Music written in all major and/or minor keys

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There is a long tradition in classical music (as well as in other genres) of writing music in sets of pieces that collectively cover all the major and minor keys of the chromatic scale. These sets typically consist of 24 numbers, one for the major and minor key of each key signature. Well known examples include Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier and Frédéric Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28. Such sets are often organized as preludes and fugues, or designated as preludes or études.

Sets that comprise all the enharmonic variants include 30 numbers. Some composers have restricted their sets to cover only the 12 major keys or the 12 minor keys; or only the flat keys (Franz Liszt's Transcendental Études) or the sharp keys (Sergei Lyapunov's Op. 11 set). In yet another type, a single piece may progressively modulate through a set of tonalities, as occurs in Ludwig van Beethoven's Op. 39, two Preludes modulating through all 12 major keys. Some partial sets such as these were intended to complement existing sets, whether written by the same composer or someone else (as in the case of Lyapunov's Op. 11 set of Transcendental Études in the sharp keys, which was designed to complement Liszt's flat-key cycle).

The bulk of works of this type have been written for piano solo, but there also exist sets for piano 4-hands; two pianos; organ; guitar; two guitars; flute; recorder; oboe; violin solo; violin and piano; cello solo; cello and piano; voice and piano; and string quartet. There are examples of attempts to write full sets that, for one reason or another, were never completed (Josef Rheinberger's organ sonatas, Dmitri Shostakovich's string quartets, César Franck's L'Organiste).

The sections below deal (unless stated in the section heading) with completed sets covering all 24 keys.

Well-known examples[edit]

Some of the best known examples of works covering all 24 major and minor keys are:

There is a hybrid case. Franz Liszt's 12 Transcendental Études, S. 139 (1826–52) covered the natural and flat keys[a] only. He originally planned to write the full suite of 24 études, but apparently abandoned this plan. In 1897–1905, Sergei Lyapunov wrote his 12 Études d'exécution transcendante, Op. 11, which employed only the remaining sharp keys,[b] and was dedicated to Liszt's memory.[1] In the sense that Lyapunov "completed" what Liszt had originally set out to do, these two sets could be considered to form a unified set of 24 Transcendental Études traversing all the keys.

There are many other lesser-known examples, some of which are detailed below.

Multiple sets[edit]

A number of composers have not been content with just one set of works covering all the keys of the scale.

Niels Viggo Bentzon wrote no less than 14 complete sets of 24 Preludes and Fugues, a total of 336 pieces in this genre alone. His output was colossal, with almost 700 published opuses.[2][3]

Others who have written more than one set include:

Alkan seems to have also started a fourth set: the 11 grands préludes et un transcription du Messie de Hændel, Op. 66, are a set of 12 pieces that cover all the keys that have one to six flats (although Alkan replaces G-flat major with its enharmonic equivalent using sharps, F-sharp major). However, this set was never completed. Alexander Scriabin wrote 90 preludes for piano (50 in major keys, 31 in minor keys, and 9 in indeterminate keys). These contained only one complete set of Preludes in all 24 major and minor keys (Op. 11), but he seems to have started another set (spread over 4 opus numbers) before the key relationships broke down.

The Rachmaninoff case[edit]

Rachmaninoff seems to be the only composer who did not originally set out to write a set of works in all 24 keys. His Prelude in C-sharp minor was written in 1892, as the second of a group of five assorted piano pieces all with different titles, published under the name Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3.

In 1903 he published 10 preludes as Op. 23. They were all in different keys, none of which was C-sharp minor, but it is not known whether he fully intended by this time to eventually complete the full complement of 24 preludes.[5] There is nothing to suggest this from the order of the keys (F-sharp minor, B‑flat major, D minor, D major, G minor, E-flat major, C minor, A-flat major, E-flat minor, G-flat major). There is one pair of parallel keys (D minor/major) and two pairs of relative keys (E-flat major/C minor; and E-flat minor/G-flat major), the remaining four preludes satisfying neither criterion. However, by choosing 11 different keys for his first 11 preludes, he was at least keeping his options open.

By 1910 Rachmaninoff had definitely decided to complete the set, publishing 13 preludes, Op. 32, covering the remaining 13 keys (C major, B-flat minor, E major, E minor, G major, F minor, F major, A minor, A major, B minor, B major, G-sharp minor, D-flat major). In this opus there are four pairs of parallel keys (E, F, A, and B, major/minor) and one relative pair (B major and G-sharp minor).

Bach and his precursors[edit]

Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, two complete sets of 24 Preludes and Fugues written for keyboard in 1722 and 1742, and often known as "the 48", is generally considered the greatest example of music traversing all 24 keys. Many later composers clearly modelled their sets on Bach's, including the order of the keys.

