“Does it really matter that I cannot hear things in the original key most of the time?” I asked myself as I listened to FMR  in the car this afternoon. A Scarlatti piano sonata was getting its virtuosic treatment – apparently in E flat major.  I suspected that it would turn out to be D major  and indeed it was when back-announced. No matter – just as exciting. But then it was followed by Beethoven’s piano sonata in F sharp major. Now, I thought, this will be the test of this briefly encountered equanimity. F sharp major is an unusual key to write in; Beethoven will have thought this choice of key through. This is a two movement sonata. Beethoven’s other two movement sonatas are in the light bright key of G major and are really sonatinas. They are given to young pianists to play when they meet Beethoven’s great set of 32 piano sonatas. (The only other 2 movement sonata is the mighty Opus 111 which would Godzilla-like crush the G major ones into the ground if they ever encountered one another). So the F sharp major sonata is deeper than the other 2 short sonatas by virtue of its key. It is also greater than they are in its thematic material and how Beethoven uses it. So when, as I slowed down passing the Cape Town Convention Centre to the traffic lights at the bottom of the freeway, this sonata began its slow introductory chordal melody in diminished form in G major, I knew that it DID matter that I cannot hear things in the original key. This was watered down Beethoven. I turned it off.


Sitting at the piano and grounding the Beethoven F sharp major sonata in its key by feeling it under my fingers, I realised I’d made two errors in this post. Beethoven’s duo of small sonatas are not in the same key: the first is in G minor, but I think of it as in G major because of its light-spirited Rondo second movement. There is one other two movement piano sonata among Beethoven’s oeuvre – in F major. I have never had much sympathy with this one. It feels rather journeyman composer-like and the octaves in the first movement take us nowhere. Probably the fault of the key, too. Mental blank led to forgetfulness.