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The f-word in music

December 2nd, 2010 by Ralf Kircher

Today we are going to deal with a rather delicate subject: the correct use of the f-word concerning musical matters. During the recent past, we have been witnessing a truly inflationary public use of the f-word – there are pop songs, TV shows or books celebrating an intrinsic f-apotheosis! Consequently, we do not want to f-all behind the progress achieved on the f-ield of literalities, but contribute our share of f-wisdoms instead!

F1

F standing for: F Major

Please listen to a f-ew bars of music f-irst of all – the piece is so F-good (as you probably will realize immediately), that we actually have to use a capital F in order to do justice to its F-sublimity!

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That was a short excerpt of the f-inale of Beethoven‘s 6th symphony in F (aka “Pastoral”), really outstanding from all the other music composed in F Major key as well!

F2

F standing for: F Minor

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The minuscule f  might be considered as some kind of smaller brother of the capital F, however, the relationship between the f minor (btw, that was the opening of Tchaikosky‘s 4th symphony in f) and the F major key is not that close at all! (please notice that Major keys are labeled by upper case characters and minor keys by lower case characters)

Harmonically speaking, the more notes different keys have got in common the closer related they are – so, when playing an F major scale on a piano keyboard for example you have to push the exactly same keys like when playing a (natural) d minor scale, it is just the spot where you start from that makes the difference. And that, finally, makes F and d sharing their bed and board, our poor f has to stay outside – f-reaking, isn’t it?

 

psssst…there is no need to feel sorry for the allegedly lonely and abandoned  f – it has found its soul-mate in A flat

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F3

F standing for: Forte

“Musik wird oft nicht schön gefunden, weil sie stets mit Geräusch verbunden”, is a famous quote by the German 19th century poet and cartoonist Wilhelm Busch (“Music is often considered unpleasant, because it is always connected to noise”)…

When learning to read music one might be surprised to stumble upon a lot of letters as well, scattered over the pages of a musical score. Eventually, the student is told that the minuscule p stands for the Italian word “piano” (soft) and f stands for “forte” (loud). However, that is only half of the truth – “forte” translates first of all as “strong”! (This misconception leads to a very common misinterpretation later on, namely: ff standing for “f***ing forte [loud]”, fff for “f-reaking f***ing forte, and ffff for “f-orget everthing you think you know about f-reaking f***ing forte playing – I’m gonna blast your head off!”)

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Hahaha, now I got you, admit it! You were expecting your speakers to shudder from a hell of a noise! Surprise, surprise… Anyway, this was from the finale of Sibelius‘ 5th symphony – and in order not to leave anyone disappointed behind, here the last (fff-loud) bars of the very same symphony:

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F4

F standing for: Franz

There are myriads of f-composers, who definitely deserve being listed on a widely recognized site like this one! Sadly to say, by choosing a f-ew big names only I can’t help performing the unrewarding task of dropping so many of them …

F. Schubert (“Ungeduld” [Impatience] from the song cycle “Die schöne Müllerin“)

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F. Liszt (Les Preludes, symphonic poem)

“Was anderes ist unser Leben, als eine Reihenfolge von Präludien zu jenem unbekannten Gesang, dessen erste und feierliche Note der Tod anstimmt?” F. Liszt
(” What else is our life than a sequence of preludes of that unknown song which first and solemn sounds are intoned by Death?”)

F. Zappa (don’t try to be a smart aleck: of course, k can substitute z whenever needed! No one wants to fuzz around, right…?)

“At St. Alphonzo‘s pancake breakfast
Where I stole the margarine
And wheedled on the bingo cards
In lieu of the latrine.”

However, there are very rare exceptional cases of F’s deputizing for Felix…

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