It was long believed that Bach had taken the title The Well-Tempered Clavier from a similarly-named set of 24 Preludes and Fugues in all the keys, for which a manuscript dated 1689 was found in the library of the Brussels Conservatoire. It was later shown that this was the work of a composer who was not even born in 1689: Bernhard Christian Weber (Wolferschwenda 1 December 1712 – Tennstedt 5 February 1758). It was in fact written in 1745–50, and in imitation of Bach's example.[6][7] While Bach can safely claim the title The Well-Tempered Clavier, he was not the earliest composer to write sets of pieces in all the keys.

As early as 1567, Giacomo Gorzanis (c.1520–c.1577) wrote a cycle of 24 passamezzo–saltarello pairs. In 1584, Vincenzo Galilei, the father of the great astronomer Galileo Galilei, wrote a Codex of pieces illustrating the use of all 24 major and minor keys.[8]

In 1640, Angelo Bartolotti wrote Libro primo di chitarra spagnola, a cycle of passacaglias that moves through all 24 major and minor keys according to the circle of fifths.[9] Also in 1640, Antonio Carbonchi wrote Sonate di chitarra spagnola con intavolatura franzese for guitar.[10]

In 1702, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer wrote a cycle of 20 organ pieces all in different keys in his Ariadne musica. These included E major as well as E in Phrygian mode and again in Dorian mode, but not E minor per se. They also excluded C/D major, D/E minor, F/G major, G/A minor, and A/B minor. Bach modelled the sequence of his 48 Preludes on Fischer's example.[3]

Around 1704, Johann Pachelbel completed his 95 Magnificat Fugues, which covered all eight of the church modes.

In 1735, between Bach's two sets, Johann Christian Schickhardt wrote his L'alphabet de la musique, Op. 30, which contained 24 sonatas for recorder/flute/violin, in all keys.[11]

In 1749, the year before Bach's death, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, himself the inspiration for Bach's Goldberg Variations, wrote his own 24 polonaises for keyboard, one in each of the major and minor keys.[12]

Other examples include works by John Wilson (1595–1674), Daniel Croner (1682), Christoph Graupner (1718), Johann Mattheson (1719), Friedrich Suppig (1722), and Johann David Heinichen (1683–1729).

After Bach[edit]

The following is an incomplete list of works of this type that have been written since the death of J.S. Bach. (Legend: 5C = circle of fifths)

