Key Colouration

Posted on April 20, 2014 by Gary Carruthers

St Martin's in the Fields, London, Good Friday 2014

Mozart's requiem.  An underrated, beautiful work and resonant in such a beautiful church.  Listening from the balcony, my thoughts wander to the practicalities of making it happen.  Managing the acoustics in the room.  Assembling the team of players and singers; cohering them.  Turning a recital into a Performance with a capital P.

And then, as the Tuba Miram starts, my mind drifts to the instruments and the people who play them.  That guy was playing a flute before, but he's switched to a clarinet now.  That girl going between happily between violin and viola as if she can't decide which to buy.  I used to play when I was a student, mostly jazz piano in bars just to pay for my studies, but I never had the timing and dexterity of these professionals.  The only things I can do well must allow time for reflection and thought.

By the Sanctus, my thoughts have drifted into key colouration.  Why is the horn designed to play in F, the trumpet in B flat?  Why is E flat so sombre, while G is for jolly?  The truth is that, after centuries of experimentation, these keys resonate with the sounds the instruments create, the emotions composers wanted to evoke, and resonate in our souls.

And the violins!  Crafted over centuries to sound like angels!  Listen to music like this, and it leaves you feeling like watchmaking is in its infancy. 

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