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Why are there so few works in G major?


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Author Topic: Why are there so few works in G major?  (Read 341 times)
calyptorhynchus
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« on: February 17, 2014, 12:25:09 am »

A thing that has always puzzled me is that classical works tend to be in easy keys, and yet there are very few in G major. Ditto with Romantic works, why is this?
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dyn
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« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2014, 01:01:05 am »

I haven't noticed G major appearing any less frequently than other keys. IMSLP doesn't seem to have, either.

http://imslp.org/wiki/Category:G_major

Even in the Romantic era I can think of many more well-known works in G major than in, say, B major.
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Jolly Roger
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« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2014, 01:13:59 am »

and there is this list, fairly large IMHO..
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_symphonies_in_G_major
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calyptorhynchus
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« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2014, 09:32:20 pm »

Ok, thanks for the list of Symphonies in G major.

What it shows is that Haydn wrote proportionally more symphonies in G major than the other keys he used, however, apart from this it actually demonstrates what I said, there are very few symphonies (and other works) in G major: most of the people on this list are hardly household names, if you discount early works by Mozart, VW's London and Dvorak 8 there are hardly any*. Imagine this list set alongside lists of Symphonies in  C, F, D, Bflat, Eflat &c

My own feeling is that C major is so entrenched as the basic key and as G major is its dominant, composers have felt that a symphony in G major risked being heard as a sort of dominant C throughout and not a real key.

*For what it's worth G major is the gravitational centre of Robert Simpson's 8th, the neglected masterpiece amongst his other slightly less neglected masterpieces.
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Jolly Roger
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« Reply #4 on: February 20, 2014, 12:20:00 am »

Sorry, I meant G Major, not G minor on my previous post which I removed
Old and sloppy I am..this is interesting

here is the G major list again
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_symphonies_in_G_major

and one for G Minor:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_symphonies_in_G_minor

and one for C major
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_symphonies_in_C_major
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dyn
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« Reply #5 on: February 20, 2014, 09:13:44 am »

Ok, thanks for the list of Symphonies in G major.

What it shows is that Haydn wrote proportionally more symphonies in G major than the other keys he used, however, apart from this it actually demonstrates what I said, there are very few symphonies (and other works) in G major: most of the people on this list are hardly household names, if you discount early works by Mozart, VW's London and Dvorak 8 there are hardly any*.

Well you could say that about a lot of keys, e.g. B-flat major if you discount Haydn and some early works by Mozart you have only Beethoven's 4th, Schumann's Spring, Dvorak's 2nd and Bruckner's 5th, A major only Mendelssohn's Italian, Beethoven's 7th and Bruckner's 6th, E major hardly anything... etc. For that matter, how many notable symphonies in C major are there between Schubert 9 and Sibelius 7? (Or after Sibelius 7 for that matter)

Beethoven has more piano sonatas in G major than any other key (4; E-flat major and C minor both have 3, other keys 2), two violin sonatas in G major (tied with A major), plus a string quartet, a piano concerto, two piano trios, a string trio, and various minor works. Schubert's last string quartet is in G major as is the D894 piano sonata. Chaikovsky, who rarely used major keys at all, used G major for his 2nd piano concerto and two of his four orchestral suites. Dvorak's Op.106 string quartet in G major should also not be overlooked; it's one of his finest. Brahms used G major for a string sextet, a string quintet and a violin sonata, all of which are among his best-loved chamber works.

In the post-tonal era we have notable symphonies in G from George Dyson and Lou Harrison, Walton's 2nd, as well as four symphonies that start in G and end in a different key: Mahler's 4th (ends in E major), Harris's 3rd (ends in G minor), Hindemith's Mathis der Maler (ends in D-flat major) and Nielsen's 6th (ends in B-flat major). Rubbra's piano concerto is in G as is Bartók's 2nd piano concerto and Stravinsky's Capriccio for piano and orchestra. I could go on, but I think you're already bored.

Certainly some composers did rarely use G major. I can only think of one complete work by Shostakovich in that key for instance, and none of Myaskovsky's 27 symphonies are in the key. But I think it's more about composers gravitating towards particular keys—e.g. Beethoven and C minor, Chopin and C-sharp minor, Bruckner and D minor, Janacek and D-flat major, Messiaen and F-sharp major etc. I think it just so happens that no one famous had a particular affinity for G major.
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Jolly Roger
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« Reply #6 on: February 20, 2014, 10:51:46 am »

calyptorhynchus  - after looking at it more closely,I would certainly agree with you.
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JimL
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« Reply #7 on: March 15, 2014, 10:26:48 pm »

Ok, thanks for the list of Symphonies in G major.

What it shows is that Haydn wrote proportionally more symphonies in G major than the other keys he used, however, apart from this it actually demonstrates what I said, there are very few symphonies (and other works) in G major: most of the people on this list are hardly household names, if you discount early works by Mozart, VW's London and Dvorak 8 there are hardly any*.

For that matter, how many notable symphonies in C major are there between Schubert 9 and Sibelius 7? (Or after Sibelius 7 for that matter)
Sibelius' 3rd?
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