Composer Work Instrument Date Sections Keys Order Comments
Étienne Ozi Nouvelle méthode de basson bassoon* 1787 (* or 2 bassoons; or bassoon and cello or double bass)[13]
Johann Christian Kittel (1732–1809) 16 Preludes in all the keys organ  ? 16 16u These preludes span C to G, major and minor. Kittel evidently intended to write 24 preludes, in honour of his teacher J.S. Bach, but the work was left unfinished.[14]
Lev Gurilyov 24 Préludes et une Fugue piano pub. 1810 25 24 5C[c] First mentioned in a MA thesis by Matthew J. Roy, 2012.[15] Further comment on style and importance in an article by Wendelin Bitzan.[16]
Muzio Clementi Préludes et exercices dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs piano 1811 49 24 [d] These were appended to the 5th edition of Clementi's Introduction to the Art of Playing on the Piano Forte[17] There is one prelude and exercise for each key, and the set concludes with a "Grande Exercice" that progressively modulates through all the keys but in a somewhat different order than the foregoing; further, the "Grande Exercice" uses G-flat major where the individual pieces use F-sharp major.[18]
Philip Seydler (1765–1819) XXIV grands Caprices pour une Flûte flute 1810–12 24 24 5C[c] [19][20]
Johann Nepomuk Hummel 24 Preludes, Op. 67 piano 1815 24 24 5C[c] The first such collection for keyboard in which the preludes are neither paired with fugues nor serve as an introduction to a suite.[21] Some of these preludes by Hummel are as short as 5 bars, and are unsuitable for concert performance[22]
Pierre Rode 24 Caprices en forme d'études violin solo pub. 1815 24 24 5C[c] [23][24][25]
Friedrich Kalkbrenner 24 Etüden durch alle Tonarten, Op. 20 piano 1816 24 24 [22]
Charles Chaulieu 24 petits préludes: dans les tons majeurs et mineurs, Op. 9 piano 1820 24 24 [3][26]
Christian Heinrich Rinck 30 Préludes dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs, Op. 55/37-66 organ before 1821 30 24 [e] The 30 Préludes for organ are part of Rinck's Practical Organ School, Op. 55, a collection of 117 numbers. They contain both members of all six enharmonically equivalent key pairs, including the extremely rare keys of A-sharp minor and C-flat major[27][28] The Exercises for piano similarly include a piece in A-sharp minor.[29]
Exercices à deux parties dans tous les tons, Op. 67 piano 1821
Ignaz Moscheles 24 Études, Op. 70 piano 1825–26 24 24 Studien für das Pianoforte, zur höhern Vollendung bereits ausgebildeter Clavierspieler, bestehend aus 24 characteristischen Tonstücken[30]
Bartolomeo Campagnoli (1751–1827) 30 Preludes in 30 different keys violin  ? 30 24 [f] These cover all 30 keys that utilise up to 7 sharps or 7 flats[31]
Friedrich Kalkbrenner 24 Preludes, Op. 88 piano 1827 24 24 [22]
Joseph Christoph Kessler 24 Études, Op. 20 piano 1827 24 24 5C[c] The 24 Études were dedicated to Hummel. The 24 Preludes were published in 1835[32] and dedicated to Chopin, who a decade later dedicated the German edition of his 24 Preludes, Op. 28 to Kessler.
24 Preludes, Op. 31 piano c. 1829 24 24 5C[c]
Henri Herz Exercices et préludes, Op. 21 piano c. 1830 Dedicated to Hummel[33]
Ignaz Moscheles 50 Preludes, Op. 73 piano c. 1830 50 [34]
Louise Farrenc 30 Études dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs, Op. 26 piano 1837–38 30 [35]
Frédéric Chopin 24 Preludes, Op. 28 piano 1835–39 24 24 5C[c] Dedicated to Camille Pleyel (French edition) and Kessler (German edition)
Edward Wolff (1816–1880) 24 Études en forme de Préludes, Op. 20 piano  ? 24 24 Wolff was a friend of Chopin's.[36]
Ferdinand David Bunte Reihe, Op. 30 violin and piano c. 1840 Published 1851.[37] This set of 24 pieces was arranged by Franz Liszt for solo piano in 1850 (S. 484)[38]
August Klengel (1783–1852) Les Avant-coureurs, 24 Canons piano 1841 24 24 This was either "patterned after Bach"[39] or "a kind of preparation" for Bach's 48.[40] After his death, Hauptmann edited and published Klengel's 48 Canons and Fugues, writing "he expressed his own thoughts in the way in which Bach would have done had he lived at the present day"[41]
Caspar Kummer 24 Études mélodiques, Op. 110 flute solo 1846 24 24 5C[c] [42] Étude No. 13 is shown in 2 versions, F-sharp major and G-flat major; No. 14 as D-sharp minor and E-flat minor
Charles-Valentin Alkan 25 Preludes in all major and minor keys, Op. 31 piano 1847 25 The sequence of keys moves alternately up a fourth and down a third. The 24 keys conclude with a final Prayer in C major.[43][44]
Charles-Valentin Alkan 12 Études in all the major keys, Op. 35 piano 1848 12 12M 5C[g] These were complemented by the 12 minor key études, Op. 39 (1857)
Anton Bernhard Fürstenau (1792–1852) 26 Uebungen (Exercises), Op.107 flute solo  ? 26 [45]
Franz Liszt 12 Transcendental Études, S. 139 piano 1826–52 12 These covered the neutral and flat keys only. Liszt originally planned to write the full suite of 24 études, but apparently abandoned this plan. See Sergei Lyapunov below.
