Key signature transposition

17th Century chamber music in “modern” G Minor, but - as is frequently the case in those times - notated with only one flat in the key signature. I would like to retain this.

I need to make a transposing score as well (Kammerton/Chorton-issues) in “A Minor” (major 2nd up). This is easily done using the Clef and Transposition layout feature, but, not unexpectedly, this results in my new A Minor being notated with one sharp in the key signature.

Is there any way of making both scores “modern”? Can I get rid of the sharp in the key signature of the transposed score? (So far, changing one changes the other).

You can’t show a key signature in only one layout, I’m afraid, or have a key signature that is specific to a particular layout. I’m struggling to think of a way to do this that doesn’t involve duplicating the music into another instrument with the appropriate “normal” G minor key signature, which would then show the appropriate (no) key signature when transposed.

Dear Daniel, thanks for very swift answer.

I think I found a workaround for this - admittedly rare - situation. I did not want to break the link between the original and the transposed music, so just duplicating to new instruments and staves was not an option. But:

Adding instruments in B Flat not showing key signatures (f.ex.trumpets) gives me A Minor without a sharp, and entering the original (string) parts into these new staves as cue notes - scaled to 100 % and removing the surrounding rests - maintains the link.

It may be more fiddly than it is worth, but it seems to work.


That’s ingenious!

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lumortensen BWV 131?

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@k_b : No, not specifically BWV131 (“Aus der Tiefe”), but it could have been…

When (or if, these days) we perform 17th or 18th Century music with historical instruments, we often tune to the so-called Chorton-pitch - a common pitch for organs at the time - of approx. 465 Hz, a semitone above our modern 440 (the string instruments may use slightly thinner strings, but access to suitably tuned keyboard instruments is sometimes practically difficult). So we sometimes have to be “bitonal”, which means using keyboards tuned to Kammerton (a - 415 Hz, semitone below modern pitch), and transposing up. And the lutes are complaining, too…
So we need transposed scores, and luckily - thanks to the ingenious foresight built into the very concept of Dorico :yum: - this is not usually difficult to achieve. It was a slightly exotic situation which triggered my OP above.

However, your mention of BWV 131 reminded me that such simultaneous use of two different pitches was a constant feature of Bach’s own performances throughout his life. Based on two different principles:

In his early years (Mühlhausen, Arnstadt, Weimar) the strings and brass tuned to the (high) organ pitch, but the Kammerton-tuned woodwinds couldn’t, so they had to transpose. BWV 131 is in g minor, but the bassoon part in a minor, and that is the general tendency in Bach’s - and many others’ - output from that time.
And Bach even went one better in the early and wonderful BWV 150, where he wrote for a bassoon in Tief Kammerthon (ca. a - 390 Hz, minor third down from Chorton). So score and strings in b minor, bassoon in d minor!

Bach reversed this principle, when he became Thomaskantor in Leipzig in 1723, and adopted the local practice: All instruments were now in Kammerthon, and the organ transposed., which explains why all the organ parts in his Leipzig church music are a major second lower than the “home key”.

Example: BWV 140 “Wachet auf”, score in Eb, organ part in Db (!), which incidentally shows that at least some organ “continuo” registers, if not the whole instrument, must have been tuned in a circulating (non-mean-tone) temperament.

This also explains why Bach often raised the pitch of his earlier works, when he made repeat performances of them in Leipzig.
Example: BWV 199 “Mein Herze schwimmt in Blut”, Weimar version c minor, Leipzig version d minor. But the actual performing pitch remained constant! And he could still use his original Weimar oboe part…


This is quite an interesting topic. I heard BWV 150 in concert with a good and strong organ (and no violoncello). The bassoon played in d-minor but had some really low notes, resulting in an amazing sound warmth and width of the whole performance which can’t be replicated by instruments playing at the same pitch.
Another time I experienced a performance of Bach Christmas Oratorio in a church in Thuringia (Waltershausen), which had a newly restored organ by Trost. This big organ was used in the performance for the choruses and chorals. I have never heard such a thrilling concert experience, as a listener one was actually „blown away“ by the sound. This couldn’t be compared with „normal“ old music performances. As it happened, the big organ was playing at „chorton“ pitch (C-Major) just as in Bach’s own writing - the organist told me. The orchestra, playing at Kammerton, became part of this fantastic big organ sound. Flutes and Oboes sounded like as if parts of the organ had become human.
To put it in other words, in a performance like this, one stops questioning god.

@k_b I entirely agree with what you say, and I have similar experiences. Here in Copenhagen we are blessed in having a recently restored mid-18th century (Italian-type) organ available, tuned in Chorton, and performing with that definitely adds several dimensions to the sound, like you describe. But there are constraints: A hard-core meantone tuning - lovely when it fits, unusable when it doesn’t - and , in this case, the positioning in the church make it quite hard to set up an ensemble around it in a meaningful way.
In Real touring Life as well, factors like these mean that you are often confined to those woeful chest organs - positifs/negatives - without body or bass, which sadly have become the norm in the HIP-sphere. You just can’t haul a church-organ across Europe…
BWV 150: Is only transmitted in a later score copy, so we don’t know what Bach’s intentions were regarding continuo instrumentation (but with a proper organ, you don’t even need the cello!). And the special pitch arrangement described above actually allows Bach to make the bassoon blast out low A’s with a vengeance - a note which doesn’t actually exist on the instrument… And this is the only way that we can play and hear what Bach actually wrote!
Are we straying off forum-related topics? If so, I apologize.

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Interestingly enough and regarding the organ part of the Christmas Oratorio: this part has two less sharps, which makes a lot of the arias more pleasant to listen to.
An organist told me, that for the B-Minor mass he tunes the instrument as if it was at chorton and he would play in keys with less sharps.
And, yes you are right, we are stretching the off topic a little too much :wink:

Quite the opposite, that’s exactly why I love this forum.

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