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!