William Sterndale Bennett 30 Preludes and Lessons, Op. 33 piano 1851-53 30 5C[c] Includes major and minor keys with seven sharps or flats: C-sharp major, A-sharp minor, C-flat major, A-flat minor.
Stephen Heller 24 Preludes, Op. 81 piano 1853 24 24 5C[c] [46]
Charles-Valentin Alkan 12 Études in all the minor keys, Op. 39 piano 1857 12 12m 5C[h] These complete the sequence that was started with the 12 Études in all the major keys, Op. 35. Études 4–7 comprise the Symphony for Solo Piano, and Études 8–10 make up the Concerto for Solo Piano.
Carl Czerny (1791–1857) Grand Exercise in 3rds in all the 24 Keys, Op. 380 piano  ? 24  ? These three sets would not be the only ones in all 24 keys that Czerny wrote
24 Very Easy Preludes in the Most Useful Keys, Op. 501 24
The Pianist in the Classical Style, 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 856 48 24
Giuseppe Concone (1801–61) 24 Brilliant Preludes, Op. 37 piano  ? 24 24 [i] [47]
Heinrich Wilhelm Stolze (1801–1868) 24 Fugues with preludes organ 1861 48 24 Pupil of Johann Christian Kittel. The collection was published as part 4 of his organ method and is entitled "The well-tempered organ" as an explicit reference to Bach.
Charles-Valentin Alkan Esquisses, Op. 63 piano 1861 49 24 Consists of 49 pieces in 4 books, which cover all the major and minor keys twice, and end with a final Laus Deo in C major.
Adolf Jensen 25 Études, Op. 32 piano 1866 25 24 5C[c] + 1 This set employs the circle of fifths for the first 24 preludes, and concludes with an additional prelude in C major
Ferdinand David (1810–1873) Dur und Moll: 25 Etüden, Capricen und Charakterstücke in allen Tonarten, Op. 39 violin solo, or violin and piano  ? [48][49]
Ferruccio Busoni 24 Preludes, Op. 37, BV. 181 piano May 1881 24 24 5C[c] Busoni had just turned 15 when he wrote this work. It has been recorded by Daniele Petralia,[50] Geoffrey Douglas Madge,[51] and Trevor Barnard.[52][53][54]
Adolf von Henselt Préambules dans tous les tons piano 1884 24 24 [55]
Sebastian Lee 30 Präludien in allen Tonarten, Op. 122 cello solo 1885 30 [56]
Richard Hofmann 32 Special-Etüden, Op. 52 piano 1886 32 [57]
Felix Blumenfeld 24 Preludes, Op. 17 piano 1892 24 24 5C[c] Philip Thomson made the world premiere recording in 1999[58]
Anton Arensky 24 Morceaux caractéristiques, Op. 36 piano 1894 24 24 [j] [59]
Alexander Scriabin 24 Preludes, Op. 11 piano 1893–95 24 24 5C[c] Scriabin chose G over F. He seems to have set out to write a further set of 24 preludes, and the 23 preludes of Opp. 13, 15, 16 and 17 (containing 6, 5, 5 and 7 preludes respectively) contain evidence of this, but he obviously moved away from his original idea as the key sequence breaks down.[60]
Max Reger 111 Canons in all major and minor tonalities piano 1895 111 [61]
August Winding (1835–99) Preludes in all the keys: A Cycle, Op. 26 piano  ? [k] The work is in 25 parts: 24 preludes, ordered by ascending fourths (increasing flats, decreasing sharps), and a final Postludium in C major. It is dedicated to Isidor Seiss.
Richard Hofmann 50 leichte, melodische Studien in der ersten Lage u. in allen Tonarten, Op. 107 piano 1899 50 [57]
40 melodische Studien in allen Lagen u. Tonarten, Op. 108 40
Johan Adam Krygell "Moll und Dur", 24 preludes and fugues organ 1893 48 24 all minor keys followed by all major keys [62]
Josef Rheinberger 20 sonatas organ 20 Rheinberger set out to write 24 organ sonatas, one in each key. He completed 20 of these before he died in 1901.[63]
César Cui 25 Preludes, Op. 64 piano 1903 25 24 [l] [64] Cui's order of keys is unique in that each major key is followed by its minor mediant. It includes a 25th prelude in C major.[65]
Sergei Lyapunov 12 Études d'exécution transcendante, Op. 11 piano 1897–1905 12 This set complemented Franz Liszt's set of 12 Transcendental Études from 1826–52 (which was written in neutral and flat keys only) by employing the remaining sharp keys. It was dedicated to Liszt's memory.[1] These two sets could be considered to form a unified set of 24 Transcendental Études traversing all the keys.
Jean-Henri Ravina (1818–1906) 100 Préludes dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs, Op. 110 piano  ? 100 [66]
Reinhold Glière 25 Preludes, Op. 30 piano 1907 25 24 [m] [67]
Selim Palmgren 24 Preludes, Op. 17 piano 1907 24 24 [n]
Emil Sjögren Legends: Religious Moods (Swedish: Legender: religiösa stämningar) Op. 46 organ 1907 Based on fragments of his famous improvisations in St. John's Church, Stockholm. Divided in two volumes, the first volume follows the first half of the circle of fifths completely from C major to G-sharp minor, but in the second volume, the order instead is from F major to E-flat minor.
Richard Hofmann Elementar-Studien für Violine, op. 129 violin solo 1909 [57]
Ludvig Schytte Melodische Vortragsstudien in allen Tonarten, Op. 159 piano 1909 [68]
Hans Sitt Dur und Moll: 28 leichte melodische Etüden für Violine (erste Lage) zur Befestigung der Intonation in allen Tonarten, Op. 107 violin solo 1909 28 [69]
