Washing up after a mammoth birthday lunch for my daughter today (27 family members), I streamed some Verdi from ClassicsOnline. Some Traviata – the Prelude to Act 1 shifted in F major. I am used to the missing the warmth of E major – well, the green and yellow melancholy smiling at grief which is my way of compensating for such minor losses does have a Traviata feel to it, so one is in tune with Verdi there. Later came the three loud Fs at the start of the overture to The Force of Destiny. Fs? They are Es. Hearing this and knowing that my brain has played a semitone trick made me realise that this tendency to shift goes back further than I have thought. When compiling the Keynotes programmes back in the late 90s and early 2000s, I had intended to include this overture in the F minor programme because those three chords to me had the finality of unassuaged destiny that F minor can convey to the listener. It was by chance that I checked this up in a score in the library and found I had been hearing it wrongly. The overture is in E minor. I put this down to the ‘slightly shop-soiled’ pitch (rather than ‘perfect pitch’ using a clothing metaphor) I knew to be my lot. But really I should have known that this was not how it used to be with single notes like that. My difficulty with pitch occurred between the semitones (e.g. Baroque music played in the older lower tuning), and in the midst of complex musical passages where I would lose my way during the modulations. But I was not aware of this shift of more clearly defined tones until after the second broadcast of the Keynotes programmes on FMR in 2009.

Oddly, a few minutes later I switched to a Dvorak compilation and the Slavonic Dance in E minor was.

I ought to rush around with a tuner to see why, but the washing up and a certain apathy mean that I have not yet taken a scientific approach to my perceptual waverings.