24 Preludes, Op. 28
Porticodoro / SmartCGArt Media Productions – Steinway Piano
MIDI recording by Michael Angelkovich
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Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28, are a set of short pieces for the piano, one in each of the twenty-four keys, originally published in 1839. The French edition was dedicated to the piano-maker and publisher Camille Pleyel, who had commissioned the work for 2,000 francs (equivalent to nearly $30,000 in present day). The German edition was dedicated to Joseph Christoph Kessler, a composer of piano studies during Chopin's time. Ten years earlier, Kessler had dedicated his own set of 24 Preludes, Op. 31, to Chopin. Although the term prelude is generally used to describe an introductory piece, Chopin's stand as self-contained units, each conveying a specific idea or emotion.
Chopin wrote them between 1835 and 1839, partly at Valldemossa, Majorca, where he spent the winter of 1838–39 and where he had fled with George Sand and her children to escape the damp Paris weather.
The brevity and apparent lack of formal structure in the Op. 28 preludes caused some consternation among critics at the time of their publication.[verification needed] No prelude is longer than 90 bars (No. 17), and the shortest, No. 9, is a mere 12 bars. Robert Schumann said: "They are sketches, beginnings of études, or, so to speak, ruins, individual eagle pinions, all disorder and wild confusions." Franz Liszt's opinion, however, was more positive: "Chopin's Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart... they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams..."
More recently, the preludes have been the subject of more positive criticism. Musicologist Henry Finck said that "if all piano music in the world were to be destroyed, excepting one collection, my vote should be cast for Chopin's Preludes." Biographer Jeremy Nicholas writes that "Even on their own, the 24 Preludes would have ensured Chopin’s claim to immortality."
Despite the lack of formal thematic structure, motives do appear in more than one prelude. Scholar Jeffrey Kresky has argued that Op. 28 is more than the sum of its parts:
Individually they seem like pieces in their own right ... But each works best along with the others, and in the intended order ... The Chopin preludes seem to be at once twenty-four small pieces and one large one. As we note or sense at the start of each piece the various connections to and changes from the previous one, we then feel free to involve ourselves – as listeners, as players, as commentators – only with the new pleasure at hand.—Jeffrey Kresky in A Reader's Guide to the Chopin Preludes
The Op. 28 preludes have become standard fare for pianists of all types, and many have recorded the set, beginning with Alfred Cortot in 1926. Chopin himself never played more than four of the preludes at a single public performance.
Like Chopin's other works, the Op. 28 preludes are not named or further described, in contrast to many of Schumann's and Liszt's pieces.
- Agitato – C major
- Lento – A minor
- Vivace – G major
- Largo – E minor
- Molto allegro – D major
- Lento assai – B minor
- Andantino – A major
- Molto agitato – F-sharp minor
- Largo – E major
- Molto allegro – C-sharp minor
- Vivace – B major
- Presto – G-sharp minor
- Lento – F-sharp major
- Allegro – E-flat minor
- Sostenuto – D-flat major ("Raindrop Prelude")
- Presto con fuoco – B-flat minor
- Allegretto – A-flat major
- Molto allegro – F minor
- Vivace – E-flat major
- Largo – C minor
- Cantabile – B-flat major
- Molto agitato – G minor
- Moderato – F major
- Allegro appassionato – D minor
Description and analysis
The following personal impressions of the pieces were given by Hans von Bülow. They are not official, and certainly not named by Chopin, but are cited in various sources as mnemonics. Only No. 15 "Raindrop" is universally used, but No. 20 is often referred to as the "Chord" prelude.
