Thursday, December 27, 2012

Musical key and mood

Key determines mood? Really?!

It is often argued that with the advent of equal temperament all differences between musical keys disappeared, i.e. C major doesn't sound fundamentally different from Eb major. Yet composers still attribute certain moods to certain musical keys. In part this is probably determined by tradition, and in part it may be influenced by the mechanics of playing an instrument: playing a piece in C major on a piano (using only white keys) is quite a different experience from playing that same piece in C# major (using many black and some white keys) because of the differences between physical location of black and white keys on a piano. Also, bowed instruments will often play an F# differently than a Gb, despite both being the same note on a piano.

So what are these traditional moods associated to certain keys?

This list is based on a list made up by Christian Schubart in his book Ideen Zu Einer Ästhetik Der Tonkunst...
KeyModeMood
Cmajorcompletely pure key; speaks of innocence, simplicity, naivety, child's talk
Dbmajorkey to bring out unusual feelings; can smile but not laugh; can grimace but not cry
Dmajorkey of triumph, hallelujah, war-cries and victory-rejoicing
Ebmajorkey of love, devotion, intimate conversation with God
Emajornoisy shouts of love, laughing pleasure and not-yet-complete full delight
Fmajorkey of complaisance and calmness
Gbmajorkey of triumph over difficulty, sigh of relief after difficulaties have been overcome
Gmajorkey that is rustic, idyllic and lyrical, calm and satisfied passion, any gentle and peaceful emotion of the heart
Abmajorkey of the grave, death, putrefaction, judgement, eternity
Amajordeclaration of innocent love, satisfaction with one's state of affairs, hope of seeing one's beloved one again when departing, youthful cheerness and trust in God
Bbmajorcheerful love, clear conscience, hope, aspiration for a better world
Bmajorstrongly colored, announcing wild passions, anger, rage, jealousy, fury, despair and every emotion of the heart
Cminordeclaration of love with lament of unhappy love, sighing of the lovesick soul
C#minorpenitential lamentation, intimate conversation with God, sighs of disappointed friendship and love
Dminormelancholy, womanliness
Ebminorfeelings of anxiety, the soul's deepest distress, brooding despair, blackest depression, most gloomy condition of the soul
Eminornaive declaration of love, lament without grumbling, sighs accompanied by a few tears, desires to resolve into the pure happiness of C major
Fminordeep depression, funeral lament, groans of misery and longing for the grave
F#minora gloomy key, resentment and discontent, it languishes for the calm of A major or happiness of D major
Gminordiscontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme, bad-tempered gnashing of teeth, dislike
G#minorgrumbling, struggling with difficulty, heart squeezed until it suffocates
Aminorpious womanliness, tenderness of character
Bbminormocking God and the world, discontented with itself and everything, preparation of suicide
Bminorkey of patience, calm awaiting one's fate, submission to divine dispensation, mild lament without breaking out into offensive murmuring or whimpering,

10 comments:

  1. This helped me so much for a project I'm doing for school! Is there a key that can be identified for giving a feeling of being scared? Overall this helped so much!

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    1. Just using a scale won't be enough. Composers use other techniques to create a feeling of being scared (e.g. in the famous shower scene in the movie "Psycho" the composer uses high piercing notes). Search youtube for stuff like: "threnody to the victims of hiroshima by krzysztof penderecki" and "requiem ligeti" for some other examples.

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  2. What feeling does C#major give? I can't seem to find info on it anywhere.

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    Replies
    1. C# major = Db major, which is listed here

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    2. Technically speaking that is true only for certain tuning systems (like the most popular one nowadays: equal temperament). Other tuning systems exist in which C# is not the same note as Db. In such tuning systems, however, perhaps none of the moods associated to the different keys still make sense.

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  3. What feeling would C# major give? I can't seem to find any info on it.

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  4. C# major and Db major are enharmonic equivalents, so the emotions of C# major are the same as that of Db major.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Technically speaking that is true only for certain tuning systems (like the most popular one nowadays: equal temperament). Other tuning systems exist in which C# is not the same note as Db. In such tuning systems, however, perhaps none of the moods associated to the different keys still make sense.

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    2. ehhehehehe how Ab major can be the key of putrefaction is beyond me. Eternity, maybe, but the grave come on. It cannot be ascribed to a major key albeit with 4 flats...but f minor on the other hand is my favourite key alongside c minor and Bb major. It is the most haunting key ever!

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