The final bars (in short score) of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra; notice the key signature 5 sharps – B major. Now, while the top, treble clef, end of the orchestra is dutifully reiterating a few quiet chords in the home key (a respectable, if rather downmarket, way to end a piece), you’ll notice that, at the bass clef end of things, the cellos and basses are subverting the whole calm ending thing by insisting on a note (C-natural) that just simply doesn’t belong; and, to make matters worse, they get the final word.
Why? Well, in his reading of Nietzsche, Strauss sees conflict between the spirit/intellect of man and the forces of nature. He turns this struggle into music by giving each protagonist a key – C major for nature (think of the magnificent sunrise of the opening) and B major/minor for man; in scalic terms they’re right next to one another but in terms of harmony they clash horribly and are worlds apart.
And so, even at the end, the conflict remains unresolved. B may give way to C – Man may concede to Nature but we get the feeling that that’s certainly not the end of the story…
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