F minor

Part1 Cymbal crash and racing music Mahler 1st Symphony Finale

Part 2 Noisy clashing music from Vaughan Williams 4th symphony

Part 3 Beethoven Pastoral Symphony loudest bit of Storm

I imagine that after that introduction that one or two listeners have already switched off. Welcome to you and thanks for staying! When I was preparing this series of programmes, I planned to miss out the key for this programme, F minor. I knew I’d end the hour with a tension headache. But in the interests of artistic integrity, I overcame my feelings and here we are. F minor it is. F minor is a dysphoric key, a dysthymic key. Let me interpret for all non-psychiatrists. It don’t feel so good, all is wrong with the world and it can’t be put right; indeed F minor hasn’t the wit to do so. It complains and mopes. Every now and then there’s a little backbone and some beauty, it must be admitted. But never the strength of the other unhappy flat keys D minor and C minor, or the gentle accepting sadness of G minor or A minor. So we’re in for an unhappy time, but once again appeal to artistic integrity – yours, dear listener. Let’s start with an overture. Beethoven’s Egmont Overture in F minor, which, to keep us sane, ends with a triumphant piccolo-led F major.

Beethoven – Egmont Overture

From F minor to F major in Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. If there’s an unhappy key, you can be sure that Tchaikovsky wrote in it – and he wallowed in F minor. Unassuaged Fate toys with this tortured soul in the first movement of his 4th Symphony. There are moments of respite but F minor dominates.

Tchaikovsky  – 4th Symphony 1st movement

Part of the 1st movement of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony in F minor. We’ll have another 4th Symphony later in the programme. Let’s have a little respite and peace. I’m going to play our Bach and Shostokovitch Preludes back to back as they are similar in feel. F minor producing parallel inspirations over the centuries.

Bach Prelude Book 2

Shostokovitch F minor Prelude Shostokovitch’s very similar Prelude in F minor on the piano. What next? Well, hold on a musical moment, here comes Franz Schubert, on his pogo stick.

Schubert – Moment Musicale

The F minor Moment Musicale by Schubert. Back now to the typical restlessness of F minor with the 1st movement of the Appassionata Sonata by Beethoven.

Beethoven -  Appassionata Sonata 1st movt

A  section of the 1st movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata in F minor. That mood is also found in Chopin’s F minor Prelude. It’s an angry outburst. It sputters and hisses like a pot on the boil. Irritable, restless. F minor.

Chopin  – Prelude

F minor’s angry restlessness in  Chopin’s Prelude in the key. By one of those wonderful coincidences without which the world would be so much the poorer, our last 3 composers of the programme have names beginning with V – Vaughan Williams, Verdi and Vivaldi. But before we get there, I want to show you how Chopin, whose Prelude we’ve just heard, brought his lyricism to bear on F minor and pulled its sting, making the key sing. Here’s part of the his 2nd Piano Concerto in F minor.

Chopin – Piano Concerto 2, 1st movement

Quite a lot of restlessness nonetheless. I think that 1st movement of Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto in F minor only sounds so nice because he makes a lot of use of the wonderful key of A flat major which, through also having 4 flats, is closely related to F minor. Now here’s a surprise. A light-hearted piece in F minor. Paul Dukas cast his Sorcerer’s Apprentice in F minor. A piece that is amusing for us as observers but pretty serious for the drowning trainee, one would think. Maybe Dukas sensed that. We pick it up where the broom starts to come to life..

Dukas – Sorcerer’s Apprentice

We started Dukas’ Sorcerer’s Apprentice where the broom came to life and ended where the broom had been split in two and was about to come to life in multiple forms. And now

Fiddler excerpt

It’s a


For Jewish songs in musicals to be in F minor. I suspect it’s a combination of the pentatonic scale


that underpins the folk music of European Jewry and the vocal range of the average cantor. Whatever it is, here are two examples from the musicals: The Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof and Fagin Reviewing the Situation in Oliver!. Fagin also ‘Pick’s a pocket or two’ in F minor. It’s


After all….

Sabbath Prayer

Reviewing the Situation

I fiddled with Fagin a bit at the end there to emphasise my point. We heard Fagin thinking it out again from Lionel Bart’s Oliver! and the Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof. For those who only know the Vaughan-Williams of the Greensleeves and Tallis Fantasia or The Lark Ascending, this next piece will come as something of a shock. This is his 4th Symphony. The conductor Edgar Cree claimed to have heard the composer imply that this music is atonal. I don’t think it is. It’s merely an expression of toothache, perfectly described by dissonances galore and F minor. We’ll hear part of the 1st movement.

Vaughan-Williams 4th Symphony 1st movement.

The 1st movement of Vaughan Williams’ F minor 4th Symphony. That was our first F minor V. Here’s the second – Verdi. Who’s the nastiest character in all Verdi Opera and all Shakespeare? Iago, of course, from Otello or Othello, and what’s his key as he praises his cruel God? – F minor.

Verdi – Otello

Iago’s Credo – I believe, in F minor from Otello by Verdi. If that was a cold, callous and cruel person, we move now on to something perhaps less unkind. Winter and our 3rd V: Vivaldi. A different kind of F minor restlessness with a rub of the hands and a stamp of the feet but at least in familiar territory, that of the Seasons.

Vivaldi – Winter 1st movement

The 1st movement of Winter in F minor by Vivaldi, the Seasons.  I implied earlier that we’d end the programme with the 3 Vs. But I can’t really leave you with either toothache, cruelty or cold fingers, so I’m going to end with some T. T for Tavener. John Tavener’s Song for Athene uses F minor and a deep F in the basses that goes on all the way through the piece. I suspect the cantors are back with F being the lowest note that most basses can get a real resonance from. For me the F minor expresses a person in the spiritual wilderness and then the music changes into F major and suddenly it’s heavenly. A reminder perhaps that in our F minor times, F major is not impossibly far away.

Tavener Song for Athene

John Tavener’s Song for Athene. And with that we seem to have said goodbye to F minor, so it just remains for me to say Goodbye from Keynotes and me. Goodbye.