Five and a little bit over

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance revolves around the fact that Frederick the pirate apprentice is indentured to serve till his ‘one and twentieth’ birthday. Unfortunately, he was born on leap day, which means “That birthday will not be reached by you till nineteen-forty” and he is only “five and a little bit over”. (Actually, the text only says that he was born in “leap year”, but it’s clear that he was born on leap day.)

There has been some discussion as to whether Gilbert didn’t know, forgot or didn’t care that 1900 was not going to be a leap year, in which case the story takes place in 1877, or he knew and cared, in which case it’s 1873. The musical premiered in 1879, but the Major-General boasts about being able to “whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense, Pinafore“, referring to G&S’s previous musical HMS Pinafore. That premiered in 1878, Gilbert started writing the text in late 1877 and Sullivan wrote the music in early 1878, which makes it very unlikely that someone would know “all the airs” in 1877, but absolutely impossible in 1873. (Issac Asimov wrote a short story to this effect.)

The other problem with time in this musical is that the Major-General’s daughter’s plan to take off their shoes and stockings and paddle in the ocean … on 1 March … in Cornwall.


Utter coincidence (I think)

Today I discovered a fact which is either deep and meaningful or utter coincidence. If you put January on F on a piano keyboard, February on F sharp and so on until December on E, the months on the white notes all have 31 days and the months on the black notes all don’t.

I think this is utter coincidence. The days in the months developed a long time before musical keyboards (or maybe not – the ancient Greeks had an instrument called a hydraulos, which was then used by the Romans, but I can’t find how the notes were operated), and each developed in different ways for different reasons. Also, this only works if you start on F, and there’s nothing particularly special about F.

I’d better credit the source. A Youtuber named Scott Murphy has a video on How to Imitate a Whole Lot of Hollywood Film Music in Four Easy Steps, and a follow-up on How to Imitate Even More Closely a Whole Lot of Hollywood Film Music with One More Easy Step. In the second video, in order to explain musical inversion, he bends the keyboard into a circle and explains that counting forward eleven months from October gives the same result as counting back one.

No-one else on the internet seems to know about this. A search for ‘piano keyboard months of the year’ gave no relevant results.