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Looking at the following piece, the information says that the key is G minor. However. the score in the "original key" has a key signature of D minor. Moreover, the score transposed to A minor has a key signature of E minor.

I am aware that:

  1. The music is not strictly in a minor key, but rather in a mode, although I don't see why this would have any effect.
  2. There are accidentals next to the notes that make the music effectively be in the listed key (so for G minor, the E's are notated with a flat to make it sound G minor, although with a signature of D minor).

I'm not sure if this is bad editing and if when I arrange the piece I can/should use the listed key as the key signature. Or maybe it's some convention that I've yet to see in this type of music.

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  • With Eb and F# featured, and the first two notes making most of the root harmony, yes, it looks like it is in G minor. Possibly, someone thought it was G Dorian, which could be represented by 1 flat (for F), but then it was too late... – Tim Dec 8 '16 at 17:07
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    Realise that publishers sometimes do exactly what they want regardless of how much head scratching it leads to – Neil Meyer Dec 8 '16 at 17:20
  • I have made an edit to improve the formatting of this question. Please feel free to rollback the changes if you so wish. – Neil Meyer Dec 8 '16 at 17:26
  • @NeilMeyer I realize that, I'm looking for the reason they did what they wanted to do. – user1803551 Dec 8 '16 at 17:34
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    @NeilMeyer "...publishers sometimes do exactly what they want regardless of how much head scratching it leads to..." Quite the opposite: in all the examples in this thread, the publishers printed what the composer actually wrote. If you want to replace the entire history of music notation with what is currently fashionable among the "musical notation style police", you are welcome to your opinion - but don't try to force it on the rest of the world! – user19146 Dec 8 '16 at 21:34
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You see this occasionally in Bach as well! Check out this piece in D minor:

enter image description here

The short answer is that, as musical practice was settling towards tonality, some composers were still using key signatures that, by today's standards, are missing a flat. These key signatures typically arose because the composer was using a transposition of a church mode.

In effect it looks like the pieces are being written in Dorian if you go by the key signature and ignore the later accidentals. (In fact, the Bach piece above is sometimes given the nickname "Dorian"!) But since the accidentals are there, it's just a piece in minor.

  • Also that F sharp resolves like the leading tone of a minor key should. If we were under some sort of mode it would probably not have that resolution. – Neil Meyer Dec 8 '16 at 17:31
  • Yes, but notice that that F# is at a cadence point on "Gottes"; but in m. 3 it's F-natural! – Richard Dec 8 '16 at 17:32
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    This practice with "minor" key signatures survived at least up to some of Haydn's early works. In fact, in some of Haydn's first uses of a "modern" minor key signature, he also wrote "unnecessary" accidentals in the score as if an old-style key signature was still being used! Being a practical working performer and conductor as well as a composer, he was probably well aware of what his contemporaries were used to reading, and the sort of mistakes they would make when playing from the unfamiliar "modern" minor key notation. – user19146 Dec 8 '16 at 21:42
  • Thanks. What would be the longs answer? I would assume that if the piece isn't in Dorian then it wouldn't be missing flat, but other "discrepancies" would occur according to the mode. How are the written key signatures chosen for a piece in this case? – user1803551 Dec 9 '16 at 14:28
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The key signature takes the form it does because the Dorian and minor modes were considered very nearly synonymous by many, possibly most, Baroque theorists (including Rameau). Dorian mode was seriously considered to be the precursor to the minor mode. There were a couple of reasons for this:

  • the standard mutable tones for the Dorian mode were 6 and ♭7 (e.g., B and C in D Dorian), the former frequently being flatted (particularly, in imitative counterpoint, in tonal responses that turn toward the subdominant region, as happens in the Schütz example), and the latter being raised (particularly in cadences).
  • The Dorian mode, like the major mode, requires only that the 4th degree be raised to accomplish a perfect cadence to the dominant. Contrast that with the Aeolian mode, where both 4 and 6 must be raised to cadence to the dominant.

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