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#445134 - 03/24/08 01:46 PM minor-key music isn't always sad
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
I was just listening to some music (sorry, it's not piano music) that is pretty clearly in minor keys, and yet they don't sound at all sad to me... rather happy:

http://www.helzner.com/sound_files/robynh_al_givot_sheich_abreik.mp3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i3BU8yTN9I

Maybe it's something to do with the quick tempi (though there are certainly fast pieces that sound very sad or angry), maybe something to do with the bright timbres, maybe something to do with the rhythms...?

I was always taught that music in minor keys sound sad and music in major keys always sound happy, that it's the difference between a minor or major third that makes the difference in mood. Maybe you disagree with my subjective ears and think that these two minor-key pieces that I posted actually do sound sad..... are there any minor-key piano pieces that, to your ears, sound happy? It would be interesting to flip it around, too -- is there any major-key piano music that to your ears sounds sad?
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#445135 - 03/24/08 02:00 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Nikolas Online   content
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5245
Loc: Europe
hi Sam I missed you

Yup there is!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ-GwxyJ2ZY
by Messiaen

I'm cheating because while the chords are predominantly major chords, the whole thing is constructed by an octatonic scale and the melody is modal rather than tonal.

Still it's one of the saddest pieces I've heard!

For a rather happy track with minor chords almost exclusively: http://www.nikolas-sideris.com/stuff/thalecres1.mp3
by me... ;\)
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#445136 - 03/24/08 03:02 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13778
Loc: Iowa City, IA
I've always found Schubert to be the opposite - his major key works always seem to have a hint of sadness in them.
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#445137 - 03/24/08 03:22 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Robert Kenessy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/07/07
Posts: 394
Loc: Enebyberg Sweden
isn't the rondo à la Turca ('turkish march') by Mozart (of which the only sad thing is, it's so overplayed) in A minor?
The saddest or gravest piece in major I know is the E major prelude of op 28 of Chopin.
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.. it seems to me that the inherent nature [of the piano tone] becomes really expressive only by means of the present tendency to use the piano as a percussion instrument - Béla Bartók, early 1927.

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#445138 - 03/24/08 03:47 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8852
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianojerome:
...are there any minor-key piano pieces that, to your ears, sound happy?
The example that immediately springs to mind would be the Beethoven 1st Concerto, last movement, A minor subject. Happiest minor I've ever heard... and fun to play.
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#445139 - 03/24/08 03:49 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Theowne Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/06
Posts: 1099
Loc: Toronto, Canada
I've always found major seventh chords to be sadder than minor chords. They have a sad, wistful, somewhat nostalgic quality to them, more powerful than the straight minor chords.
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#445140 - 03/24/08 04:24 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
currawong Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/15/07
Posts: 5921
Loc: Down Under
 Quote:
Originally posted by Kreisler:
I've always found Schubert to be the opposite - his major key works always seem to have a hint of sadness in them. [/b]
Yes! For happy minors and sad majors you can't go past Schubert.

And if you want to hear someone wring the last drop of anguish out of a major key, try the adagio of Mahler's 10th symphony.
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#445141 - 03/24/08 05:12 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Betty Patnude Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/11/07
Posts: 4896
Loc: Puyallup, Washington
Ethnic dances such as Italian Tarantellas (spiders)and Israeli are usually minor, but the rhythms, tempos and accents make them happy.

To be sad, I think the quality of plaintive needs to be a characteristic. There do not have to be words, although those are excellent clues, the native instruments would have the capacity of naturally plaintive sounds as well as the capacity of the instrumentalist (human).

Several of Chopins Preludes (B, Cm, Em) are among the saddest I hear - I think it's because of the isolation and rain - living in Majorca in a monestary dwelling and being very, very ill. I hear a thudding, resonating heartbeat in my ears whenever I play these, and I get tears in my eyes, it is quite an experience.

Betty

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#445142 - 03/24/08 11:43 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Fleeting Visions Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/06
Posts: 1501
Loc: Champaign, IL
Good point.
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#445143 - 03/25/08 12:30 AM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Ferdinand Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/23/07
Posts: 937
Loc: California
Beethoven op. 111 second movement. Beyond sad.

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#445144 - 03/25/08 03:20 AM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7796
I remember being a kid and reading the preface to some old edition of Chopin etudes and (I think in reference to op. 10, no. 4) the editor mentioning an old saying, the gist of which was that Poles were happiest when they were sad. That always stuck with me, and has sometimes served as a good reminder not to get too simple-minded about the affect of any given piece of music. Funny thing, later in life, I had a good friend who really often was happiest when sad, totally relishing it and wallowing in it.

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#445145 - 03/25/08 07:06 AM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19271
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by Robert Kenessey:
isn't the rondo à la Turca ('turkish march') by Mozart (of which the only sad thing is, it's so overplayed) in A minor?
[/b]
The piece switches back and forth between major and minor keys.

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#445146 - 03/25/08 09:40 AM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
timbo77 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/24/07
Posts: 268
Loc: Singapore
for sad major pieces, the second movement of shostakovich's piano concerto is worthy of mention.

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#445147 - 03/25/08 10:50 AM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
BruceD Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 17951
Loc: Victoria, BC
Just as "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" I believe that the perception of sadness of a piece of music is in the ear and mind of the listener. What one person may find sad, another may find extremely calm and relaxing without a hint of sadness; evidence shows that the opposite is also true.

