Part 1 Chopin Scherzo in B flat minor excerpts

Part 2

Part 3

Hello and welcome. In this programme I’m bringing together a number of keys of which that was one example – that was B flat minor in Chopin’s Scherzo in B flat minor.  – I’ve called these key Orphan keys because they’re not heard very ‘orphan’. They’re keys with 5 sharps or flats or 7 sharps or flats. Unless you‘re a composer like Bach or Chopin or Shostokovitch and set yourself the task of writing a composition in every key, you have to make a deliberate choice to use one of these keys. The only one that really caught on was D flat major: we heard that in another programme. So in this programme we’re going to hear music written in B flat minor, G sharp minor, B major and A flat minor. That the major keys with 7 sharps or flat – that’s C sharp major and C flat major – haven’t been used much is not surprising: it’s just too much of sweat. I have yet to see a piece in A sharp minor. That said, I’ve lined up some good music in this programme; worthy of anything that’s gone before. I’m going to start with B flat minor and Chopin as we sampled in the introduction. This key induced in him a tearaway frenzy. He just goes mad. Listen:

Chopin – Prelude in B flat minor

I’m not making this up, you know! That was Chopin’s Prelude in B flat minor, and here’s some more B flat minor by Chopin – the last movement of his 2nd Piano Sonata in B flat minor. Just as crazy..

Chopin – Piano Sonata No 2 – 4th movement

I hope you could make sense of that. I couldn’t. In that Sonata the first movement is also very wild but it is tempered by G flat major. The third movement is the famous funeral march, but I’m not going to play that because we’re going to have a funeral march in another key later in the programme. Staying with B flat minor, here’s another composer who was induced to write something very tearaway in the key – Tchaikovsky. He writes a very energetic Russian Dance as the 3rd movement of his 1st Piano Concerto. I’m going to fade him before we get to the big B flat major climax because I’ve got another piece in B flat minor to follow.

Tchaikovsky – 1st Piano Concerto 3rd movement

Tchaikovsky – the last movement of his 1st Piano Concerto in B flat minor, demonstrating its wild side. Now JS Bach is going to take us to B flat minor in another form. The other side of the emotional spectrum – controlled dignified sorrow in his Prelude in B flat minor.

JS Bach – Prelude in B flat minor

In the fugue the sorrow becomes more overt. There’s sob between the 2nd and 3rd notes of the theme, and Bach, unusually, uses 5 voices to explore this sad little theme.

JS Bach – Fugue in B flat minor (start 3’04”)

B flat minor’s sadness in Bach’s Fugue in B flat minor. Other examples of B flat minor in this mood are Samuel Barber’s Adagio, and A Furtive Tear by Donizetti. I’m going to move on to another key now – G sharp minor. And we’re going to stay in Prelude mood. Here are 3 preludes by 3 composers who had to write in this key because they were doing their series of preludes: Bach, Chopin and Rachmaninov.

Bach – Prelude in G sharp minor

Chopin – Prelude in G sharp minor

Rachmaninov – Prelude in G sharp minor

3 preludes in G sharp minor: And here’s another piano piece in that key. La Campanella by Liszt. The repetitive tintinabulations of D# may be the reason for his choice of this unusual key for this essay in florid pianism.

Liszt – La Campanella

An essay in G sharp minor – La Campanella by Liszt. And now by miraculous sleight of hand we’re in A flat minor. No, it’s not really very clever: G sharp and A flat are the same note. So A flat minor sounds exactly the same as G sharp minor, but it looks very different on the page. Beethoven chose A flat minor to write a funeral march in his A flat major piano sonata. It is one of only two movements in this key by Beethoven, both in A flat major piano sonatas

Beethoven – Funeral March from Piano Sonata in A flat

If A flat minor is solemn and funereal in that piece, Richard Strauss found a lyrical side to the key in his 1st Horn Concerto 2nd movement. In choosing the key he made it a devil to read but divine to listen to so we’ll forgive him.

R Strauss – 1st Horn Concerto 2nd movement

And now it’s time to move away from minor orphans keys to a major orphan key – B major. Brahms loved the dark colours of B major. The longest and most sombre of the piano Ballades is in this key and for richness you cannot beat his Piano Trio in B. Here’s another supreme B major Brahms piece. The slow movement of his 2nd Symphony. There can be few pieces that match this for the combination of beauty and concentration. I think it’s the key that makes the difference.

Brahms – 2nd Symphony 2nd movement

The warmest of B majors in Brahms’ second movement from his 2nd Symphony. We’ve left Shostakovitch out of our other orphan keys in this programme so I’d better give him his play here.  Oddly he hears nothing of what Brahms heard in B major and gives us a very silly little prelude and a light-hearted fugue.

Shostakovitch – P & F in B major (there is a gap between the 2 parts in this video)

And here’s somebody else who had an upbeat view of B major, but I think I know why Verdi chose B major for La Donna e mobile and I think you will too when the tenor sings the last note.

Verdi – La Donna e Mobile

A top B provided by Verdi – the last note of La Donna e mobile. Verdi could have chose to put such an oom-pah piece in B flat major which is the oom-pah key, but he ratched it up one note in order to give a spectacular chance to the tenor. From one opera composer to another and from a tenor to a soprano. The climax of T&I by Wagner is in B major. Here is Isolde winding herself to the B major climax that Wagner provides in the Love’s Death.

Wagner – Liebestod

The B major ending of Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner. I’ve chosen as the last piece in this programme of orphan keys and orphan piece of music by which I mean it’s not heard very ‘orphan’, and yet it’s the piece heard most often by the composer Arnold Bax. But before we play it, let me point in the direction of a wonderful B major piece. The 2nd movement of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto. And if you’re needing another B major fix, try the end of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. And now let’s end with the Bax. This is Tintagel in which Bax uses B major to conjure up both the mystery and the pageant of King Arthur’s castle. And by a wonderful coincidence that’s in Cornwall which is also where Tristan and Isolde is set.

Bax – Tintagel

The B major battlements of Tintagel by Arnold Bax. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of the more unusual keys. They were worth exploring, weren’t they? Goodbye from them and from Keynotes and goodbye from me.