edit 8/2/13: Results and discussions of the experiments here. Thanks again to all who participated.
HYPOTHESIS: While musicians and even laypeople have associated "happy" affectations with the major modality and "sad" feelings with the minor for centuries, the saying that "D minor is the saddest of all keys" has only risen to popularity in the last three decades.
Many musicians (including this experimenter) are perplexed by the ever-intensifying suggestion that one particular minor mode should be sadder than all available others, since a minor modality is nothing more than a particular pattern of intervals above a given tonic note, and no particular fundamental frequency has ever been found to have unique, consistent, experimentally-reproducible effects upon human emotion.1 Yet this saying only grows in mainstream popularity by the year.
It is this experimenter's hope that the following experiments, as experienced by the LJI readership (known for their protracted study and appreciation of the musical arts), will either prove or disprove the veracity of D minor's alleged top ranking in some kind of not-yet-established hierarchy of minor-key sadness.
This linked thirty-second MP3 contains two fifteen-second snippets of the famously melancholic Beethoven "Moonlight" Sonata. One excerpt has been retained in the work's native key of C# minor. The other has been transposed into D minor. Both examples have been played by a computer, using a sample of the experimenter "singing" atonally in his falsetto register while lightly tweaking his nipples, staring into space imagining you, listening... listening and watching.
Listen to the excerpts and then select the example that causes you the greatest sadness. Be sure to imagine the experimenter ever-so-gently tweaking his nipples throughout.
Which is the sadder of the two performances?
This linked one-minute MP3 contains thirty seconds of a spoken series of jokes by a professional standup comedian. This is followed by the same jokes, this time accompanied by a particularly delicate musical performance in the key of D minor.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how sad were you during the first example?
On a scale of 1 to 10, how sad were you during the second example?
How do you feel the humor of the first example was affected by the addition of the D minor musical performance?
After reading these instructions, close your eyes and picture your happiest childhood memory as vividly as possible. After you have successfully and completely envisioned this happy event from childhood, to the point of almost reliving it in full, begin to whisper "D minor" to yourself over and over. Open your eyes and record your response after thirty seconds.
Was your happiest childhood memory ruined forever by the mention of D minor?
This link (Youtube content) juxtaposes a piece of music primarily in D minor with another well-known piece of music.
Would you consider this juxtaposition a suitable combination for festive occasions, such as weddings and bar mitzvahs?
Thank you for your participation. Results will be published next week, and if they are sufficiently interesting, I will pursue further experiments and, of course, a conference presentation or perhaps publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I look forward to being able to solve this musical mystery of our times with your help.
1 Some anecdotal evidence exists for particular fundamental frequencies that may affect base-level biological function on an immediate level. However, experiments on this subject have also been relatively inconclusive re: the usually-claimed results of exposure.