D-flat major

D major
Relative key B minor
Parallel key D minor
enharmonic: C minor
Dominant key A major
Subdominant G major
enharmonic: F major
Component pitches
D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D
See also: C-sharp major and D major

D-flat major is a major scale based on D-flat, consisting of the pitches D, E, F, G, A, B and C. Its key signature has five flats.

Its relative minor is B♭ minor. Its parallel minor, D♭ minor, is usually replaced by C♯ minor, since D♭ minor features a B in its key signature and C♯ minor only has four sharps, making it rare for D♭ minor to be used. C♯ major, with seven sharps, has a similar problem. Therefore, D♭ major is often used as the parallel major for C♯ minor. For example, in his Prelude No. 15 in D-flat major ("Raindrop"), Frédéric Chopin switches from D-flat major to C-sharp minor for the middle section in the parallel minor, while in his Fantaisie-Impromptu, primarily in C-sharp minor, he switches to D-flat major for the middle section for the opposite reason. Ferdinand Ries' third concerto likewise switches to D-flat major for a while for the return of the second theme in the first movement. Claude Debussy also switches from D-flat major to C-sharp minor in the significant section in his famous Clair de lune. Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony likewise switches to C-sharp minor for a while for the significant section in the slow movement.

Ascending and descending D-flat major scale.  Play in just intonation 

D major is enharmonic to C major. In music for the harp, D-flat major would be preferable, not only because harp strings are more resonant in the flat position and the key has fewer accidentals, but also because modulation to the dominant key is easier (by putting the G pedal in the natural position, whereas there is no double-sharp position in which to put the F pedal for G-sharp major).

Compositions in D-flat major

Hector Berlioz called this key "majestic" in his 1856 Grand Traité d'Instrumentation et d'Orchestration modernes, while having a much different opinion of its enharmonic counterpart. Despite this, when he came to orchestrate Carl Maria von Weber's piano piece Invitation to the Dance in 1841, he transposed it from D-flat to D major, to give the strings a more manageable key and to produce a brighter sound.[1]

Charles-Marie Widor considered D-flat major to be the best key for flute music.[2]

Although this key was relatively unexplored during the Baroque and Classical periods, Franz Schubert used it quite frequently in his sets of écossaises, valses and so on, as well as entering it and even flatter keys in his sonatas, impromptus and the like. Ludwig van Beethoven, too, used this key extensively in his second piano concerto. D-flat major was used as the key for the slow movements of Joseph Haydn's Piano Sonata Hob XI:46 in A-flat major, and Beethoven's Apassionata sonata.

The flattened pitches of D-flat major correspond to the black keys of the piano, and there is much significant piano music written in this key. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 is written in B-flat minor, but the famous opening theme is in D-flat major. Sergei Rachmaninoff composed the famous 18th variation of his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in this key, perhaps emphasizing the generally held view that D-flat major is the most romantically flavoured of the major keys; and his friend Nikolai Medtner similarly chose it for the sensually romantic "big tune" in the last movement of his "Ballade" Piano Concerto No. 3. Claude Debussy also composed the famous Clair de lune in this key, with a significant section in C-sharp minor. Edvard Grieg composed the second movement of his Piano Concerto in D-flat. Frédéric Chopin's Nocturne in D-flat, Op. 27, is in this key. Franz Liszt composed heavily in this key, with his most recognizable piece being the third movement of his piano composition S. 144 Trois études de concert, dubbed "Un sospiro". Liszt took advantage of the piano's configuration of the key and used it to create an arpeggiating melody using alternating hands.

In orchestral music the examples are fewer. Gustav Mahler concluded his last completed Ninth Symphony with an adagio in D-flat major, rather than the home key of D major of the first movement. Anton Bruckner wrote the third movement of his Symphony No. 8 in D-flat major, while every other movement is in C minor. Antonín Dvořák wrote the second movement of his Symphony No. 9 in D-flat major, while every other movement is in E minor. The first piano concerto of Sergei Prokofiev is also written in D-flat major, with a short slow movement in G-sharp minor. Choral writing explores D-flat infrequently, a notable example being Robert Schumann's Requiem, Op. 148, and Gabriel Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine.[3] Vincent d'Indy's String Quartet No. 3, Op.96, is in D flat.[4]

The aria "Donde lieta usci" from Puccini's "La Boheme" is in the key of D flat major.


  1. The Hector Berlioz Website
  2. Charles-Marie Widor, Manual of Practical Instrumentation translated by Edward Suddard, Revised Edition. London: Joseph Williams, Ltd. (1946) Reprinted Mineola, New York: Dover (2005): 11. "No key suits it [the flute] better than D [major]."
  3. Cantique de Jean Racine: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  4. d'Indy, Vincent (1928–1929). "String Quartet No. 3, Op.96". Marco Polo. Archived from the original on 2015-12-22. Retrieved 2015-12-22. Recorded 1995 by the New Budapest String Quartet Ensemble.
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