where Corals Lie

We move to inland water and call Tchaikovsky in again. Swan Lake – the best known bit – is in  B minor. It soundssweet enough with the oboe ( I wonder, in parenthesis, if he had Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in mind when he constructed this – listen and wonder with me) – sweet enough, but tragedy waits. In performance the lighting of the opening always gives this aspect away – green, yellows, brown. Dirty colours. No limpid lake this. Not in B minor.

Tchaikovsky – Opening of Swan Lake.

I haven’t forgotten our boost of Bach. The B minor Ps and Fs are the last in each set of 24. We’ll hear the pair from Book 2 – chosen because they’re quite upbeat and we need that. The fugue is a tuneful dance – no academics here.

Bach – P & F in B minor Book2

Bach and B minor – Is there a connection? No, I don’t think so. What? Pardon? The B minor Mass, you say? Never heard of it! Anyway Masses are too weighty for me, so I’m afraid I’m bypassing it. All complaints to the management.

I remain on the light side. Here are 3 characters from Gilbert and Sullivan contemplating decapitation. One of the cleverer songs, both in lyrics and music – from The Mikado

G&S – I am so Proud, The Mikado

The bassoons are back baring their bottom Bs. Why else did Grieg choose tonight’s key for his Hall of the Mountain King? Another cave, by the way.

Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King (Peer Gynt)

Earlier I cravenly sidestepped Bach’s B minor Mass – a pinnacle of Baroque art. To make amends I end this programme with a pinnacle of Romantic art – specifically the art of the Piano Sonata. Liszt’s monumental essay in this form is in B minor – and it begins, as we might expect, with a motiv – a descending scale – thereby claiming to be the last word on the key. And tonight it is. The pianist has to be Jorges Bolet. See you next week.

Liszt – Piano Sonata

E keys

E minor and E major

Four chords that start Mendelssohn’s A Midsummernight’s Dream Overture

Yes, tonight 2 keys share the spot light. One a minor, one a major. E minor, the key of folk song and guitars; and E major, a key the colour of liquid chocolate, a sharp key that thinks it’s a flat key.

E minor first then: a key for guitars and folksy types. Let us start in Spain. Granados, Albeniz, Tarrega and Turina all on the guitar.

Granados Andaluza

Albeniz Asturias

Tarrega Mazurka

Turina Fandanguillo

Staying Latin for the next item but this time interpreted by a couple of folksy North Americans

Simon and Garfunkel El Condor Paso, Scarborough Fair

A parkful of appreciation for Simon and Garfunkel. And here are 4 more guys performing in E minor. One can’t imagine this piece in any other key but E minor:

The Beatles: Eleanor Rigby

The Beatles and a string quartet playing Eleanor Rigby. And now some Bohemian folk songs as seen from North America: the E minor 3rd movement of one of the most famous E minor works, Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

Dvorak 9th Symphony 3rd movement

A change of mood: Chopin’s Prelude in E minor. The right hand laments slowly over shifting harmonies in the left.

Chopin Prelude in E minor

Earlier we had S&G, Simon and Garfunkel; now we are going to have some G&S, Gilbert and Sullivan. I think Arthur Sullivan caught a whiff of the story-telling intrinsic to folk songs when he wrote denouement songs for contraltos in the Savoy operas. Dame Hannah explains the curse of the Murgatroyds in Ruddigore in E minor Little Buttercup tells all in HMS Pinafore. And even Anna Russell in her spoof of G&S has dandelion singing in E minor. Here’s ‘A many years ago when I was young and charming’ (weren’t we all?) from HMS Pinafore.

Sullivan – A many years ago

So now you know everything. Litttel Buttercup telling of her nursing troubles. Sullivan’s music and Gilbert’s words. E minor evinced a manic playfulness in young Felix Mendelssohn. Here’s a piano piece: The Introduction and Allegro Capriccioso which starts in a thoughtful E major before the ebullience of his view of E minor escapes.

Mendelssohn Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso

E minor according to Felix Mendelssohn. And if you want further evidence look no further than the Overture to A Midsummernight’s Dream that started this programme, and there’s a piano Scherzo in E minor as well.

Arguably his most satisfying symphony, Tchaikovsky’s 5th starts in a lugubrious E minor but ends in a triumphant E major. To move from the one key to the other, I shall juxtapose the introduction to the 1st movement with the last movement which starts with the same theme in E major, but then has to fight through E minor again to reach the major. Then we shall have truly arrived in E major territory.

Tchaikovsky 5th symphony 1st movement intro and 4th movement

So here we are unequivocally in E major. 4 sharps, but don’t be caught out. E major is a flat key in disguise. It has the rich fullness one associates with keys which boast multiple flats. The composer who taps this vein puts his tune right in the centre of the audible range of frequencies. Here is Chopin’s Prelude to illustrate E major’s sonority.

Chopin Prelude in E major

Mellow, mellow, mellow – you’ll agree? Bring on a French Horn and a sleeping draught:

Mendelssohn Nocturne from A Midsummernight’s Dream

A rich bed of music produced by a sleeping draught in the Nocturne from Mendelsshohn’s A Midsummernight’s Dream.

Beethoven in his 3rd Piano Concerto travels all the way from C minor to cast his slow movement in rich E major. Give me excess of it……..

Beethoven 3rd Piano Concerto 2nd Movement

The rich E major of the 2nd movement of Beethoven’s C minor 3rd Piano Concerto.With a sleeping draught and that rich food i feel quite sleepy. So before we nod off completely here’s Shostakovitch’s Fugue in E major. It runs around the floor like a little animal.

Shostakovitch Prelude in E major

Bach’s Prelude in E major is not exactly dignified either!

