The Well-Tempered February - Commentary #9
Prelude in D Major, BWV 850
Just in time for Valentine's Day (it's the 14th of February as I write), we reach the red one. With D major and D minor, we finally leave the whites and grays of C# behind, and can actually enjoy some color therapy. And there is much to love about this short winning piece. First, the left hand has hardly anything to do, so can take the day off. Second, the right hand generally likes to show off, and here can sparkle merrily all the way to the diminished chord at measure 33, after which it takes off like a bat out of hell until it is quickly made to settle down.
D major is Bach's happiest key. There was some argument about this, back when my father was alive. He was sure that C major was the key to happiness, as it were, and wanted me to prove it for him, by collecting happy pieces in C major. One of his colleagues at work had a bet with him (17 cents - Dad never bet any more or less on anything) that D major was actually the key that composers turned to when expressing joy. "This will be easy," I thought, and sent him a copy of the C major Piano Sonata that everyone learns (Mozart K 545), the bit in Haydn's Creation where God says "Let There Be Light," and the Prelude in C.
Little did I know that my father's colleague was Christoph Wolff. Not only the leading Bach scholar of his generation, he was in fact right. He came back with Bach, of course, in the form of the "Et Resurrexit" from the B minor Mass:
He quickly followed that with the Hallelujah Chorus:
When he turned to "Zadok the Priest," we knew we were done:
"Zadok the Priest," for those who haven't misspent their lives supporting half-decent football teams, is the theme for the Champions League. It is also the piece that announced Queen Elizabeth II to the world at her coronation in 1953. The match, such as it was, was over. D major, then, is the key of rejoicing. C major may have its charms, and simplicity is certainly one of them, but D major is what you want when you have suffered and you are now healed. When you are crowned Queen. When you are resurrected. It is the royal key. Which is why the Fugue, coming up next, is colored crimson.
Prelude in D Major, BWV 850, measure 33
Bach, Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, "Et Resurrexit"
George Frideric Handel, Messiah, "Hallelujah" (1741)
George Frideric Handel, "Zadok the Priest," Coronation Anthem (1727)