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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000274.txt from 2003/06

From: Dan Leeson <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Keys and their character
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2003 12:22:30 -0400

Well for one thing, "f-minor" describes a mode of the key of A-flat
major. And there is not one bloody thing of sadness built into that (or
any) minor mode. Some of Bachs most joyous music is in the minor mode,
and Mendelssohn's octet has a spritely, happy, joyous scherzo in the
minor mode. So your coments about composers writing in f-minor for some
emotional value have no substance, representing opinion and not
supported by giving any facts.

While it was believed for ever so long that each key had a particular
emotional characteristic to it, your saying that it is true
(particularly with respect to people with a well trained ear) does not
make it so. Why is it so? Simply contradicting me does not establish a
viable argument.

Cite a single technical reason that establishes unequivocally that every
(or any) key has a particular emotion inherently contained in it, and
I'll give up the argument. But you are going to find it difficult to do
that because the only articles on the subject assume that the statement
about keys and emotions is true, and without the necessity to prove it.

Of course, you are correct when you suggest that there are historical
precedents for writing in various keys, but that had nothing to do with
the emotions supposed contained in them. It was simply to avoid boredom
of hearing the same key over and over again. Even in the classic
period, the keys of the various movements were selected to be compatible
with one another, with certain keys "not chaining." So one hears a key
for the first movement and the a related key (4th or 5th higher) for the
next and so on. To have one movement in C and the next in D and the
next in E would be unheard of.

So before you suggest that I am full of doo-doo, give me some facts
about why your assertion is true, not opinions based on romantic ideas
that keys carried emotions and which have NEVER been shown to be the case.

The way argumentation works is this: a statement is said to be true (as
you are saying). Someone opposes the idea (as I have done). That person
doesn't have to do anything except say, "Prove it." For you to take the
position that something is true requires you to make a factual
contribution to the argument and, so far, I have not seen it from you.
That business about Mozart "tapping into history" when he wrote in
f-minor is not history or fact. It is your opinion. He also wrote in a
pile of other keys, too, and except for principles of "chaining of
keys," there is no way to explain why any key was selected.

Dan Leeson

Brash, Alexander wrote:
> I disagree. While it IS true that we can't say that certain keys have a
> definite personality, after all for hundreds of years there was no
> standardization of pitch (ie Mozart's A vs Bach's A vs our A), and even
> differences in pitch from region to region, Mr. Leeson ignroes the fact that
> there are historical precendents for writing in certain keys. When
> Mendelsohn, for example, chose to write his f-minor string quartet in
> f-minor, just following the death of his sister Fanny, he knew full well the
> implications of that key as one of introspection and sadness. Mendelsohn was
> fully aware of when Bach CHOSE to write in f minor, when Mozart, and
> especially Beethoven in the string quartets, CHOSE to write in f minor. He
> was tapping into this history when he wrote his string quartet in f minor,
> consciously or not. The fact that these associations may be contrived is
> irrelevant, they still exist, and have been built through three hundred
> years of history. We have imbued certain keys with certain meanings, it's
> just a fact.
> Also, talk to anyone with and an extremely trained ear, or someone
> with absolute pitch and/or synthesisia. They'll most likely tell you that
> the keys have different associations for them.
> Also consider the fact that string timbre actually does sound
> different across different keys. A and E are "bright" because of the open
> strings, which, although not used as much in performance today, were
> certainly a much larger part of the performance practice from Bach to
> Mendelsohn (combine this with the fact that most string sections in
> orchestra played WITHOUT vibrato, in some cases up until Brahms' time), and
> keys will indeed sound "brighter" or darker.
> So there you go, I hope that's something put forward other than
> opinion. And if you disagree, that's just fine, but I'll continue to believe
> my nonsense happily.
> Alexander Michael Brash
> Education Dept, New York Philharmonic
> 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, 5th Floor
> phone (212) 875 - 5735
> cell (646) 284 - 0439
> email
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Dan Leeson []
> Sent: Tuesday, June 10, 2003 10:21 AM
> To:
> Subject: [kl] Keys and their character
> The idea that each key had its own personality (with A and E being
> bright) and D-flat, G-flat being serious (or whatever), is another
> romantic assertion that doesn't have a leg to stand on. There has never
> been anything put forward (other than opinion) that would allow any
> thinking person to believe such nonsense.
> It is true that, prior to the days of the tempered scale, keys did have
> specific characteristics because untempered tuning produced some weird
> situations, particularly with keyboard instruments, but the idea that E
> major (for example) is a key that produces brighter music (whatever the
> hell that means) than C major is something that was believed and spoken
> of in Victorian ballrooms, and had about as much sense as their sex
> practices.
> It is nothing more than another impossibly silly idea on top of the
> 10,000 silly ideas we have about music, playing it, composing for it,
> and speaking about it, falling into the same category of blow out, dark
> sounds, how to find the best piece, and which instrument is inherently
> superior.
> And for Anne Lenoir waking up in Colorado, I am sorry that my inquiry
> about what was so bright about E major caused you morning distress.

**Dan Leeson **
** **

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