Advertising and Web Hosting on Woodwind.Org!

Klarinet Archive - Posting 000329.txt from 2003/06

From: Dan Leeson <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Back into the keys debate
Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 11:52:11 -0400

Brash, Alexander wrote:
> Hey,
> Does not the below quote prove my point? Brahms did not write for a
> synthesizer, he wrote for a 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.

Talk about changing horses in midstream. The above paragraph is right on
the money, but it is very much not the matter to which Brash raised his
objections in the first place.

That different keys have inherent differences on different instruments
was never and is not now the issue. I read almost every note on this
subject for the past several days to make sure that I did not zig when I
should have zagged, that in a moment of haste, I said one thing when I
really meant another. I could not find such a case. It is Brash who has
changed the paint color when I wasn't looking.

The issue was that key signatures were inherently capable of producing a
particular emotion; i.e., E major was joyous while A-flat major was
somber, and that this emotional impact was constant from person to
person, from instrument to instrument, from year to year. So when you
heard something in E major, it was time to feel happy. Or,
alternatively, as a composer, if you wanted to create tragic music, the
most rational approach was to compose someing in D-flat minor, because
it would automatically sound sad since that was the particular emotion
associated with that key.

To make it short, the assertion was that keys contain particular
emotions, with each key having its own identifiable emotion. Somewhere
in the pile of things I have around my house, there is an article by an
early 19th century musician who lines up every key with its distinct
human emotion; i.e., ribaldry was associated with B major, etc. No key
was given that would create sexual passion, damn it, because I would
play only in that key (if I knew which one it was)!

That very questionable hypothesis has always been the subject of this
discourse and I don't think that I have said anything that could lead a
rational person into any other avenue of human thought.

And as for Brash attending Bob Levin's lectures and deriving his ideas
on the matter from Levin, I have been at more Bob Levin lectures than
Brash. Levin and I are good friends, we have published papers together
(one of them dealing with Mozart's choice of key signatures for the
instruments of the clarinet family), my wife and I have stayed at his
home in Germany on multiple occasions, I was with him at the funeral of
his father, was also at his wedding, we once ate three meals at three
two-star restaurants in France in three days and damn near did not
survive it, I know about all of his completions, and I would never get
into any musical argument with him because it is certain that I would
lose it!!! But Levin has never said anything that would disagree with
the fundamental thesis here, and if you wish, I'll call and ask him.

So shaking his name at me does little good because he does not think
that E major is capable of producing music that is inherently more noble
or brave or kind or decent or sexy or tragic than A major, or any other
key for that matter.

The weakness of any technical argument becomes evident when one party
reduces the discussion to a statement that asserts, "Well xxx says so
and he is smarter than yyy." It is called "shlepping in the expert to
support a view when the expert is not around to defend himself from
questionable interpretations of his words."

I am, however, far better looking than Levin, I can paint a room (two
coats) faster than he, and I am a much better dancer than he. I may even
be a better singer than he, because I once heard him sing the baritone
part on the six Mozart Notturni for voices and clarinets. He sings
through his nose (which has a wart on it).

**Dan Leeson **
** **

Klarinet is supported by Woodwind.Org,

     Copyright © Woodwind.Org, Inc. All Rights Reserved    Privacy Policy    Contact