Sergei Rachmaninoff 24 Preludes, Opp. 3/2, 23, 32 piano 1892–1910 [o] The Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op. 3/2, was part of a collection of pieces, and there is no evidence Rachmaninoff had at that stage planned to write 24 preludes traversing all the keys. Between 1901 and 1903, he wrote 10 Preludes, Op. 23, and in 1910 he completed the 24 with his 13 Preludes, Op. 32.[5] See "The Rachmaninoff case" above for more details.
Blas María de Colomer 24 Préludes mélodiques piano 1910 24 24 5C[c] [70]
Hans Huber (1815–1921) 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 100 piano 4-hands early C.20 48 24 [3] Many sources inexplicably say there were only 12 pieces in the set, while at the same time listing 24
Louis Vierne Vingt-quatre Pièces en style libre, Op. 31 organ 1913 24 24 [71]
Sir Charles Villiers Stanford 24 Preludes, Set I, Op. 163 piano 1918 24 24 Set I has been recorded by Peter Jacobs.[72][73] Set II was completed in December 1920, not in 1921 as many sources report.[74]
24 Preludes, Set II, Op. 179 piano 1920 24 24
Alexander Wunderer (1877–1955) 24 Etüden in allen Tonarten oboe solo pub. 1924 24 24 [m] [75] The 11th Etüde bears a striking similarity to the 11th variation of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Variations on a Theme of Glinka, for oboe and military band.[76]
Gustav Struempl (1855–1927) 24 Preludes, Op. 16 piano  ? 24 24 [77]
Louis Vierne Pièces de fantaisie, 4 books, Opp. 51, 53–55 organ 1926–27 [71]
Manuel Ponce 24 Preludes guitar c. 1929 24 24 Twelve of these were published by Andrés Segovia in 1930, but the remainder had to wait for the guitarist Miguel Alcazar to reconstruct them from Ponce's manuscripts before being published in 1981.[78][79]
François Demierre (1893–1976) 24 Préludes dans tous les tons majeurs et mineurs[80] piano 1932 24 24 Swiss-French organist and teacher; his first wife was the sister of Ernest Ansermet.[81]
Dmitri Shostakovich 24 Preludes, Op. 34 piano 1932–33 24 24 5C[c] [82] See also 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 (1950–51).
Valery Zhelobinsky 24 Preludes, Op. 20 piano 1934 24 24 [m] Zhelobinsky uses Bach's sequence of keys, but Prelude No. 23, although it is effectively in B-flat minor, has a key signature with 6 flats, as if it were written in E-flat minor (like Prelude No. 8). Most C-naturals in this prelude are arrived at via the use of accidentals, while C-flats, which would have required accidentals had the true key signature with only 5 flats been used, don't need any.[83]
Vsevolod Zaderatsky 24 Preludes piano 1934 24 24 [84]
Boris Goltz 24 Preludes, Op. 2 piano 1934-1935 24 24 [85] Goltz used the key order of Chopin [86]
Charles Koechlin Fifteen Vocalises in all major keys, Op. 152 voice and piano Aug–Sep 1935 [87]
Fifteen Vocalises in all minor keys, Op. 154 Oct 1935
Viktor Kosenko Twenty-four Pieces for Children, Op. 25 Piano 1936 24 24 Erroneously published in 1938 as Op. 15, but later corrected by Musichna Ukraina.
Vsevolod Zaderatsky 24 Preludes and Fugues piano 1937-1938 48 24 [88]
Algernon Ashton (1859–1937) 24 string quartets string quartet  ? 24 24 These 24 string quartets in 24 different keys are lost, possibly destroyed in WWII bombing.[89] Ashton also wrote 8 piano sonatas,[89] all in different keys,[90] and it may be that he planned to complete a cycle of 24 of them as well. One source says he wrote 24 Preludes and Fugues,[91] but this is not corroborated.
David Diamond 52 Preludes and Fugues piano 1939–42 [3][91] The first recording that Leonard Bernstein ever made included some of these pieces.[92]
Joseph Jongen Vingt-quatre petits préludes pour piano dans tous les tons, Op. 116[93] piano 1941 24 24 [94] At least some of them exist in a version for organ.[95]
Paul Hindemith Ludus Tonalis piano 1942 25 12 [p] The work consists of a prelude, 11 interludes, and a postlude, each separated by 12 fugues[3]
Dmitry Kabalevsky 24 Preludes, Op. 38 piano 1943‑44 24 24 5C[c]
Julius Weismann (1879–1950) Der Fugenbaum (The Fugue Tree), 24 Preludes and Fugues in all the keys, Op. 150 piano 1946 48 24 [91]
Craig Sellar Lang A miniature 48; two books of short preludes & fugues in all keys, Op. 64 piano 1949 48 24 [3]
York Bowen 24 Preludes, Op. 102 piano 1938–50 24 24 [m] [21] Dedicated to Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji[96]
Dmitri Shostakovich 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 piano 1950–51 48 24 5C[c] See also 24 Preludes, Op. 34 (1932–33). In both these cases, Shostakovich adhered to Chopin's order of keys, although he was greatly influenced by Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier and even quoted parts of that work in Op. 87.
Hans Gál 24 Preludes, Op. 83 piano 1959–60 24 24 Written during a fortnight's hospital stay, as a birthday present to himself; FP October 1960, composer, Edinburgh Society of Musicians[97]
Gara Garayev 24 Preludes piano 1951–61 24 24 5C[c] [98]
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Les Guitares bien tempérées (The Well-Tempered Guitars), 24 préludes et fugues, Op. 199 2 guitars 1962 [q] Described as "the longest and most important cycle of works for two guitars ever composed", the 200-page score was written between 8 March and 3 June 1962, in response to performances by the popular husband-wife duo Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya[99]
