FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Reading Problems: Playing In Strange Keys

There would be considerable advantages for our musicreading – especially for sightreading – if some pieces were simply notated without any keysignature. The harmonic complexity, and the frequency (and extremity) of the modulations of a lot of late-romantic and 20th century repertoire often mean that the notated keysignature can at times not only be irrelevant but can even be a serious obstruction to fluid reading. This (relatively common) situation occurs when the key in which the music sounds has very little relation to the key in which it is notated.

bad pitch notation Bruckner and Boheme

We could compile an entire encyclopedia of examples of this type of user-unfriendly notation, but we will make do with two pages of examples here.

In these situations, if the key signature were to be left “empty” (C major/A minor) it sould probably be to the player’s advantage. In this way, all required sharps or flats (“accidentals”) would need to be attached to (printed with) the notes that they affect, which would liberate us from the twin nuisances of:

  • having to remember the key signature
  • having to decipher complex tonal notations when a composer is writing music in a wildly different key to that of the key signature (click on the above link for many musical examples).

Of course, in music that stays in (or near to) its notated key, the keysignature can be a help, but it was usually mainly a help for the traditional music printer and copyist. By reducing the number of characters that needed to be placed in the score, it reduced their workload. Nowadays with all music typesetting being done on computers this factor is no longer relevant and more consideration could be given to the player’s ease in reading.

Here below on this page can be found links to substantial (long) repertoire passages in a selection of keys that have four or more sharps or flats in their keysignature. Passages that modulate wildly and wander far from the keysignature are not included.

FOUR FLATS:

Ab MAJOR:

F MINOR: Beethoven Quartet Op 96, Brahms Cello Sonata Nº 2 Movt III,

FOUR SHARPS

E MAJOR:

C# MINOR:

FIVE FLATS

Db MAJOR:

Bb MINOR: Brahms Sonata Nº 2 Movt IV

FIVE SHARPS

B MAJOR: Brahms Piano Trio Op 8 in B major

G# MINOR:

SIX FLATS

Gb MAJOR:

Eb MINOR:

SIX SHARPS

F# MAJOR: Brahms Cello Sonata Nº 2: Movt II (Adagio)

D# MINOR:

SEVEN FLATS

Cb MAJOR:

Ab MINOR:

SEVEN SHARPS