My nomination for the most colorful piece of white-key music ever written is the first 24 measures of the slow movement, III. Passacaille. Its not actually on the white keys, but if it were transposed down a major third it would be. Nothing accidental here. Actually, the first 8 bars could also be called black-key music, that is, it uses the pentatonic, or 5-note, scale which can be played on the black keys. As clear as black and white, no?
Listen to it played by Previn/Rosenfeld/Hoffman. Youll need. Windows users can download it here.
Maurice starts off in pure pentatonic scale, but it doesnt have the usual major feel; its acting more like one of the minor modes. Because hes using only five notes, its ambiguous; we could be in any of the three minor-ish modes: Aeolian (minor), Dorian, or Phrygian.
When the cello comes in after eight bars, an A appears for the first time (in the piano part), expanding the harmonic palette of the 5-note scale to 6 notes, but its still ambiguous. (Is there a name for this 6-note scale?) We could be in either Aeolian or Phrygian mode; we cant tell which until he uses a D or a D#.
When the violin comes in eight bars later, the piano expands the 6-note scale to all 7 with a D, and we have our answer: Phrygian mode.
So beautiful. The whole piece is unbelievable. Ive been in love with it since I first heard it in 1968, and it still feels fresh after 30 years!
Ive heard many performances and recordings.
Ive heard a few other recordings that are not good. Be sure to hear one of the recommended recordings before hearing and then buying another. The piano part is fiendishly difficult and many players fudge a lot.
I think I should mention Ravel's Bolero, so 100x more people find this page when searching.