In this programme we explore two keys that are intimately related. C# minor and D flat major. C# minor is an interesting key. It is not a common choice in keys, yet there’s a high chance that, if you choose it, your piece will become famous. We’ll meet some of the most celebrated pieces ever in this programme. C# minor is also interesting because composers find it difficult not to slip into D flat major, our other key in this programme, for a little sip of nectar. D flat major is a very special key. Some of the most beautiful creations in music are in D flat – it is almost a chocolate box key. A beauty too easily assimilable. We’ll listen to some examples later, but we start with C# minor. Rachmaninov’s most famous work, and the piece he came to hate, is in C# minor. The prelude –  So let’s hear those 3 portentous notes as they introduce Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor.

Rachmaninov Prelude in C# minor

An excellent example of how you can become famous on the back of C sharp minor – Rachmaninov’s prelude in the key. And while we’re in C# minor unalloyed by D flat, here’s Mahler. In the 1st movement of his 5th Symphony the trumpet sets the scene for an angst-ridden few minutes.

Mahler 5th Symphony 1st movement

The echo of the fanfare that opened the 1st movement of Mahler’s 5th Symphony.  And we’re not finished with the angst of C sharp minor yet.

Here’s a very famous piece in that key: Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. And it’s a very neat example of a composer finessing into D flat major from C# minor. That happens when the “I’m always chasing rainbows” theme appears. It’s like the eye of the storm in this piece. And here’s a surprise: the second note of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C sharp minor seems to have migrated to the first note of this piece!

Chopin Fantasie Impromptu

Chopin in C sharp minor though it’s the D flat major bit that really put that piece, the Fantasie Impromptu, on the map.  The piano is having quite an outing today and we’ll hear lots when we get to D flat major – the key being a source of much inspiration for composers for the piano. But let’s stick with C sharp minor a wee bit longer for one of the most famous pieces in all music. I’m not even going to say what it is but I’m going to play the 1st and 2nd movement of this particular work. The 2nd movement is in D flat major and the first is in C sharp minor.

C sharp minor ‘mystery piece’.

Well, they don’t come more famous than that, do they? Good old Beethoven for choosing C sharp minor – he knew he was on to something. That was the Moonlight Sonata, so called, otherwise known as Sonata quasi Fantasia. Now let’s shift back to Chopin. His 2 preludes for the piano in the two keys of this programme. The C# minor Prelude stays in its key but, inverting the usual pattern, the D flat Prelude – the famous Raindrop Prelude – goes into C# minor for its drumming middle section before the calm of D flat major returns. The intimacy of the 2 keys demonstrated once more.

Chopin Preludes in C# minor and D flat major

And now we’re going to spend a long time in D flat major exploring its merits – and great merits they are. The Romantic composers loved them. So, here’s a medley of lyrical pieces. Let’s forget that the 20th century and recorded music turned them into chocolate box pieces. Let’s reclaim them as masterpieces of music by great artists. I’ve thrown some 20th century composers masquerading as Romantics into the medley. I’ll ‘Liszt’ all the pieces – and Liszt is a clue –  at the end of this section. Relax and enjoy.

Liszt Consolation

Grieg Piano Concerto 2nd movement,

Debussy Claire de Lune

Khachaturian Spartacus Adagio

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto 2nd movement

Liszt Un Sospiro

Shostokovitch Gadfly

Rachmaninov 18th variation from Paganini Variations

And there’s plenty more where those came from: try Chopin’s Berceuse for starters. And D flat major is the reason you love them all, as do most people who hear those pieces, but I wonder if your appetite sickened hearing them without a break like that? Now here’s an interesting facet of D flat major. If you are a parent in a Verdi opera and need to plead for or with  your offspring, you do it in D flat major. Rigoletto does it, as does Germond in La Traviata. .

Verdi – La Traviata

A man who knows how to be persuasive – he just chooses D flat major. Alfredo’s father in la Traviata by Verdi singing Di Provenza il Mar. Time has caught up with us. There hasn’t been time for the slow movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony which also juxtaposes the 2 keys we’ve been enjoying. I haven’t had time to show you how Prokofiev destroyed D flat major for ever with his 1st Piano Concerto. There hasn’t been time for any Fugues – how indulgent I’ve been! No, let’s have a bit of Shostokovitch’s Fugue in D flat major. You’d never guess it was in same key as the rich feast we had earlier!

Shostokovitch Fugue in D flat excerpt

A sample of Shostokovitch’s neutering of D flat major in his Fugue.

I’m going to play a real piece of chocolate box music to end with. This is Cecile Chaminade’s Autumn. It’s in D flat major as any chocolate box piece should be, although the agitated middle section is in that dyspeptic key, F minor.

Chaminade Autumn

Chaminade’s Autumn ends our excursion into D flat major.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of 2 twinned keys, C sharp minor and D flat major,  and will join me next time we take a look at another key in Keynotes. Goodbye.