|1||Reunion||marked agitato, is short and uniform with its triplet-semi-quaver figuration|
|2||Presentiment of Death||an immediate contrast, with a slow melody over a fixed accompaniment of four-note chords played two eighth notes at a time|
|3||Thou Art So Like a Flower||marked vivace and has a running semiquaver bass part throughout|
|4||Suffocation||was played at his funeral. It consists of a slow melody in the right hand, that masterfully prolongs tonic resolution, and repeated block chords in the left hand, that descend chromatically. It is incorporated in conductor Benjamin Zander's TED Talk on music and passion.|
|5||Uncertainty||contains exuberant ostinati|
|6||Tolling Bells||(also played at Chopin's funeral) features its melancholy melody primarily in the left hand|
|7||The Polish Dancer||is written in the style of a mazurka, in 3/4 time. It is the basis of Federico Mompou's Variations on a Theme of Chopin|
|8||Desperation||molto agitato, is considered one of the most difficult in the set, featuring continuous thirty-second note figuration in the right hand, with semiquaver triplets (alternating with quavers) in the left hand. The entire piece employs a ceaseless figuration of polyrhythms.|
|9||Vision||a harmonically dense piece with a low "plodding" bass line; with 12 bars, it is the shortest in the collection|
|10||The Night Moth||molto allegro, is short and light, with alternating triplet and non-triplet semiquavers in the right hand, over arpeggiato chords in the left|
|11||The Dragonfly||is in 6/8 time and is similarly brisk, with continuous quavers|
|12||The Duel||presents a technical challenge with its rapid hold-and-release of quavers against crotchets in the right hand, involving much chromatic movement|
|13||Loss||lento, is one of the longest preludes and features an A B A structure with continuous single-note quaver movement in the left hand and chords and melody in the right|
|14||Fear||recalls Prelude No. 1 in its shortness and textural uniformity|
|15||Raindrop||is the longest of the twenty-four. The main melody is repeated three times; the melody in the middle, however, is much more dark and dramatic. The key signature switches between D-flat major and C-sharp minor.|
|16||Hades||starts with six heavily accented chords before progressing to an impromptu-like passage in the right hand. The left hand mainly supports the right hand and repeats the same melody repeatedly. This piece is considered by many to be the most difficult of the set.|
|17||A Scene on the Place de Notre-Dame de Paris||is one of the longest and the favourite of some musicians including Clara Schumann. Mendelssohn wrote of it, "I love it! I cannot tell you how much or why; except perhaps that it is something which I could never at all have written."|
|18||Suicide||is suggestive of a mortal struggle. The technical challenges lie chiefly in the irregular timing of the three runs, each faster than its predecessor, played simultaneously by each hand one octave apart. A fortissimo five-octave arpeggio echoes downward into the depths of the bass registers, where the final struggle takes place and culminates with the double-fortissimo chord finale.|
|19||Heartfelt Happiness||vivace, consists of widely spaced continuous triplet-quaver movement in both hands, which some pianists consider to rival the difficulty of No. 8 and No. 16.|
|20||Funeral March||is short, with slow majestic crotchet chords in the right hand predominating, against crotchet octaves in the left. It is often called the "Chord" prelude. It was originally written in two sections of four measures, although Chopin later added a repeat of the last four measures at a softer level, with an expressive swell before the final cadence. It has been used as a theme for variations by Ferruccio Busoni, and later (without the repeated bars) by Sergei Rachmaninoff in his Variations on a Theme of Chopin, a set of 22 variations in a wide range of keys, tempos and lengths.|
|21||Sunday||is marked cantabile, and features an easy melody in the right hand; the left has continuous doubled quavers characterized by chromatic movement, including chromatic nonharmonic tones, taken up by the right hand also in the latter half of the piece|
|22||Impatience||molto agitato, is in 6/8 time; it begins with a characteristic dotted rhythm (quaver, dotted quaver, semiquaver) that Scriabin was later to make his own, in his early preludes that are perhaps the most important to emulate this genre of Chopin's|
|23||A Pleasure Boat||is spacious and melodic in the left hand, with running semiquavers throughout in the right|
|24||The Storm||opens with a thundering five-note pattern in the left hand. Throughout the piece, the left hand continues this pattern as the right hand plays a powerful melody punctuated by trills, scales (including a rapid descending chromatic scale in thirds), and arpeggios. The piece closes with three booming unaccompanied notes – the lowest D on the piano.|
Chopin's Op. 28 preludes have been compared to Johann Sebastian Bach's preludes in The Well-Tempered Clavier. However, each of Bach's preludes leads to a fugue in the same key, and Bach's pieces are arranged, in each of the work's two volumes, in ascending chromatic order (with major preceding parallel minor), while Chopin's are arranged in a circle of fifths (with major preceding relative minor). Chopin is known to have studied Bach's music, although he is not known to have performed it in public.