Gunnar de Frumerie Circulus Quintus Op. 62 piano 1965 24 24 24 piano pieces, where some of them have names which suggest the character of the piece such as "Siciliano", "Tarantella" or "Gavotte". As in the case of Emil Sjögren's Legends for organ, the collection is divided in two volumes, where the first has the pieces ordered in a perfect half-circle of fifths from C major to G-sharp minor, and the second volume is ordered in a half-circle of fifths backwards, i.e. starting with F major and ending with E-flat minor.
Richard Cumming 24 Preludes piano 1966–69 24 24 Commissioned by John Browning, who stipulated they should be "as hard as possible", gave the FP in 1969, and recorded them[100][101][102]
Rodion Shchedrin 24 Preludes and Fugues, in 2 vols. piano 1964–70 48 24 5C[c] Shchedrin gave the FP of Vol. I in Moscow in 1965, and the FP of the complete cycle in 1971. Dedicated to the memory of his father.[103]
Dmitri Shostakovich 15 string quartets string quartet 1938–74 15 15u Shostakovich planned to write 24 string quartets, one each in a different key, but completed only 15 before his death.[104]
Alan Bush 24 Preludes, Op. 84 piano 1977 24 24 Composer gave the first performance at the Wigmore Hall on 30 October 1977.[105]
Hiroshi Hara (1933–2002) 24 Preludes & Fugues piano 1981 [3]
Jaan Rääts 24 Marginalia, Op. 68 2 pianos 1982 24 24 [106]
Alexander Iakovtchouk (b. 1952) 24 Preludes and Fugues piano 1983 48 24 [3]
Nikolai Kapustin 24 Preludes in Jazz Style, Op. 53 piano 1988 24 24 5C[c] [107] See also 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 82 (1997)
Jaan Rääts 24 Estonian Preludes, Op. 80 piano 1988 24 24 [106]
Igor Rekhin (b. 1941) 24 Preludes and Fugues[108][109][110] guitar 1985–90 48 24 [m]
24 Caprices[111][112] cello solo 1991 24 24
David Cope The Well-Tempered Disklavier, 48 preludes and fugues piano 1991 48 24 [3]
Sergei Slonimsky 24 Preludes and Fugues piano 1994 48 24 Slonimsky was inspired to create this cycle after listening to Glenn Gould's recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier on New Year's Eve, 1993. The cycle was dedicated to the memory of A. N. Dolzhansky. It follows Bach's key organization, ascending in chromatic order from C major to B minor.[103]
Trygve Madsen (b. 1940) 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 101 piano 1995–96 48 24 [3]
Howard Blake Lifestyle, Op. 489: 24 pieces Piano 1996 24 24 [113]
Nikolai Kapustin 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 82 piano 1997 48 24 The major keys tour the circle of fifths in the flat direction (beginning with C major and ending with G major), while the minor keys tour in the same mode, but begin at the other side of the circle (starting with G-sharp minor and ending with E-flat minor). This has the effect of juxtaposing very unrelated keys, and spacing relative majors and minors as far apart from one another as possible.[114] See also 24 Preludes in Jazz Style, Op. 53 (1988)
Ron Weidberg Voyage to the End of the Millennium: 24 Preludes and Fugues piano 1997–98 48 24 [115]
Lera Auerbach 24 Preludes, Op. 41 piano 1999 24 24 5C[c] [78][116]
24 Preludes, Op. 46 violin and piano 24 24
24 Preludes, Op. 47 cello and piano 24 24
Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919–2000) Det temperede klaver, 14 sets each containing 24 Preludes and Fugues piano  ? 672 24 Opp. 157, 379, 400, 409, 428, 470, 530, 532, 541, 542, 546, 554, 633, 638[2][3]
Henry Martin (b. 1950) 24 Preludes and Fugues piano 1990–2000 48 24 [3]
John Ramsden Williamson (b. 1929) Palindromic Preludes (at least 8 sets of 12), New Preludes piano 1993–2000 These sets generally consist of 12 major or minor keys[117][118][119][120]
Daniel Padrón (b. 1966) 24 Nocturnes piano c. 2002 24 24 [121]
Rob Peters 24 Preludes, Op. 119 organ 2003 24 24 [122]
Wim Zwaag (b. 1960) 24 Preludes piano 2004 24 24 FP April 2007, Paul Komen at the Bethaniënklooster, Amsterdam[123]
Jeroen van Veen 24 Minimal Preludes, 2 Books piano 1999–2006 24 24 5C[c] Book I, 1999–2003; Book II, 2004–06 [124]
Richard White 24 Preludes and Fugues organ (2007) 48 24 This was a work in progress as of 2007[125]
Mark Alburger "Standards": 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 162 piano 2008 48 24 [3]
Michelle Gorrell Well-tempered licks & grooves: 24 preludes & fugues in jazz styles piano 2010 [3]
Leslie Howard (b. 1948) 24 Classical Preludes for Piano, Op. 25 piano  ? 24 24 As well as cycling through the major and minor keys, each prelude is written in the style of a different composer
Shuwen Zhang (b. 1991) The 24 Chinese Solar Terms piano or harpsichord 2011–2012 24 24[126] [r]
Lawrence Chandler The Tuning of the World string quartet 2012 24 24
Michael Brough (b. 1960) 25 Picture-Preludes for Piano, Op. 19 piano 2013-14 25 25 All the major and minor keys, and a central piece in no (open) key

