To Be and Not To Be
January 30, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Looking for examples of 'happy' and 'sad' renditions of a work within the western classical repertoire.

In many Bollywood movies, and probably Hollywood musicals too, there's a phenomenon where the signature song of a movie is first shown in a "major key" during happy times (exposition, err... first act) and then a melancholic version rendered during a sad or nostalgic scene later on. Also common with leitmotives in TV/movies. Are there examples of this from within the instrumental works of the western classical canon? Note: I'm not referring to themes in transition during development, or a movement of theme & variations, but longer complete movements or sections (of, say, operas) rendered differently.
posted by Gyan to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Les Miserables has some of that, I believe.
posted by salvia at 12:46 PM on January 30, 2009

One of the movements in Mahler's 1st Symphony is based on the famous children's song Frere Jacques, but he turns it into a spooky funeral march in a minor key.

Does that count even though the happy version isn't in the symphony? I can't tell if you're only looking for 2 different versions within the same work.
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:20 PM on January 30, 2009

I can think of two examples in musical theatre that sort of do this, although not exactly in the way you described.

In Les Miz, the opening song, "At The End of the Day" begins minor and has a key change to major about halfway through ("At the end of the day, there's another day dawning"). It switches keys a couple of times during the song like that, with the minor sections having an ominous tone and the major parts a feeling of escalation, soaring, and hope (although it's cruel hope in the factory scene).

Showboat uses an inversion of the deep main emotional theme to create contrast with the light, shallow theme. The "happy" theme begins with "Captain Andy, Captain Andy" and the "sad" theme, which I'd say is the main theme of the musical, begins with the exact same notes, but in the opposite order, and much slower- "Old Man River, that Old Man River" (gorgeous performance at that link, by the way).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:44 PM on January 30, 2009

How about some Christmas carols?
posted by rhizome at 1:49 PM on January 30, 2009

How about the happy and sad versions of "American, Fuck Yeah!" from Team America: World Police?
posted by saladin at 2:03 PM on January 30, 2009

Damn, I missed the "instrumental" requirement, sorry.
posted by saladin at 2:06 PM on January 30, 2009

Not to snark, but musicals don't count as part of the western classical cannon. That having been said, all I have at the moment is Mahler 1. Well, I have another example but I'm not sure it's what you're looking for. Anyway, here goes: (k)ein Sommernachtstraum by Alfred Schnittke. The piece takes a very simple major melody and gradually twists it. It's a lot of fun...
posted by ob at 2:26 PM on January 30, 2009

Well, most variation works of the Classical and Romantic periods contain both major and minor variations. If you're looking at Mozart, early Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann or Brahms (for example), you'll also have a chance to recognize the original tune most of the time. This is less easy with, say, Reger.
Otherwise, compare the beginning and the end of Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony (minor-major).

Related is major-minor within a single theme. Like the world famous Zarathustra beginning (Richard Strauss) or the beginning of Brahms's third symphony. Can't think of more. Its really all over the place in this repertoire.
A third trick, which you find for example in Liszt's piano sonata, is a gradual metamorphosis of themes throughout a work (which may - or may not - involve minor-major tricks).
posted by Namlit at 3:20 PM on January 30, 2009

Ah, didn't see the 'no variations' bit. My Tchaikovsky example, then.
posted by Namlit at 3:24 PM on January 30, 2009

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