Harold C. Schonberg, in The Great Pianists, writes: "It also is hard to escape the notion that Chopin was very familiar with Hummel's now-forgotten Op. 67, composed in 1815 – a set of twenty-four preludes in all major and minor keys, starting with C major." As Schonberg says: "the openings of the Hummel A minor and Chopin E minor concertos are too close to be coincidental." The dedicatee of Chopin's set, Joseph Christoph Kessler, also used the circle of fifths in his 24 Études, Op. 20, which were dedicated to Hummel.
Chopin's other preludes
Chopin wrote three further preludes.
Prelude No. 25
The Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 45 (sometimes listed as Prelude No. 25), was composed in 1841. It was dedicated to Princess E. Czernicheff (Elisaweta Tschernyschewa), and contains widely extending basses and highly expressive and effective chromatic modulations over a rather uniform thematic basis.
Prelude No. 26
The untitled Presto con leggierezza was composed in 1834 as a gift for Pierre Wolff and published in Geneva in 1918. Known as Prelude No. 26, the piece is very short and generally bright in tone.
"Devil's Trill" Prelude (No. 27)
A further prelude exists. It is in E-flat minor and has been subtitled "Devil's Trill" by Jeffrey Kallberg, a professor of music history at the University of Pennsylvania. Kallberg gave it this nickname for its similarities to Giuseppe Tartini's violin sonata known as The Devil's Trill, Tartini being a likely influence on Chopin. The original signature was hastily scrawled (more so than usual of Chopin's original manuscripts). Chopin left this piece uncompleted and seems to have discarded it; while he worked on it during his stay on Majorca, the E-flat minor prelude that ultimately formed part of the Op. 28 set is a completely unrelated piece. Kallberg's realisation of the prelude from Chopin's almost illegible sketches goes no further than where Chopin left off. The piece had its first public performance in July 2002 at the Newport Music Festival in Newport, Rhode Island with the pianist Alain Jacquon.
- Huneker, James. Introduction. Chopin Preludes For the Piano. Edited, Revised, and Fingered by Rafael Joseffy. G. Schirmer Inc.
- Marilyn Meier, Chopin twenty four preludes Op. 28
- Brown, Maurice J. E. (1957). "The Chronology of Chopin's Preludes". The Musical Times 98: 423–4. doi:10.2307/937215. ISSN 0027-4666. JSTOR 937215.
- Higgins, Thomas. "Music and Letter". oxfordjournals.org.
- Preludes, Chopin Music
- Fred Yu (March 2010). "Complete Music Analysis – Preludes". Retrieved 28 June 2010.
- Nicholas, Jeremy (2007). Chopin: His Life and Music. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks MediaFusion. p. 268. ISBN 1-4022-0757-3.
- Kresky, Jeffrey (1994) A Reader's Guide to the Chopin Preludes, Greenwood Press. p. xviii.
- Benjamin Zander on music and passion, video on Ted.com. Retrieved on 28 March 2011.
- Vancouver Chopin Society: The Preludes.
- Benward & Saker (2009). Music in Theory and Practice, Vol. II, pp. 217–18. ISBN 978-0-07-310188-0.
- Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists, p. 110
- "Memory of Poland Chopin Worklist Entry for Opus 45". Retrieved 19 July 2007.
- "Piano Society Chopin's Works Page". Retrieved 19 July 2007.
- Herrup, Katharine. (30 May 2002) Chopin's "Devil's Trill" reconstructed by Prof., The Daily Pennsylvanian. Retrieved on 20 December 2011.
- "Professor reconstructs unfinished Chopin prelude from artist’s notes" by Catherine Lucey, Berkeley Daily Planet (11 June 2002). Retrieved on 20 December 2011.
- Leontsky, Jan: Interpreting Chopin. 24 Preludes, Op. 28. Analysis, comments and interpretive choices. Tarnhelm editions.
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- Preludes Op. 28: Free scores at the International Music Score Library Project
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- BBC Discovering Music Audio Program covering Chopin's Opus 28 Preludes
- Prelude No. 4 in E minor and No. 9 in E major (Shockwave required) in hypermedia presentation at the BinAural Collaborative Hypertext