Many of us have things that please us in ways we cannot explain. For some of us, it is food, others, it is watching a really good movie. For me, it happens to be choral and classical songs that are written in the key of D minor.
A minor key is any key that has a sound that we now associate with being sad, angry, or scary. However true this may be in modern music, this concept of writing in minor keys to evoke and reflect pathos did not arrive in music until the later classical period (mid 18th century). In the Renaissance and Baroque periods, minor keys were simply a way of writing the music. In fact, many celebratory Renaissance dances were written in minor keys.
The first time I heard Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, I was in 7th grade (actually, that is a lie; I heard it done by strings in Disney's 1940 version of Fantasia as a kid, but was completely unaware of it). I went out with my mom to the CD store and got a recording of the song. I was absolutely captivated by its magnificence. When I got older and had a greater understanding of music, I decided to listen to it while at the piano, and try to plunk out parts of it. I then realized, it was in D minor. Now, one song I loved in D minor, no big deal. I liked plenty of other songs, though none of them had quite the same power to hypnotize me the way that piece did, until my sophomore year of high school.
The end of my freshman year in choir, we were invited to perform at the 2006 Youth Mozart Choral Festival in Salzburg and Vienna, Austria. In honor of this, our spring concert in 2006 was named Mostly Mozart which included, yes--you guess it--mostly Mozart! My choir director at the time, Ms. Laurie Dunston (who sadly moved to New Jersey the summer before my senior year to get her master's degree in music pedagogy), had picked a song for us to sing that will forever be my favorite choral piece I have ever sung. It was Lacrimosa from Mozart's Requiem in again, you guessed it--D minor. It is stunningly beautiful and simply gorgeous.
About a year ago, I became increasingly interested in early sacred music, listening to the simplistic yet mesmerizing harmonics. I came across a Miserere that is approximately 12 minutes in performance length. For the longest time, I had no idea who wrote this piece. It is written for double choir (considering its length, its a wise arrangement!), and is performed a capella (without accompaniment). For the longest time, until about a week ago, I had no idea who wrote this. I just referred to it as "the 12 minute Miserere" (pitiful, I know....). It was written by Gregorio Allegri. It was banned from being performed when first written because the intervals in the harmonics were considered "daiblus en musica" (Devil's music). When Mozart was 14, he heard it performed, and dictated the entire song perfectly, note for note, further indicating his sheer genius. Anyway, last night, I decided to try and find a manuscript online of the score. Thank the lord for the Choral Public Domain Library online. I immediately found the score and downloaded it. Low and behold--Allegri's Miserere is written in D minor.
I really don't know what it is about the key of D minor that pleases me so much. It literally releases happy chemicals in my brain. I am absolutely mesmerized and hypnotized by music written in D minor. The really strange thing is that I didn't realize these pieces were written in D minor until after I had established that I absolutely loved them. I knew I liked D minor after learning about Toccata and Fugue and Lacrimosa, but learning that Miserere was also in that key was just kind of eerie.
So there you have it. A lesson in D minor, music history, and my extreme musical nerdiness.