Modulating through all 12 major keys[edit]

Ludwig van Beethoven wrote 2 Preludes through all 12 Major Keys, Op. 39 for piano (1789) [s]

These two preludes each progressively traverse the 12 major keys. In Prelude No. 1, each key occupies from 2 to 26 bars. The keys of C and D, which are enharmonically equivalent, are both represented. C major both opens and closes the set. In Prelude No. 2, the cycle of keys appears twice; in the first cycle, the number of bars per key ranges from 1 to 8; in the second half, after C every new key signature lasts for only one bar; the cycle concludes with 15 bars of C major. There is no evidence that Beethoven intended to write similar sets in the 12 minor keys.

Giovanni Battista Vitali (1632-1692) included in Artificii musicali Op. 13 (1689) a passacaglia which modulates through eight major keys (out of twelve) from E-flat major to E major through the cycle of fifths.

Fugue No. 8 in Anton Reicha's Trente six FUGUES pour le Piano-Forté composées d'après un nouveau systême (subtitled Cercle harmonique) modulates through all keys.

The rondo theme of Darius Milhaud's Le bœuf sur le toit is played fifteen times in all 12 major keys (twice in A major and thrice in the tonic, C major). It also passes through every minor key, with the single exception of E minor.

Works covering all church modes[edit]

Around 1704, Johann Pachelbel completed his 95 Magnificat Fugues, which covered all eight of the church modes.

Charles-Valentin Alkan composed Petits préludes sur les huit gammes du plain-chant, for organ (1859, no opus number), a sequence of eight organ preludes covering each one of the church modes.

Enharmonic choices[edit]

Even though there can only be 24 keys,[t] each note can be represented by several enharmonic note names[u] and so each key can be represented by several enharmonic key names.[v]

In theory[w] there are 31 possible note names[x] and, taking each as the tonic of one major and one minor key, 62 key names. But 32 of those keys have uncommon signatures which contain double flats or double sharps, so in practice the choice of key name is restricted to the 30 keys whose signatures have no double flats or double sharps. Keys with 6 flats and 6 sharps,[y] with 7 flats and 5 sharps[z] and with 5 flats and 7 sharps[aa] are enharmonic to one another. Composers will, in most (though not all) cases, choose only one key from each enharmonic pair. But there are also cases of sets covering all 30 keys, which, in other words, include all enharmonic variants.

The table in the next section outlines, among other things, the choices made in the various collections listed here.

