One [among many] of the interesting things about Szymanowski’s first string quartet is that the finale assigns a different key signature to each member of the ensemble. The example below shows the fugal opening of the movement; as you can see, the violins are in A and B, the viola in E-flat and the cello – with no sharps or flats – is in C: this multi key-centred technique is known as polytonality and Szymanowski applies it consistently throughout the movement .
The questions is: does it work? Do we hear the four keys as separate tonal centres?
Here’s the opening few bars, judge for yourselves…
plus those (useful!) hardy perennials:
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