February 26th, 2013

Minor to major

[NOTE: It’s been a long time since I took any classes in music theory, and even back then I never learned very much of it. So I’m uncertain whether I’ve used the right musical terminology here when I compare major to minor. But I bet that, if I’ve gotten it wrong, some of you will be sure to set me straight.]

Someone I know recommended that I watch this video of a version of the song “Losing My Religion” set in a major instead of a minor key:

Major Scaled #2 : REM – “Recovering My Religion” from major scaled on Vimeo.

It’s interesting—although to me the original is much better (no surprise there). The song was written in that first key for a reason.

It made me think, though, of the last couple of minutes of the score of “Swan Lake.” In that lengthy, lovely, and well-known Tchaikovsky work, the musical theme (the leitmotif) that has been played intermittently throughout much of the action changes from minor to major in the last couple of minutes, after the lovers have committed suicide and as the evil magician is defeated by the force and power of their love. Different productions treat the scene differently, but usually, as the music changes key, the magician crumples (a bit like the Wicked Witch of the West at the end of “The Wizard of Oz,” only he doesn’t melt) and the lovers ascend to heaven as the sun rises.

They pulled out all the stops in those days, didn’t they? That’s a lot of images. No wonder the music has to change.

The changeover passage begins at about minute 2:56 in this video. I have to say that the evil magician character, who in virtually all productions seems to skirt the bounds of over-the-top and ludicrous, in this version ends up falling over that line and is actually an absurd and comic figure, which he definitely should not be. I have no idea why they decided to do it that way. But leaving that aside, the rest of the production is fairly decent, and I especially like the effect at the end with the lovers (their spirits, or whatever) united in the rising sun. The rising sun of course is a cliche, but “Swan Lake” is a cliche too, and if they do it well it transcends the cliche aspects.

Anyway, here it is; pay attention to the musical change at 2:56:

[ADDENDUM: As far as those technical musical aspects go, I did find this:

…B minor is the key of the swans’ enchantment. Some 60 bars later, when Odette and Siegfried throw themselves into the lake, the music breaks through to B major and Rothbart’s tower crumbles; that’s when the spell is broken, and that’s when Rothbart should die.

So, it’s B minor to B major. Aha.]

8 Responses to “Minor to major”

  1. vanderleun Says:

    “So, it’s B minor to B major.”

    And quite appropriate too when you realize that the underlying theme of it all is “B Mine.”

  2. Kurt Says:

    The reworking of “Losing My Religion” just sounds weird to me. The original is much better.

    Regarding “Swan Lake,” thanks for posting the clip. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the whole ballet, though I’ve seen clips of different bits over the years. What interested me about the clip now is that I recently saw a French film from 2010 called Of Gods and Men about French Trappist monks in Algeria in the 1990s when Islamic terrorists were becoming a threat to everyone in the country. One scene in the movie centered around the monks listening to a tape of this passage from “Swan Lake.” I recognized the music, but didn’t understand the context in the ballet, so the use of the music as an allusion in the film was lost on me until I saw the clip.

  3. Artfldgr Says:

    I have seen several performances of swan lake.
    the last being this:
    Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” (Fan Music Video)

    at one time i was dating a choreographer and she took me to some plays. things turned around, i got a job, we parted, but i took her and a friend of hers to see the above version on Broadway… it won a tony…

    tell you the truth… i liked STOMP better…

  4. Artfldgr Says:

    Stomp Live – Part 1 – Brooms

  5. Former Marine's Mom Says:

    I think it was Doughtry who sang I Walk the Line in a minor key on American Idol. It blew my mind. Interestingly, I find that many of my piano students prefer minor keys to major.

  6. Surellin Says:

    FWIW, here’s Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” in the original minor
    ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHSLUOPymZ4 ) and redone in a major key
    ( http://vimeo.com/24938649 ). It sounds rather happy and vapid to me in a major, but then I’ve heard the original a hundred times. I like the title, though – “Nothing Else Majeur”

  7. artfldgr Says:

    here is ANOTHER minor to MAJOR change

    Senate GOP ponders ceding power to President Obama

  8. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    I went looking for the REM minor-major switch on YouTube, and found this, which I’m guessing is the same one as the Vimeo version:

    The text below it explains the change, which I’ll assume will interest you:

    R.E.M.’s famous ballad “Losing My Religion” digitally reworked with a major scale. The original song is in A minor. So in the middle section, when it goes to a chord rooted in the 6th scale degree, it goes into an F major chord.

    This edited version places the song into A major so when the middle section goes to the respective chord on its 6th scale degree it makes an F# minor chord.

    OK, more investigation, for those of you interested in music variants (I always enjoyed the Beatles’ “Past Masters”, as well as the bootleg “Big Pig” Ultra Rare Trax, that have stuff that is variants and/or music otherwise not well known)

    There’s a group that is doing this.

    Here’s a version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in Major scale:

    The suggested sidebar at that one has a lot of other songs (“Beat It”, “Sweet Dreams”, “Final Countdown”, “Personal Jesus”, for example) in key mod.

    video version here: http://vimeo.com/59745736
    Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/majorversusminor
    More altered music: http://www.lastfm.ru/music/MajorVsMinor

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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