As reported in the previous post, I’m trying to understand why Liszt’s piano arrangement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony in A major played on a CD by Cyprien Katsaris sounds so clearly to me to be in B flat major, at least in the first movement. The clinician scientist is experimenting. I took the CD and put it into our CD player at home and started playing. I tested the sound against the piano A and found that the recording is definitely sharp compared to concert pitch but closer to A than to B flat. I switched off and started again. The first chord was a definite B flat major one, but as the ascending scales began the music switched over into A major to my hearing. I repeated the exercise and the same thing occurred. At the end of the slow introduction with its alternating heavy scales and wistful oboe melody, all the repeated Es alternating between the winds and strings (all on Mr K’s piano, of course) were very clearly E, and as Mr Beethoven finessed into the main part of his first movement, A major and all modulations, tonal twists and turns, sounded exactly as they should from beginning to end. At the end of the movement, I shuffled a CD player back to the beginning of the movement and not surprisingly (since the sound of A was very clear in my mind at the end of the movement), it all started in A major again with no hint of B flat.

My next step was to record the opening music on to my digital recorder to see if there was a difference between the two CD players’ renditions, the one in the car and the one in the house. While recording these two players in 30 second sequences, both sounded to me as if they were in A major; the car had changed – or more likely, I had. Perhaps the sound of A was so strong in my mind after the first phase of my experiment, that in the car it sounded in the correct key whereas it hadn’t before when I came in cold. Comparing the two openings in sequence on the digital recorder, it is not clear to me that there is any difference; perhaps the one from the car is slightly brighter suggesting that it may be slightly sharper, but in terms of tonality I cannot hear a difference.

If the difference is that subtle and both are slightly sharp compared to what my brain has learnt over many years to be the sound of A major, why was there a clear difference between the two players? I must now check whether the car B flat sound is consistent.

The mysterious change at the end of 2nd movement from the ‘wrong’ B flat minor to the ‘right’ A minor still requires an explanation. That is the next experiment.


Update: I played the CD again in the car this week one afternoon on the way home from the hospital having not listened to any music all day, so presumably with a fairly cleansed tonal palate. The first two movements had reverted to the pattern described at the beginning of the first post on Beethoven’s 7th symphony: first movement all in B flat major and second in sombre B flat minor reverting to A minor for the final section.