While sadness in and of itself is not beautiful, the expression of it can be. As Shelley observed in "To a Skylark" :
"Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."

Regards,
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#445148 - 03/25/08 01:40 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Janus K. Sachs Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/31/07
Posts: 1710
Loc: Betelgeuse, baby!
Well, if "sad" and "happy" are the only things that can be expressed in major and/or minor modes, music would be a rather dull art.

I mean, take the first movement of Beethoven's Third Concerto in C minor. I've heard some people describe the it as "tragic." To my ears, it is assertive, fiery, and dramatic, but certainly not "sad" ala the titanic conflict of the first movement of the Fifth Symphony, the Appassionata, or most of the Op. 95 quartet, to say nothing of the cataclysmic first movement of the Ninth Symphony. And the last movement of the Third Concerto has a good amount of playful caprice and good humour -- qualities that aren't limited to the major-key sections.

I completely laughed my head off when the fictional Beethoven of Immortal Beloved (blech!) described the fiery but far from "sad" first movement (in A minor) of the Kreutzer Sonata as the agitation of a lover who is late for a tryst!

Besides Schubert, Mozart is another composer who often uses major keys for expressing "sadness" and related affects. Both of the Countess's arias from Figaro are in major keys (Eb and C), but they express melancholy, pensiveness, and (in the first aria) even thoughts of suicide! Mozart's use of melodic contour (such as a big rising leap that then falls by a step) and non-chord tones (particularly suspensions and accented passing tones that are held longer than their resolutions) communicate the character's anguish. Or take Per Pieta from Cosi fan tutte. It's in E major (!), but it is full of anguished self-searching.

Once one is familiar with how Mozart uses major keys for darker affects in his operas, one becomes aware of how often this occurs in many of his major-keyed instrumental works/movements, such as the slow movements of the 40th Symphony (Eb major), the 24th Piano Concerto (Eb major), the 17th Piano Concerto (C major), the A minor Sonata (F major), the D major String Quintet (G major), or the "Hunt" Quartet (Eb major). Even the 27th Piano Concerto (in Bb major), particularly its first movement, has many shades of melancholy. Or take the lovely, pensive D major slow movement from the 12th Piano Concerto, which was written in memory of J.C. Bach (who befriended Mozart).

I wouldn't call the last movement of Brahms's First Piano Quartet "sad" just because it is in G minor. It is full of fiery bravura and abandon, but tragic it is certainly not (go to the Fourth Symphony for that!). And while I'm in gypsy mode, Liszt's 19th Hungarian Rhapsody (in D minor) is far from "sad" either. And if you want playfullness in the minor mode, look no further than Brahms's B minor Capriccio Op. 76 #2.

Other "sad" major-keyed works/movements:
Slow movement of Beethoven's Op. 2 #1 (I always thought of this as reflecting how Beethoven was forced to deal with the ugly side of life from an early age, since the main theme was borrowed from an earlier piano quartet)
Slow movements from both of Brahms's piano concerti
Brahms's Op. 117 #1 Intermezzo
Finale of Mahler's Ninth Symphony
Slow movement of Mendelssohn's Op. 80 String Quartet

Other "happy" (or not necessarily "sad") minor keyed works/movements:
Second movement of Mahler's Tenth (mostly in F# minor, yet exuberant)
Schubert's earliest A minor sonata D. 537/Op. 164 (definitely far from sad -- and incidentally the slow movement of this work was the source of the main theme of the last movement of the A major D. 959 sonata)
Last movement of Rachmaninov's Second Concerto
Scherzo of Beethoven's Op. 74 ("Harp") Quartet (fiery playfulness)
"Scherzo" section of Liszt's First Concerto
Chopin's C# minor prelude from Op. 28
Rachmaninov's Etude Tableux in B minor Op. 39 #4


There are many more, of course, and I'll add to this list when/if my memory kicks in. Of course, BruceD's observation that sadness and happiness reside in the ears (hmm, what an image!) and mind of the listener applies!

P.S.: There is, of course, the case of Elgar's Second Symphony in Ab major, which takes Shelley's Invocation (which begins: "Rarely, rarely, comest thou,/Spirit of Delight!") as a motto.
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Die Stockfisch bleiben dicke,
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Die Predigt vergessen.

Die Predigt hat g'fallen.
Sie bleiben wie alle.

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#445149 - 10/24/08 02:26 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
pianoloverus Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19271
Loc: New York City
Please ignore. I got into an link to this old post by mistake.

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#445150 - 10/28/08 05:14 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
Not very sad music in minor key:

Griegs's "Elves dans", "Småtrold", and "Bäcken" from Lyrical pieces.

- - - - -

Sad music in major key:

Rachmaninoff's Etude-Tablaeu Op 33/2

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#445151 - 10/28/08 07:50 PM Re: minor-key music isn't always sad
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8852
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
 Quote:
Originally posted by Janus Sachs:
There is, of course, the case of Elgar's Second Symphony in Ab major, which takes Shelley's Invocation (which begins: "Rarely, rarely, comest thou,/Spirit of Delight!") as a motto.
Ummm... Eb? ;\)
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Jason

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