JS Bach Prelude in E major

Beofre we go to Brahms, here’s another piece that puts the tune right in the middle of the piano and that’s why it bacme so famous:

Chopin Etude in E

I’m ending with Brahms. He produces the most chocolaty of brown textures, the warmest of burgundy woollen jerseys in the central part of the slow movement of his 4th Symphony in E minor. One can almost feel the fuzzy E major warmth coming from the radiating strings.

Brahms 4th Symphony 2nd movement

Mmmmmm…. I could do with a few more chords like that!

Final chords from Mendelssohn Nocturne

These two extra chords were from Mendelssohn, but what heard before that was the 2nd movement of Brahms’ 4th Symphony. Worth a second look definitely.

But now I am going to go out as I came in.

Midsummernight’s dream overture 1st chord

Good bye from E major

Midsummernight’s dream overture 2nd chord

Goodbye from E minor

Midsummernight’s dream overture 3rd chord

And good bye from me, Tony Westwood and Keynotes

Midsummernight’s dream overture final chord

 

 

 

 

A flat major

A flat major

Hello and welcome. You’re in for an expansive treat, a gentle treat, an unhurried treat today. Nothing frenetic, nothing tortured. No galloping major this. We are in thrall of A flat major.

Apart from our statutory Bach, Chopin and Shostokovitch, we have more Chopin, Elgar, Schubert and lots of Beethoven. Also Brahms, Mahler. I’ve got a little Liszt, as well.

When Beethoven writes a slow movement in A flat the world slows down; an unhurried lyricism takes over. The best examples are in his Piano Sonatas. Here’s a not so well known one – from his 5th piano sonata.

Beethoven – Op10 No 2 Sonata 2nd movement

Piano Sonata Op10 No 2 by Beethoven the 2nd movement, taking us into the unhurried and beautiful world of A flat major. I’m following that with another unhurried A flat major piece of beauty. A piece representing pure womanhood, a piece that doesn’t know whether it’s a chamber piece or an orchestral piece. Gretchen from A Faust Symphony by Franz Liszt. Gretchen’s perfection in A flat, as Franz Liszt, the Romantic, dwells on her for a long time.

Liszt – Gretchen

Gretchen by Franz Liszt from his Faust Symphony.

When Elgar gave Britain back the symphony he chose the key of A flat major. Neville Cardus, music critic and cricket critic (you try saying that!) described the first performance of Elgar’s 1st Symphony thus: I was present at the Halle Concert on December 3rd 1908 when Hans Richter conducted the 1st performance. I can see his huge bulk to this day as he stood, back to the eager audience; he lifted his arms slightly and obtained silence; then the broad tune, with the grave steady tread of the double basses underneath, came upon our ears. What a long first subject, we said – how original! Then the double bar pause, then the plunge into a remote key and forging energy; fountains of string tone, brass instruments in ricochet; no such virtuoso orchestration had been heard by us before in the music of an Englishman, or of any other composer. So Cardus, though with a North country accent. Now imagine yourself in the hushed Hall in Manchester and let this expansive work come as new upon your senses.

Elgar – 1st Symphony 1st movement

There was definitely something heroic there, and there is a heroic side to A flat major. Here we can her it expressed in Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major.

Chopin Polonaise in A flat

Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat major. And here’s a little piece that’s known by its key – Waltz in A flat.

Brahms Waltz in A flat

Brahms’ Waltz in A flat. Let’s have another Beethoven slow movement. This one’s from the 1st Piano Concerto. Again no hurry in A flat major;  the piano and the clarinet have all the time in the world.

Beethoven – 1st Piano Concerto 2nd movement

The wonderful slow movement of Beethoven’s 1st Piano Concerto. Another composer enjoyed the interplay of clarinet and piano in A flat – Robert Schumann, in the middle of the 1st movement of his A Minor Piano Concerto. Who says keys don’t influence composers?

Schumann – Piano Concerto 1st movement (A flat major section) (Start 4’30”)

The A flat major section of the 1st movement of Schumann’s A minor Piano Concerto.  Let’s get into some preludes and Fugues in A flat major. JS Bach’s Prelude in A flat is an unhurried exploration of the key.

BachPrelude in A flat

Chopin’s Prelude in A flat is a song.

Chopin Prelude in A flat

Let’s here Shostokovitch’s Fugue. The A flat major fugue has a very long subject. Here it is.

013 Shos F in A flat subject

And here is its working out a la Shostokovitch.

Shostokovitch A flat major Fugue (start 1’46”)

Shostokovitch’s light hearted Fugue in A flat major.  I think we’d better move away from keyboards. A flat major’s sweetness is sometimes used as a kind of palate-cleanser in symphonies in minor keys. Brahms does it in his C minor 1st Symphony in the 3rd movement. And in Mahler’s C minor Resurrection Symphony, after 25 minutes of C minor he gives us this little tune in A flat major.

Mahler – Resurrection Symphony 2nd movement

A sweet little Austrian dance by Mahler in the 2nd movement of his 2nd Symphony.  I’m going to squeeze another piece of piano music A flat major before we have our final piece, one of the most beautiful pieces ever written in the key. The piano piece is an impromptu by Schubert. It’s a piece my mother played, imprinting its sounds on my young brain. This is not my mother:

Schubert Impromptu in A flat

As promised I end with a treat: the exquisite 2nd movement of Richard Strauss’s 2nd Horn Concerto. Your soul will be calmed by this music thanks to Richard Strauss’ understanding of A flat major.

R Strauss – 2nd Horn Concerto 2nd movement

Ending our programme in unsurpassed beauty in A flat major. And with that it’s goodbye from me and from A flat major and from Keynotes.

Return top