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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000307.txt from 2003/06

From: Dan Leeson <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Keys and their character-AAAAAHHHHHHH!
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2003 17:21:56 -0400

Thank you Bill. That is a very helpful viewpoint, thoughtfully presented.

Dan Leeson

Bill Semple wrote:
> I don't look at this issue quite the same way as you state. I am not arguing
> science. I am arguing relationships of notes. I look at how triads are
> composed, which operate independently of key signatures for the most part. I
> do believe that the minor keys tends to a more emotional somber and pensive
> construct than major keys, especially if you compare symphonic works. But
> for each key selection, a composer can do what he or she may wish to
> modulate within that structure, which means basically anything can happen.
> It's not that one key has a lot of sharps or a lot of flats that makes the
> difference, it is how notes relate to one another in chord structures. An Eb
> major is not going to sound any less or more bright than a E major, with the
> exception of how notes fall on various instruments (such as open strings).
> But go to a minor from a major, and I suggest something happens often enough
> to most listeners that the concepts we espouse make sense.
> I recall a famous demonstration by Leonard Bernstein during one of his
> Omnibus programs back in the late 1950's where he flatted the third in
> Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He then added a 7th, and pretty soon we had a
> nice walking blues underway. He showed how three keys, C,G,and F could all
> be framed around the same basic blues notes.
> The Blues came from somewhere. It came from flatting a few notes, and
> derived in part from some of the quarter tone influences from Africa. Is
> there some archtype out there that states that a certain chord will evoke a
> different emotional reaction than another? No. This is learned stuff. But
> once learned, I think it it has as much science as one can achieve with
> music. Remember Leibniz? If the tree fell in the forest, did it make a
> sound? To you, it did. For the rest of us, sound is as much how we listen to
> it through our heads and hearts than it is a matter of wave length and
> overtones.
> William T. Semple
> Office: 202-364-2466
> Home: 540-364-4823
> Cell: 540-903-6645
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Dan Leeson" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Tuesday, June 10, 2003 3:04 PM
> Subject: Re: [kl] Keys and their character-AAAAAHHHHHHH!
>>Bill Semple wrote:
>>>Why is it that you are in such a minority on issues such as this? You
> remind
>>>me of that New Yorker ad where everyone is buried inb the Philadelphia
>>>Inquirer while the lone observer frantically points to the sky, which is
>>>beginning to fall.
>>>What is your basis regarding music? That it is a purely scientific,
>>>mathematical exercise, requiring scientific proof to accept certain
> notions
>>>or descriptions about sound? You ask for facts. What kind of facts? Much
> of
>>>our world is developed on concensus and convention, including many of
> our
>>>laws, that do not spring apriori from someone's awareness of
> metaphysics,
>>>but from experiment and experience. By dispensing with some of the
>>>conclusions reached here as pure balderdash, you dispense with the basic
>>>process by which we think, and I suggest, we came up with music in the
> first
>>Since you ask, Bill, music like many other art forms, have elements to
>>it that are not explainable. But also arising in music (like painting
>>to some degree, too), are scientific statements that attempt explain
>>emotional phenomena. One of these is key selection. (Another is sound
>>character, but let's not go into that.)
>>You and many others presume that the choice of a key signature is based
>>on a scientific fact; i.e., bright keys (whatever that means) are
>>derived from key signatures with a lot of sharps, somber keys (whatever
>>that means) are derived from key signatures with a lot of flats. And
>>the more sharps the brighter, the more flats, the more somber. You
>>don't find such statement until the early part of the 19th century.
>>Nowhere, for example, does Mozart make any statement that would allow
>>any reasonable person to believe that he thought that way. Maybe he
>>did, but you can't document such a belief on his part.
>>Shostakovich wrote a trio for piano, violin, and cello in E major which
>>is, purportedly, a bright key. Yet the subject matter of the trio is
>>grotestquely horrible. It's death, murder, torture, etc. Now I don't
>>give this example as proof of the pudding, but just to point out that
>>well-known compositions in certain keys have emotional content that are
>>exactly the opposite of what the key signature is supposed to convey.
>>Since it is asserted that key signatures have emotional content, it is
>>perfectly appropriate to inquire from where such an assertion is
>>derived. There must be some way to establish that statement as true, and
>>if that cannot be done, the only conclusion that can be reached is that
>>any emotional character in a particular piece derives from the mind of
>>the listener; i.e., it's a false statement since it is person-dependent.
>>Music is enough of an emotional issue and tugs on our heart strings in
>>uncertain ways, that the assignment of those emotions to scientific
>>phenomema without proof, does not serve the art of music at all.
>>I've tried to answer your question reasonably. I hope that any response
>>you chose to give will be equally reasonable.
>>Dan Leeson
>>>William T. Semple
>>>Office: 202-364-2466
>>>Home: 540-364-4823
>>>Cell: 540-903-6645

**Dan Leeson **
** **

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