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.