Directional Tonality

Most tonal pieces start in the “home key” — the “tonic,” as musicians call it — and return to it in the end. But occasionally we find a piece that seems to start in one key and then ends on a different tonic. Theorists call it “directional tonality” or “progressive tonality” (wikipedia).

A good example is Chopin’s Ballade No. 2, the so-called “F Major Ballade,” which seems to start in F Major, but ultimately, after some back-and-forth, ends in A Minor. If a thing is defined by its destiny, this piece should properly be called the “A Minor Ballade.”  This performance is from a recital I presented in Atlanta in 1988.





My Poem No. 1 seems to start in E-flat Major but ends in the relative minor, C Minor. The introductory four bars project E-flat major quite clearly, and the pleasant, graceful melody seems to open in that major key. But it eventually (bars 22-23) cadences in an unambiguous and melancholy C minor — only to transition immediately back to E-flat major for the reprise at bar 25 (Poco più animato).

FeaturedImageThe same tonal motion is replicated in the piece as a whole, which moves from E-flat major to a C minor ending with tragic overtones.




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