What does "low-key" mean here?

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Kong:
I found this sentence from BBC news and it read:
Government officials confirmed that Zhao's funeral would reflect his membership of the party, but signalled that the ceremony would be far more *low-key* than the lavish events held in the past for top Communist Party officials.
Here I can understand the meaning of low-key, but I'd like to know an exact meaning of that word. It should have some meaning like "less than" or words to that effect.
The oringinal is here about Chinese former leader Zhao Ziyang: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4190673.stm

Kong
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Mike Lyle:
[nq:1]I found this sentence from BBC news and it read: Government officials confirmed that Zhao's funeral would reflect his membership ... meaning like "less than" or words to that effect. The oringinal is here about Chinese former leader Zhao Ziyang: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4190673.stm [/nq]
It's a bad expression originating from an imperfect understanding of musical terms. As I understand it, the use began with painters or photographers, who not unreasonably imagined bright light and colours as "high notes" and dim ones as "low notes". Slightly misusing the musical word "key", they expressed the contrast as "high-key" and "low-key". I think it's all right to use the expressions in the context of pictures; but for anything else it's a dead metaphor, a sort of cliché.
In general use, like your example, "low-key" means such things as "unostentatious", or "simple".
Mike.
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Donna Richoux:
[nq:1]I found this sentence from BBC news and it read: Government officials confirmed that Zhao's funeral would reflect his membership ... meaning like "less than" or words to that effect. The oringinal is here about Chinese former leader Zhao Ziyang: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4190673.stm [/nq]
It would have meant the same thing if they had written, "far less lavish than the events held in the past..."
Smaller, simpler.

Best - Donna Richoux
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Michael J Hardy:
[nq:1]It would have meant the same thing if they had written, "far less lavish than the events held in the past..." Smaller, simpler.[/nq]
But perhaps also it implies that there was far less publicity.

Mike Hardy
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Wesley Leggette:
[nq:2]It would have meant the same thing if they had written, "far less lavish than the events held in the past..." Smaller, simpler.[/nq]
[nq:1]But perhaps also it implies that there was far less publicity. Mike Hardy[/nq]
That's definitely what it implies here because since he was a disenter, the party doesn't want to draw attention to him. They don't what people to really celebrate it too much. So it definitely means "small, private, unpublicized".
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Mark Brader:
Mike Lyle:
[nq:1]It's a bad expression originating from an imperfect understanding of musical terms. As I understand it, the use began with ... dim ones as "low notes". Slightly misusing the musical word "key", they expressed the contrast as "high-key" and "low-key". ...[/nq]
I don't think you need to read it as a misunderstanding of musical terminology. "Key" may be a musical metaphor, but "high" and "low" just refer directly to the intensity of the light.

Confusing the issue is that, when arranging lighting in studio, the "key light" is the primary one on the subject. Here "key" is nothing to do with music, but is the adjective meaning "important". But in low-key, while the key light may be dimmed, the other* lights are dimmed *more, so you can still see the subject but the background tends to be in shadows.

Mark Brader > "We may take pride in observing that there is Toronto > not a single film showing in London today which (Email Removed) > deals with one of the burning issues of the day."
[nq:1] Lord Tyrell, British film censors' chief, 1937[/nq]
My text in this article is in the public domain.
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Donna Richoux:
[nq:1]Mike Lyle:[/nq]
[nq:2]It's a bad expression originating from an imperfect understanding of ... "key", they expressed the contrast as "high-key" and "low-key". ...[/nq]
[nq:1]I don't think you need to read it as a misunderstanding of musical terminology. "Key" may be a musical metaphor, but "high" and "low" just refer directly to the intensity of the light.[/nq]
I think it's simpler than all of that. When you tighten a string on a a piano or a harp, you use a key, a little metal gizmo. (For guitars, violins, etc, it's the built-in peg). The tighter the string literally, the more tension the higher the pitch. Something that is "all keyed up" is under a high level of tension. Something that is "low-key" is low stress, low tension, slacker.
Notice the first definition at M-W.com is musical:

Main Entry: low-key
Variant(s): also low-keyed \-kd\
Function: adjective
Date: 1907

1 : having or producing dark tones only with little contrast
2 : of low intensity : RESTRAINED

Best Donna Richoux
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Mark Brader:
[nq:1]I think it's simpler than all of that. When you tighten a string on a a piano or a harp, ... etc, it's the built-in peg). The tighter the string literally, the more tension the higher the pitch. ...[/nq]
Ah, interesting point. On the other hand, "low-key" in the sense we've been talking about relates to emphasis, not tension per se, which fits more with the explanation I gave. I think this needs some professional sorting-out!

Mark Brader > "People tend to assume that things they don't know Toronto > about are either safe or dangerous or useless, (Email Removed) > depending on their prejudices." Tim Freeman
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