Music in A-flat minor

A few weeks ago, I asked: what music is there in the remote key of A-flat minor? One piece I discovered was the Fugue in A-flat minor, WoO 8, by Johannes Brahms, on YouTube.

The 7-flat key signature is hardly the weirdest thing about this piece. The time signature is the common time symbol twice. For lack of a better name, I’m calling that “double common time.” It looks like the time signature for common time, but the “C” appears twice.

At least two arrangers have arranged this piece, and both of them have chosen to transpose to A minor and change the time signature to 8/4 or to “single” common time. In A minor, the B-double-flats in the fugue subject become the more manageable B-flats.

I’ve decided to do an orchestration, and I don’t think I’ll use the original time signature either. However, I think I’ll use B-flat minor with a B-flat major key signature.

Aside from that fugue, my search for pieces in A-flat minor is coming up quite dry. I thought I would have to expand this to include G-sharp minor. Wait…

Isn’t the organ solo from Leoš Janáček’s Mša Glagolskaja supposed to be in A-flat minor? Well, the score (at least in the edition that I looked at) has it notated without a key signature and a lot of incidental sharps at the beginning. The piece does quite clearly end dominant to tonic in A-flat minor, but that’s more apparent to the ear than to the eye (because the dominant chord omits the E-flat, and some of the other notes are spelled more for ease of sight-reading than ease of analysis).

Hmm, two pieces in A-flat minor, both of them for organ solo. This suggests the key is completely unsuitable for ensemble music, for reasons I will delve into on another occasion.

Back in 2006, I made a New Year’s resolution to write a new fugue every day. It didn’t have to be perfect, but even without an expectation of high quality, it proved to be too much for me to do in addition to being a full-time college student.

I think it was by April of that year that I had written one fugue each in each major key with sharps. A couple of them had turned out pretty good, I think. I particularly liked the one I wrote in C-sharp major, and I orchestrated it.

For the orchestra, I figured D major would be a more sympathetic key for the musicians than C-sharp major. I will delve into the reason for that another time. But even so, I knew I would have a frustratingly difficult time finding an orchestra to even just read the damn thing through.

A wind band, though, I might just be able to pull that off. For the university wind band, I figured E-flat major would be a good key. But this guy in the band told me that it would work in D-flat major. I wish I had stuck to my initial choice of E-flat major.

The band read through it in common time instead of cut time and still had a hard time with it. A couple of weeks later they gave me another reading, still not in cut time, but much better. Another member of the band told me the piece was difficult. I believe that in E-flat major her assessment would have been quite the opposite.

Something like four years ago I decided to continue the fugue project, this time focusing on the fugues in minor keys with flats. I wrote a fugue in A-flat minor, and I liked it very much. I was completely unaware of the Brahms fugue as I wrote mine.

Next I wrote a passacaglia in A-flat minor to precede the fugue. And then I decided to arrange that passacaglia and fugue as a Concerto in A-flat minor for Celesta and Orchestra. I wrote that whole thing with an A-flat major key signature. Even so, I’ve been advised I should transpose the piece to just about any other key.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, this music will only be played in a computer-driven performance, though there is the upside that the computer won’t complain about the key.

It’s on my album Video Game Vivaldi. The album’s available on Amazon and Spotify, but the easiest way to hear my Celesta Concerto is through YouTube. Here’s the passacaglia on YouTube.

And here’s the fugue on YouTube.

Hope you enjoy it.

Is that it? Two organ solo pieces and one of my own compositions? Someone pointed me to the page <>, which has a longer list that I expected. But not too much longer. Albéniz, Bax, Beethoven and Janáček are among the more famous composers on the list.

I’ll have to research Julie Baroni-Cavalcabó, Alexis de Castillon and Sophie Auguste de Weyrauch. I hope to post more about them and their music soon.

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