C major (or the key of C) is a major scale based on C, with the pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. C major is one of the most common key signatures used in western music. Its key signature has no flats and no sharps. Its relative minor is A minor and its parallel minor is C minor. The C major scale is:
On the piano, the C major scale can be played by playing the white keys starting on C.
Compositions in C major
Twenty of Joseph Haydn's 104 symphonies are in C major, making it his second most-used key, second only to D major. Of the 134 symphonies mistakenly attributed to Haydn that H. C. Robbins Landon lists in his catalog, 33 are in C major, more than any other key. Before the invention of the valves, Haydn did not write trumpet and timpani parts in his symphonies, except those in C major. Landon writes that it wasn't "until 1774 that Haydn uses trumpets and timpani in a key other than C major... and then only sparingly." Most of Haydn's symphonies in C major are labelled "festive" and are of a primarily celebratory mood. (See also List of symphonies in C major).
Many Masses and settings of Te Deum in the Classical era were in C major. Mozart wrote most of his Masses in C major and so did Haydn.
Of Franz Schubert's two symphonies in the key, the first is nicknamed the "Little C major" and the second the "Great C major".
Many musicians have pointed out that every musical key conjures up specific feelings. This idea is further explored in a radio program called The Signature Series. American popular songwriter Bob Dylan claimed the key of C major to "be the key of strength, but also the key of regret." French composers such as Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Rameau generally thought of C major as a key for happy music, but Hector Berlioz in 1856 described it as "serious but deaf and dull."Ralph Vaughan Williams was impressed by Sibelius's Symphony No. 7 in C major and remarked that only Sibelius could make the key sound fresh. However, C major was a key of great importance in Sibelius's previous symphonies.Claude Debussy, noted for composing music that avoided a particular key center, once said, "I do not believe in the supremacy of the C major scale."
A notable modern use of the key is Terry Riley's In C.
Well-known compositions in C major
- Josquin des Prez
- Johann Sebastian Bach
- Joseph Haydn
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
- 12 Variations in C major on the French song "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman", KV 265
- Concerto for flute and harp, KV 299/297c
- Piano Concerto No. 21, KV 467
- Piano Concerto No. 25, KV 503
- Piano Sonata No. 1, KV 279
- Piano Sonata No. 7, KV 309
- Piano Sonata No. 10, KV 330
- Piano Sonata No. 16, KV 545
- String Quartet No. 19, KV 465 ("Dissonance")
- Symphony No. 16, KV 128
- Symphony No. 22, KV 162
- Symphony No. 28, KV 200
- Symphony No. 34, KV 338
- Symphony No. 36, KV 425 ("Linz")
- Symphony No. 41, KV 551 ("Jupiter")
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Franz Schubert
- Felix Mendelssohn
- Frédéric Chopin
- Robert Schumann
- Georges Bizet
- Jean Sibelius
- Maurice Ravel
- Igor Stravinsky
- Sergei Prokofiev
- Dmitri Shostakovich
- Terry Riley
- ^ H. C. Robbins Landon, The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn. London: Universal Edition & Rockliff (1955): 227. "In the course of composing his first symphonies, the tonality of C major became indelibly impressed on Haydn's mind as the key of pomp, the key of C alto horns, trumpets and timpani, the vehicle for composing brillian and festive music, although at least during this period [the 1760s] he did not always reserve the tonality of C major for this particular kind of symphony: Nos. 2, 7 and 9, and possibly Nos. 25 and 30 ... are C major symphonies without the psychological manifestations inherent in most of the later works in this key. For the rest, however, the C major path is astonishingly clear; it can be traced from its inception, in Nos. 20, 32 and 37, through No. 33 and the more mature Nos. 38 and 41 to its synthesis in the Maria Theresia (No. 48) and No. 56. It continues with No. 50 and proceeds through Nos. 60, 63, 69, 82 and 90, reaching its final culmination in No. 97."
- ^ James Webster & Georg Feder, The New Grove Haydn. New York: Macmillan (2002): 55. "The Missa in tempora belli ... in C features the bright, trumpet-dominated sound typical of masses in this key."
- ^ Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews. ed. Jonathan Cott. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2017. p. 237. ISBN 1501173197. OCLC 975135582.
- ^ Philip Coad, "Sibelius" in A Guide to the Symphony edited by Robert Layton. Oxford University Press. Sibelius's Seventh "is in C major, and a look back at the previous four symphonies [by Sibelius] will reveal how great the domination of C major has been [in his music]. It is the key of the Third, the relative major of the Fourth and the important 'neutral agent' in its Finale, the key which first forces away the tonic in the Fifth's Finale, and the principal opposition - the key of the brass - in the Sixth. Although it is now the tonic key, C major is also strongly associated with brass in the Seventh Symphony."
- David Fanning, "Shostakovich: 'The Present-Day Master of the C Major Key'". Acta Musicologica. 73 (2): 101-140. 2001. doi:10.2307/932894. JSTOR 932894.
- David Wyn Jones, "The Beginning of the Symphony", chapter in A Guide to the Symphony edited by Robert Layton. Oxford University Press.
- H. C. Robbins Landon, Haydn: The Symphonies BBC Music Guides
- Media related to C major at Wikimedia Commons