Friday, January 8, 2010

Clef Transposition - Decisions, Decisions

Last time I rambled on somewhat extensively about Clef Transposition (i.e., transposing a piece to a different key by changing the clef and leaving the notes where they are); however, I neglected to mention something. Whenever you change the clef you actually get a choice of new keys to pick from. Consider the two different choices Alan Raph made in his edition for Fantasias 3 and 9 (or, using Raph's numbering, Nos. 4 and 10, respectively). In #3 (A minor), he changes the clef from treble to tenor, adds two flats and goes from Am to Bm--a drop of one whole step. In #9 he also changes from treble to tenor clef, but this time, he adds a whopping 9 flats (or 3 sharps depending on which way you're spinning the circle of 5ths) to go from E major (4 sharps) to Db major (5 flats)--a drop of one and a half steps.

What happened? Shouldn't it be the same every time? Well, no. Raph gets to make a choice. For #9 he COULD have done the same thing he did in #3, i.e., add two flats and drop one whole step (in this case from E major to D major--4 sharps to 2). But he decides to flatten the D and go down an extra half step. The notes are all still in the same place but the key signature's different.

Okay. So why did he do it differently? Why did he add two flats to #3 and nine flats to #9, instead of doing it the same way both times? Well, I don't know why he did it, but here's why I would have done the same thing: In the previous post, I mentioned that I (and I'm guessing many brass players) find Db major with its five flats easier to play in than D major with its two sharps, because Db major is "closer" (on the circle of fifths) to Bb major (around which most of our horns are built). Db is simply an easier key to play. In #3, Raph COULD have picked Ab minor instead of A minor, but then instead of having no accidentals at all, he would have had an ungodly seven flats to deal with. Sure, brass players like flats, but not that much.

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