Sombre and incandescent

C minor and E major

Bach Sarabande

In his masterly companion to the Bach cello suites, Steven Isserlis mentions composers’ attraction to the sombre key of C minor.

Mozart

Besides the final movements of Bach’s own Passions, he cites Mozart’s Mass and piano concerto K491, and I think also of the slow movements of the E flat concertos K 271 and K482, as well as the Wind Serenade and the Andante of the Sinfonia concertante (above); and Schubert’s Quartettsatz. Steven goes on to list Brahms 1, and Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto.

* * *

Hesi pai score

By contrast, composers have been inspired by the incandescent splendour of E major (the basic key of the north Chinese ritual shengguan ensemble!—e.g. here, §2), as in

and (a rare appearance for Wagner on this blog) the Siegfried idyll, conducted here by Celibidache:

Messiaen goes even further in his devotion to the sensuality of F sharp major, such as in Turangalîlathe intimate sixth movement and the cosmic finale—and the Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus. But perhaps that’s another story.

DO click on the links to listen in awe to all of them!

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