A year or two ago I had the great joy of being asked to play the piano part of this work with a friend’s string quartet for her birthday party. I did not know the work at all. I had a lot of fun practising up the piano part, and then performing it with the group in the informal setting of couches, glasses and snacks. I fell in love with the beauties, emotions and creativity of Dvorak’s writing.

Today I am listening to it again after a long while, while working on a student’s submission for a degree course that I run. I chose a version on Youtube that runs the score as the music plays – what a gift! I moved to that screen once the editing and advising was done. It was strange to see the music moving in the sharps of F sharp minor of the Dumka second movement while my brain was hearing the music a semitone up in G minor. Despite having the notes in front of me I could not shift the music into the key I was seeing. Seeing and hearing produced different keys in my consciousness.

Now the Scherzo third movement is playing as I type. What a lot of quick notes for the pianist! All very clearly in B flat major from the first quavers. No sign of Dvorak’s A major. Likewise the vigorous A major Finale. Like E major, the key in focus in my recent ‘A minor second’ post, A major proves to be one of the ‘weak’ keys. I am not surprised by this – the key does not really believe in itself (see my Keynotes programme on the key).

I have gone back to the beginning of the work – sounding B flat major like the rest. Now here is test: with ‘A major in B flat major’ in my auditory system, what will happen to a piece that has been in A major in my brain for four and half decades longer than the Dvorak Quintet: Chopin’s Military Polonaise that I cemented in my memory as a teenage pianist who loved its muscular ‘bigness’ and virtuosity. Here goes:      the Chopin is in B flat major with no equivocation.

But I haven’t revealed everything. Earlier I planned this test of A major’s resilience, but, in searching on Youtube, allowed 2 bars of Chopin’s’ D flat major Prelude to play (in D flat major, as it happened). This was enough to cleanse the Dvorak pseudo-B flat major from my palate; when I got to the Chopin that time, it sounded in the A major that I have always known.

Testing, testing – Testing I must do to try to understand these changes; testing it is to my musical appreciation.