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E flat minor

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Susannah Dingley
564354.  Fri Jun 05, 2009 7:47 am Reply with quote

A moment ago, I was listening on the radio to a piano trio by Haydn in E flat minor, an unusal key with six flats. It’s the relative minor to less rare key of G flat major.

Other works in E flat minor I have heard before are Shostakovich’s String Quartet № 15, Op.144, Rachmaninoff’s Etude Tableau Op.33 № 5, his Prelude Op.23 № 9, as well as one of Chopin’s Preludes and J.S. Bach’s preludes & fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier.

If you replace the six flats by six sharps, you get D sharp minor (relative minor to F sharp major). This is an even rarer key than E flat minor.

 
Gaazy
564390.  Fri Jun 05, 2009 9:11 am Reply with quote

I think you'll find (though I haven't checked this recently) that Janáček was obsessed with extreme flat keys, and certainly most of his piano music seems to be in 6 or 7 flats.

His orchestral music is also made much more difficult than it might be for being in extreme flat keys; for example, the Sinfonietta is mostly in (aarrggh!) A flat minor (7 flats), putting much strain on the string players and especially the flute section.

He also chose this excrutiatingly difficult key for his violin sonata, which would be dozens of times easier if it were transposed just a semitone higher.

Brahms wasn't immune to Ab minor either - he has an organ fugue in that key, the same key as Janáček (again) chose for the solo organ movement in his Glagolitic Mass.

 
Susannah Dingley
564452.  Fri Jun 05, 2009 10:42 am Reply with quote

Why not just transpose everything Janáček wrote into G sharp minor? That would be more or less the same tonality – indeed if you’re playing on equally tempered instruments, wouldn’t there literally be no difference at all? Just a thought.

And what about the other “extreme” keys: A sharp minor, C flat major, C sharp major? Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu has outer sections in C sharp minor and a middle section in a major key – that could well be C sharp major.

 
Gyndawyr
587410.  Tue Jul 21, 2009 9:56 am Reply with quote

I thought Ryu's theme from Street Fighter II was played by some people on youtube in E minor???
Maybe I was mistaken, but to me it just doesnt quite sound right, and I play it on an easier "D" as the starting note instead of "E".

 
Awitt
920837.  Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:15 am Reply with quote

Any composer who writes in 5/6 sharps/flats ought to be shot, if they're not already 6 feet under!
Though I've been told by fellow muso's to think of every note but xx is sharp/flat, but that makes it harder!

 
Posital
920920.  Sun Jul 01, 2012 3:11 pm Reply with quote

C major for everything please...

 
Sparkyweasel
921158.  Mon Jul 02, 2012 7:43 pm Reply with quote

Gaazy wrote:

He also chose this excrutiatingly difficult key for his violin sonata, which would be dozens of times easier if it were transposed just a semitone higher.
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And you could tune your violin a semitone lower so it still sounds as intended. Guitarists (some guitarists) play around with tunings like that a lot, but I think it's frowned on for orchestral musicians.

 
Spud McLaren
921221.  Tue Jul 03, 2012 5:11 am Reply with quote

It worked for Irving Berlin, one of the greatest of all songwriters. He used a custom-made 1940 Weser Brothers piano with a transposing lever to change keys, as he never learned to play in more than one key - supposedly F# major and the relative D# minor.

Now, if you can play the piano in that key signature, it ought to be a breeze to learn the others.

 
Jenny
921278.  Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:20 am Reply with quote

Given the technology available today, it ought to be really simple to make an electronic piano or keyboard that would adjust to any required key but only need the player to master C major.

 
Spud McLaren
921343.  Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:49 pm Reply with quote

Jenny wrote:
Given the technology available today, it ought to be really simple to make an electronic piano or keyboard that would adjust to any required key but only need the player to master C major.
It is. I have one that not only transposes to any required key (which panders to the player's laziness) but also to any of six temperaments (which doesn't).

 
WordLover
950350.  Sat Nov 10, 2012 4:41 pm Reply with quote

E flat minor is also the key of Bax's 1st symphony, Janáček's piano work 1.X.1905, and Dukas's piano sonata. It's not all that hard a key to play in on the piano; in fact all those black keys make it easier so long as you don't have to put your thumb on a black key (which is awkward to do). (As for it being hard to read, well, you have to put up with composers using all the keys available, even the ones that are hard to read!)

As for why Shostakovich wrote a string quartet in E flat minor: it seems that he deliberately chose to write all his string quartets in different keys. He wrote 17. He used most of the nice keys early on (e.g. C major, A major and D major) so later on the keys left were mostly nasty ones.

To answer Susannah Dingley's question: keys with more than 6 sharps in the signature generally aren't used because the music would be easier to read when notated in flats, and vice versa. A flat minor is an exception. The reason the composer chose A flat minor rather than G# minor might possibly in some cases be so that the composer could move to the tonic minor (or had moved from A flat major to its tonic minor) without an enharmonic change. Hence why the slow movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata 12 in A flat major is in A flat minor, and Schubert's Impromptu D899 no.4 starts in A flat minor (though the key signature is the 4 flats of the A flat major that it will later modulate to). Mind you, in those two cases perhaps G# minor wouldn't have been so bad, because in each case the music moves from A flat minor to its relative major C flat major, and from there to its tonic minor, which is notated as B minor to avoid double-flats, so an enharmonic change was used anyway!

 

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