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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000270.txt from 2002/05

From: Daniel Leeson <>
Subj: [kl] Key emotions: REDUX
Date: Fri, 10 May 2002 18:36:51 -0400

A few weeks ago, there was a discussion on this list (the latest of
many) speaking about the supposed emotional characteristics contained in
each key signature. For example, some 18th century authorities stated
that the key of C was "pure," while the key of A was "bright and happy."
(I'm stating what they said, not whether such a thing is true, thought
it has always been clear that I reject the hypothesis as being without

I am not going to speak about the subject again because everything has
already been said, but I did want to set the stage so that the following
related story makes sense and has a context.

As part of the discussion I pointed out that singers, depending on their
age and the condition of the vocal estate, have been known to sing
important arias that contain high notes, a half or even a full tone
down. In doing so, I suggested that whatever emotion was contained in
the original key was not radically altered as a consequence of this

Another poster, in response to mine, argued that, in his experience as
part of an opera orchestra, this practice was unknown.

Background over. Not to the point.

In today's (5/10) New York Times, a lengthy article appears about what
is possibly Luciano Pavarotti's final appearance at the Metropolitan
Opera House. It's a sad article because it suggests that his appearance
is unwise precisely because of the deterioration of his vocal estate.
He is 66, not a good age for a tenor who has not taken the care that
such a great voice requires. Other tenors have sung to close to the age
of 70, but they treated their voices as one holds an egg, that is, with
the greatest possible care to avoid damage.

The article speaks of his first appearance at the Met when the great
tenor sang a role in Donizetti's rarely performed, "La Fille du
Regiment," a role that requires 9 (that's right NINE!) almost
consecutive high Cs. I was at that performance in 1972 and the audience
went mad, stopping the show for a full 20 minutes of screaming. That
was some voice! It was at that time that Pavarotti was given the title,
"King of the High C's."

Then, the reviewer goes on to state that, at the age of 60 in 1996,
Pavarotti unwisely decided to sing the same role again, and at the Met
too, possibly trying to recapture his early and fabulous success, and
rekindling his by then reduced reputation. The article then states that
the entire aria was required to be taken down one half a step, though
even in the new key Pavarotti had difficulty with the nine high

I don't want to reargue the question of alleged emotional
characteristics of keys, only point out that there is clear evidence of
the practice of key alteration, not at some minor opera house in
Paducah, Kentucky, or Billings, Montana, but at the Metropolitan Opera
House in New York. And they do it at all major houses, too, including
Paris, London, Milan, Munich, Salzburg, Leningrad, Prague, Sydney, etc.

In the words of Euripedes (with whom I had lunch and a few laughs a
couple of days ago), QUID ERAT DEMONSTRATUM!!
** Dan Leeson **
** **


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