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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000326.txt from 2003/06

From: "Brash, Alexander" <BrashA@-----.org>
Subj: RE: [kl] Back into the keys debate
Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 10:09:35 -0400

Hey,
Does not the below quote prove my point? Brahms did not write for a
synthesizer, he wrote for a cello...in B major, because that's the sound he
wanted, not the sound of that melody on a cello in C major. The choice of
key was not arbitrary, there was something inherent in the sound of the
cello in that key that he wanted. Since music is written FOR instruments,
and since instruments, as you admitted, actually sound different in
different keys, then the combination of those instruments playing in
different keys must have different inherent characteristics. So I'd propose
this: maybe I'm wrong about the key debate in a totally abstract sense, but
when you factor in that music is written for real instruments, that really
sound different depending on the key, in the real world of music, there must
be inherent differences. Why we call some things "dark," or "happy" or
"introspective," stems from the same reason that we call one color "red" or
one color "black": it's just a convention that society has accepted. The
difference is with music it's much more subjective, and harder to label f
minor as "always introspective" or D major as "always joyful," (while we can
usually say pretty conclusively the difference between red and black) but
some lineage of historical precedent does exist, precedents that I
personally accept because that's truly how I hear things. Now, composers
don't always follow this, it's true, sometimes for Mozart facility of key
WAS more important than any inherent key associations, but just because
every composer did not use keys consistently all the time DOESN'T mean that
they can't have some kind of inherent feeling attached to them.
As for Dan Leeson's scholarship and expertise, I am aware of it.
However, I'm going to take Robert Levin's Mozart scholarship, a man who has
written completions of the Requiem, the Sinfonia Concertante, and soon the C
minor Mass, as well as being a foremost authority on period practice and
performance (with a huge discography), over Mr. Leeson's. I don't want to
start a "battle of the experts," but my example of the f minor string
quartet and historical precedents is something I picked up from one of Mr.
Levin's lectures. Please do not construe this as my not "being able to think
independently," my feeling that different keys do in fact mean things
completely different is something I've always believed instinctively since I
first started the instrument. But Mr. Leeson's opinion hardly represents
that of music scholarship in general...in fact, every music professor of
mine has at one point or another said something about difference of key.
I'd also pose you the following question: how did Brahms select the
tonic key for his trio in B major if not by some "inherent sound" he wanted?
The technical and facility argument here fails, because B major is an
extremely difficult key for strings to play in (no open strings, for one
thing, and also because they're not used to playing here, intonation issues
can be a nightmare)

You wrote:

Perhaps, but only because the new notes have different timbres on the
particular instruments involved, not because of any inherent characteristic
of the key. B major ON A CELLO sounds different than Db major ON A CELLO
because of the cello's acoustics. If you were to play the opening cello
theme from the Brahms B major trio using a synthesizer, and then play it
transposed up a major second, you would feel no difference in emotional
impact.

Alexander Michael Brash
Education Dept, New York Philharmonic
10 Lincoln Center Plaza, 5th Floor

phone (212) 875 - 5735
cell (646) 284 - 0439
email brasha@-----.org

-----Original Message-----
From: Tim Roberts [mailto:timr@-----.com]
Subject: RE: [kl] Keys and their character-AAAAAHHHHHHH!

On Tue, 10 Jun 2003 12:51:13 -0400, you wrote:
>
>Hello,
> I'm going to give up on arguing with Mr. Leeson, and not because I
>shrink from arguing, but because of his extremely arrogant and
disrespectful
>manner. Who the hell do you think you are, the "Messiah" of music out to
>"kill all the bad ideas." There are scholars of music far more learned than
>you ...

Had you done a little research, I think you would have discovered that your
basic assertion might not actually be true. Dan Leeson is, in fact, one of
the world's recognized authorities on historical practices in music. You do

yourself a disservice by discounting his statements simply because they do
not agree with your own mental model.

>...and, and performers of a far higher caliber, as well as EVERYONE I know
>with perfect pitch (including me), who will insist that different keys MEAN
>different things to them. You can't tell them they're wrong just because
>they can't prove it.

It is perfectly reasonable to say that "different keys mean different things

TO YOU." That statement cannot and should not be debated. We cannot
possibly know what A minor means to you. However, what you actually said is

closer to "different keys mean different things, but they mean the same
things to everybody". THAT is the statement Dan quite correctly ridiculed.

>...Do you suggest that Mozart and Beethoven chose
>their tonic keys by chance, and chained the other keys together in a manner
>to avoid boredom?

Not at all, and Dan has written several articles on the subject. However,
the choice is far more likely related to the timbre of a particular
instrument than to the inherent emotional feel of the key.

>Play me the opening cello theme from the Brahms B major trio in Db major,
>and it's going to FEEL different.

Perhaps, but only because the new notes have different timbres on the
particular instruments involved, not because of any inherent characteristic
of the key. B major ON A CELLO sounds different than Db major ON A CELLO
because of the cello's acoustics. If you were to play the opening cello
theme from the Brahms B major trio using a synthesizer, and then play it
transposed up a major second, you would feel no difference in emotional
impact.

--
- Tim Roberts, timr@-----.com
Providenza & Boekelheide, Inc.

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