As a search for specific questions for this broad question (Changing key in a song convincingly), I am asking for "mainstream" classical music examples (pre-modern era and movie scores can be included!), preferably in form of youtube/vimeo/soundcloud/etc. links, of the following criteria:

  • at least two well defined sections in the piece
  • the two sections differ in key and rhythm/tempo (example: down-tempo E minor, double-tempo A minor)
  • there's a seamless transition between the two section or a build up that results in the feeling that you have "arrived" to section 2 (i.e. the change to section 2 does not seem ad-hoc, random, nor you have the feeling that section 2 is temporary and the piece will return to section 1)

When you answer the question, please provide the following as that will be the most helpful for everyone reading this question and answers:

  • the piece changes from which key to which key
  • a link to let us hear it
  • your opinion how does the composer achieves this "seamless" transition
  • 2
    Beethoven's 5th? (3rd & 4th movements). Frankly I'd be hard-pressed to find a non-seamless transition outside of, say, Led Zeppelin. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 15:28
  • 1
    Bach’s Musical Offering, Canon per tonos. Ends a tone higher than it begins. And loops.
    – Édouard
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 0:20

3 Answers 3


There are quite a number of such examples in the classical music literature. As Carl Witthoft points out, usually they occur in the context of movements being joined together (linked via an "attacca"). One particularly effective example occurs in the build-up to the finale of Sibelius's Second Symphony, where the third movement, Vivacissimo, is written in B flat, while the finale with which it is linked is in D. There are several linking sections, and the D major actually starts a few bars before the "arrival" occurs. You can hear the transition in this YouTube video starting around 6:00.

Another particularly well-known example occurs in the last of Beethoven's piano concertos, frequently called the "Emperor" concerto. The slow movement and finale are linked (see pages 121 and 122 of the score) in a rather effective transition—although there is a fermata just before the finale starts, to let you know that something "big" is about to happen.


The classical sonata form has both the mandatory key change and the sections. In the romantic era, the sections are very often also marked by a change in mood and/or tempo.

This form is virtually always used as basis for the first movement of symphonies, it is also popular for chamber ensemble pieces like string quartets.

The classical sonata starts with an initial theme, and after stating that, modulates, usually to the dominant key. Then a second, contrasting theme is introduced. This sequence of first theme / second theme is called the exposition. In many cases this is repeated once almost completely.

After the exposition section there is a development section. This may itself be divided in separate sections, which are often marked by a key and/or tempo change.

In many cases a clear reprise or recapitulation section may be identified that closes the movement.

Here's an example:

(Brahms, string quartet a minor, movement 1) You can clearly spot the sections since they have double barlines and labels (A, B etc)

Another, completely different type of form that also has a sectioned design as well as the mandatory key change is the fugue.

The fugue starts with a single theme in one voice. After the first statement of the theme, a second voice answers with a re-statement of the theme; almost always a fifth higher or a quarter lower. In many, many cases, the answer actually establishes a change of key. Typically the answer will be followed by one or two (sometimes more) entries, always alternating theme and answer until all voices have entered the piece, concluding the exposition section.

The rest of the fugue is a sequence of sections. Sections are either episodes, using mostly free counterpoint, or a sequence of some motive from the theme or developmental sections that restate the theme, often in a transformed form, or using some kind of canonic treatment of the theme (like stretto). Sections boundaries often coincide with a change of key or mood (although an explicit change of key is not generally denoted in the score - it is solved using accidentals)

A fugue will generally end with a reprisal section, restating the original theme in the original key.

Fugues will generally not write explicit key changes, and will typically not have explicit tempo changes. However, the character of the sections may suggest a different pace or mood.

Here's a fugue that has a section that suggests double time:

(Bach, WTC fugue 4) About half way, there's a section that has a line with a lot of eights suggesting double time; this really stands at as compared to the stern and grave theme that starts of the fugue.


I have finally found my answer from Alan Belkin:

The passage starts from 3:12. There Mr. Belkin details how to gradually change the key by sneaking and notes from the new modal key.

I have one more thing to add, that in his example 8, it helps a lot that the new key's notes are introduced in a new phrase, in a new "musical thought", if it makes sense, so the wandering from one key to the other does not sound surprising.

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