A minor

Hello and welcome. It’s a minor key this time. Yes, it’s A minor key, A minor. Like C major there are no sharps or flats in A minor. This baldness seems to have inspired a depressive emptiness in at least 2 composers as we’ll hear later, but really, though a minor, there’s not a lot or worry or sadness in this key. And as you (would have) heard at the beginning there, A minor is Grieg’s key so let’s continue the marvellous Piano Concerto that Liszt approving sight- read, according to popular rumour.

Grieg – Piano Concerto 1st movement

The first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. In case you were having doubts as to Grieg’s affinity with this key, here are two A minor ladies to prove it: Anitra and Solvieg.

Grieg –  Anitra’s Dance, Solveig’s Song

Anitra’s Dance and Solveig’s Song by Grieg. Both in A minor, both from Peer Gynt. I mentioned that A minor has no sharps or flats. I think Chopin took advantage of this in his A minor Prelude. The piece is almost atonal and dissonant. Listen.

Chopin – Prelude in A minor

Very odd! I think we’d better give Chopin a chance to redeem himself. Here are a couple of very tuneful Mazurkas in A minor. Chopin wrote more Mazurkas in A minor than in any other key.

Chopin – 3 A minor Mazurkas

3 A minor Chopin Mazurkas in sequence.

It’s time now to breathe deeply and prepare for a cold shower. Here comes Jean Sibelius. He goes very bald in his A minor 4th Symphony. Emptiness in music, one might call it.

Sibelius – 4th Symphony 1st movement

Let’s get lighter again. Here’s a very famous A minor piece: Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca.

Mozart – Ronde alla Turca

A special quality of A minor is plaintiveness. A gentle sadness. Here is the slow movement of Bizet’s Symphony in C, and what better instrument than the oboe to lament gently.

Bizet – Symphony in C 2nd movement

The oboe leading in that the second movt of Bizet’s Symphony. In similar vein, Rodrigo and the guitar. The Fantasia para uno Gentilhombre. With music like this one is reminded of Shakespeare’s characterising “parting” as “sweet sorrow”. It’s almost addictive.

Rodrigo – Fantasia para uno Gentilhombre (Slow movement)

Sweet sorrow. That was Rodrigo: his Fantasia. Did you notice the oboe? It was used by Rodrigo to produce a kind of antique sense, and this also happens in Elgar’s Symphonic Study, Falstaff. Oboe and tabor in A minor.

Elgar – Falstaff (excerpt)

A quiet A minor interlude in Falstaff by Elgar. A minor may be sweet sorrow for many, but for Mahler A minor was THE tragic key. I’m going to play the last part of his 6th Symphony. If you have tears to shed, prepare to play your trombone. It doesn’t get more self-indulgently miserable than this.

Mahler – 6th Symphony Last section of 4th movement

Well, what to do after that? We’d better go small and inconsequential. But first let me tell what that was. That was the end of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. Almost sounded like the end of Mahler! A very well known A minor piece is Fur Elise by Beethoven and a very well known film theme is that from Zeferelli’s Romeo and Juliet by Nino Rota. I haven’t got time to play them individually so I’m going to play them simultaneously.

Beethoven/Rota – Fur Juliet

Perhaps we should call that piece, played there by Tom Read, The Theme from Romeo and Elise. That was Rota’s Romeo and Juliet theme in the style of Fur Elise by Beethoven. To the cello now: If you were a 19th century composer and you wanted to write a cello concerto in a minor key and your name wasn’t Antonin Dvorak, you would write it in A minor. It’s a good key to exploit the instrument’s inherent Melancholia. I’ve chose Schumann ahead of Saint-Saens or Brahms. Here’s part of the 1st movement of his Cello Concerto.

Schumann – Cello Concerto 1

The cello and A minor in the 1st  movement of Schumann’s Cello Concerto. A quick change of mood to Prokofiev’s 3rd piano Sonata in A minor. A minor as a percussive key.

Prokofiev – 3rd Piano Sonata

We’ll stay with A minor, Russia and the piano. Now moving from Bavaria to Russia, here is the toccata-like prelude from Shostokovitch’s Prelude and Fugue in A minor.

Shostokovitch – Prelude in A minor

Shostokovitch’s Prelude in A minor. And now the Fugue who’s theme is definitely a bouncing ball.

Shostokovitch –  Fugue in A minor theme

And here’s Keith Jarred to play with it.

Shostokovitch – Fugue in A minor

Shostokovitch’s Fugue in A minor. We end with Beethoven. A very special piece that begins gruffly and becomes more and more lyrical. A wonderful exploration of A minor beginning and ending with identical chords in the home key but wandering through C major and A major on the way. The 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Magic.

Beethoven – 7th Symphony 2nd movement

We ended our exploration of A minor with that questioning chord at the end of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony 2nd movement. And whether it was a cold shower or sweet sorrow, I hope you’ve enjoyed this hour with A minor and Keynotes and me. Till next time, goodbye.