my guide

Speaking of bachs: In December 1933 the German composer Richard Strauss wrote a song titled Das Bächlein, (originally for voice and piano but the first recording that came up is for voice and orchestra), in which a wanderer asks a mountain stream where it came from and where it is going. It answers “I come from the womb of dark rocks. A merry childlike spirit drives me onward, I know not whither. He who called me forth from the rock, He, I think, shall be my guide.”

Strauss set the words for my guide rhapsodically. There can be no doubt that he realised the double meaning of mein führer (leader/guide). There is still debate about his interactions with the Nazi regime, even though he was cleared by a denazification tribunal in 1948. In the early days he might have seen it as the (or a) solution to the chaos of the previous 20 years, but after he reluctantly accepted the position of president of the Reichsmusikkammer he quickly lost whatever illusions he had and fell from favour, especially because of his professional relationship with author Stefan Zweig and personal relationship with his daughter-in-law and her family. The song wasn’t published until after his death. 

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C flat minor

C flat minor (10 flats) is certainly a rarely used key. 99.9999% of the time it is simpler to use B minor (2 sharps). Someone asked on a music forum whether G flat minor (9 flats) and C flat minor exist and are ever used. Someone else answered “They are certainly extremely rare in classical music. In fact, I would be very surprised if they have ever been used at all.” (I suspect G flat minor and C flat minor are extremely rare in folk, jazz, rock and international music as well.)

At least C flat minor has been. By me. Twice. At least in passing. The first is in a song in Eb minor (6 flats). The bass descends stepwise: E flat – D flat – C flat – B flat. This would usually be harmonised: E flat minor – D flat major – C flat major – B flat major. Except the text talks about deep silence on a moonlit night, so I wanted the music to be sparse and bleak, so I used E flat minor – D flat minor – C flat minor – B flat major. I might have used D sharp minor (6 sharps) (D sharp minor – C sharp minor – B minor – A sharp minor), but that is too ‘sharp’ for my internal musical ear, although those keys theoretically sound exactly the same. 

The second is in a song which starts in C sharp minor and modulates to E flat minor. Again, I might have used D sharp minor, but the rest of the song spends as much time in the corresponding major key, and I’m not going to use D sharp major (9 sharps). From E flat minor, I would otherwise have used a C flat major chord except I wanted a harmonic twist for a text about separation and loss. (I do set happy texts sometimes!)

Searching the internet, I found a reference to a piano sonata in C flat minor composed by the Argentinian composer José Torre Bertucci and played by the Argentinian pianist Alfredo Corral. Further searching revealed that it’s actually in C sharp minor (4 sharps), which sounds a lot more reasonable. I can’t imagine that anyone would write a whole sonata in C flat minor.