Apart from it being a rather useful (trite but it works?) internal rhyme, Cole Porter wasn’t exactly wrong about the deep emotional effect of the juxtaposition of majors and minors; it’s just that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Have a listen…
The simple act of flattening one note in a chord, like so…
…can conjure a whole world of familiar strangeness. Sometimes it’s dramatic, like the Mahler and Strauss above; other times – and in the hands of a fully paid up genius – it can illuminate, inform and enrich the emotional kaleidoscope of our everyday lives: take this, for example
Schubert: Serenade – Ian Bostridge, Anthony Pappano
Notice how the first two phrases (bracketed) start with g and G and how, when the voice re-enters, the mode moves magically from D to d.
Schubert is a (maybe the) master of this subtle modal chiaroscuro, catching precisely for us the emotional world of the lovelorn serenader with its rapid alterations of uncertainty and hope.
And suddenly we belong!
* Upper case chord symbols = major (i.e. G = G major) lower case symbols = minor (g = g minor)
For those of you interested in following the tonal drama in Schubert’s (or most other people’s, for that matter) work, here’s that downloadable/printable table of the cycle of fifths that’s often featured on these pages:
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