Archive for January, 2016

Goodbye to F minor

Following the recent Chopin Piano Concerto experience, I decided to listen to the 2nd Concerto (the one he wrote in F minor – one now has to choose words carefully) when on the commute or coming into or from the hospital at night. On two journeys I started the first movement. The first time we were in F minor until the piano got to its iteration of the 2nd subject which should have been in A flat major but was now in A major, the sharps in the chords almost visible to my mind’s eye. No doubt about the shift; we were up a semitone with F sharp minor now the home key. The second time this shift occurred within a few bars of the opening. And the other two movements, listened to on later journeys, were firmly a semitone up. The slow movement lyrically in A major (but not silky and smooth as the written key of A flat major would have been); the 3rd in a spiky F sharp minor, ending as if to prove that the shift in tonal sense is full and final in a sharp-splattered F sharp major. Even the horn calls were in this key, a key not designed for horns. I am sure Chopin chose the instrument for these signature calls because he was ending his concerto in their home key of F major. Everyone hunts in F – ask Vivaldi.

And today, as if to put the last nail in the coffin, Weber’s 1st Clarinet concerto (F minor) sounded in F sharp minor. No one would ever write a romantic clarinet concerto in that key. But my brain has re-written it, ignoring the kaibosh.

The Lady in the Van and Chopin

Last night Jean and I went to see the film Alan Bennett has scripted of his Lady in the Van memoire. Maggie Smith is the Lady and Mr Bennett has chosen Chopin’s 1st piano concerto as the piece of music to illustrate her musical history. She was forced to suppress her musical gifts to attain a higher spirituality 9according to her catholic order), with terrible consequences (although we laugh) for her fragile psychology. The E majorĀ  slow movement is the emotional focus of this musical narrative. To me it was all in F major from the start of the film – no surprise given the recent shift I have noted and relative weakness of E major since the start of the changes to my pitch sense. Towards the end of the film, Ms Smith (aka Miss Shepherd) sees a piano in the health centre where she has been taken for a cleaning up. The screenplay doesn’t show the piano but we know that is what she has seen. Will she play it? Well, she does. And we see Ms Smith’s lined fingers on the keys. I wondered, seeing her play the actual notes, if the key I was hearing would change. If I saw her playing an E major chord would I hear one as I do when I play? Perhaps because the close up only last a few seconds, nothing changed. I had to enjoy this central emotional moment in Ms Shepherd’s story in the wrong key. So I did.

Today on the way to the hospital, I listened to our recording of this piano concerto. Up a semitone from beginning to end. So now, through the quirks of my aging brain, Chopin has written 2 piano concertos in F minor for me. I will report when the second one shifts to F sharp minor (one of my less recognisable keys), but no hint of it doing so yet.

Traveller’s tale

In late September and for all of October 2015 Jean and were travelling in the USA and UK. During that time there was little opportunity to listen to classical music. While staying in the DC area we enjoyed quite a lot of Virginian marching band spectacle. I did not try to work out which keys those odd concoctions of music were in. When we returned to Cape Town, I soon regained my listening habits. I noted that over those nearly 6 weeks of musical fasting (though there was a rich array of other experiences including the ‘colors’ of the fall and their B minor hues), there had been a significant shift in my pitch perception – something I might not have noted if I had been listening with my normal frequency – whoops!, dual meaning of that word in the context of hearing could be confusing – with my normal rhythm, rather. Now many more favourite or well-known works are starting a semitone higher than the set key, rather than shifting up while I am listening which has been the dominant pattern up till now. It is most noticeable in the keys that have a common key – one that has a character to my hearing – a semitone up e.g. E major to F, D major to E flat, F sharp minor to G minor.

So the upward shift continues.

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