Music and Its Feelings and Colors
Many theoretical works of the eighteenth century explicitly assign certain affectations or emotional characteristics to different keys. Though these writings often contradict each other as to what these characteristics actually are, it is well known that many composers carefully chose keys for similar affectations throughout their lives. To the genius of Mattheson, for example, D major was “somewhat shrill and stubborn,” while to Rousseau it was suited to “gaiety or brilliance.”
Today many musicians claim to hear the different characteristics very clearly, and associate them with the emotional quality of the music. They will tell us that music played in the “open” key of C major—-with neither flats nor sharps in the key signature—-sounds strong and virile; played in the key of G, with one sharp, it sounds brighter and lighter; in D, with two sharps, even more so; and so on. Every additional sharp in the key signature is supposed to add to the brightness and sparkle of the music, while every flat contributes softness, pensiveness, and even melancholy.