The canonic 24 keys[edit]

The sequence of keys that make up the canonic 24 are:[ab]

Number Key Key signature Comments
1 C major No sharps or flats
2 C minor 3 flats
3 Either C-sharp major 7 sharps Bach and Alkan chose C-sharp major, but most composers have preferred D-flat major
or D-flat major 5 flats
4 C-sharp minor 4 sharps
5 D major 2 sharps
6 D minor 1 flat
7 E-flat major 3 flats
8 Either D-sharp minor 6 sharps Most composers of sets of 24 pieces have chosen E-flat minor over D-sharp minor, although the latter is technically no more difficult. Bach, Lyapunov and Ponce used D-sharp, but most composers have preferred E-flat. The first use of D-sharp minor was in Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, in Fugue No. 8 from Book 1 (although its corresponding Prelude was written in E-flat minor). Another is in Lyapunov's Étude d'execution transcendante No. 2, subtitled "Ronde des Fantômes"
or E-flat minor 6 flats
9 E major 4 sharps
10 E minor 1 sharp
11 F major 1 flat
12 F minor 4 flats
13 Either F-sharp major 6 sharps F-sharp major was the choice of Bach, Hummel, Chopin, Heller, Busoni, Lyapunov, Arensky, Blumenfeld, Ponce and Shostakovich.
G-flat major was preferred by Alkan, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Winding.
or G-flat major 6 flats
14 F-sharp minor 3 sharps
15 G major 1 sharp
16 G minor 2 flats
17 A-flat major 4 flats
18 Either G‑sharp minor 5 sharps Alkan wrote a piece in A-flat minor, but most composers have preferred G-sharp minor.
or A-flat minor 7 flats
19 A major 3 sharps
20 A minor No sharps or flats
21 B-flat major 2 flats
22 Either B-flat minor 5 flats No well-known sets of 24 pieces include A-sharp minor. B-flat minor seems to be the universal choice in sets of 24, but there is no compelling reason why A-sharp minor should not be represented in works of this type, as it has no more accidentals in its key signature than C-sharp major or A-flat minor, both of which are represented. A-sharp minor does appear in Campagnoli's and Rinck's works mentioned above, along with C‑flat major, but those collections include both members of all six enharmonically equivalent pairs.[127]
or A-sharp minor 7 sharps
23 Either B major 5 sharps No well-known sets of 24 pieces include C-flat major, although it is technically no more difficult than A-flat minor or C-sharp major. While C-flat major is sometimes used in compositions (particularly for the harp, which is especially suited to this key), it is not generally considered one of the standard keys because it is enharmonically equivalent to B major. It is very rare for a set of pieces covering all the keys to include a piece in C-flat major. Two examples are from Bartolomeo Campagnoli's 30 Preludes for violin, and Christian Heinrich Rinck's 30 Préludes from his Practical Organ School, Op. 55, published before 1821.[128]
or C-flat major 7 flats
24 B minor 2 sharps

Order of keys in published works[edit]

The circle of fifths, whereby each major key is followed by its relative minor key, is a commonly used schema. Angelo Michele Bartolotti used this approach as early as 1640, and it was also adopted by such later composers as Rode, Hummel, Chopin, Heller, Busoni, Scriabin, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky and Kapustin.

In J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier and some other earlier sets, major keys were followed by their parallel minor keys. The Bach order was adopted by Arensky, Glière, York Bowen and others.

Other composers derived their own schemas based on certain logical rationales. For example, in Alkan’s 25 Preludes, Op. 31, the sequence of keys moves alternately up a fourth and down a third.

Yet others used an apparently random ordering. Cui, Palmgren, Rachmaninoff and Castelnuovo-Tedesco's works are examples of this.

Works out of scope[edit]

Not all sets of 24 pieces belong in this category. For example, there was no intention in Niccolò Paganini's 24 Caprices for solo violin, Claude Debussy's 24 Préludes for piano, or Pavel Zemek Novak's 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano[129] to cover all the keys. (Paganini may not have been aware of Pierre Rode's 24 Caprices for violin, which did span the 24 keys and preceded his by several years.)

Chopin's 24 études (Opp. 10 & 25) might have originally been planned to be in all 24 keys. In fact, apart from Nos. 7 and 8, the first series (Op. 10) is made of couples of études in a major key and its parallel minor (the major key either preceding the minor key or following it) with none of the tonalities occurring twice (except for C major, which appears in No. 1 and then in the only couple which is not major-minor, i.e. Nos. 7 and 8). But in the second series (Op. 25) this tonal scheme gets more and more loose. It is still possible to see connections on a tonal basis between the couples of études in Op. 25, but they are not based on one principle (e.g. Nos. 3 and 4 in F major - A minor, two tonalities which Chopin likes to put together very often, as in his second Ballade). One might suppose that Chopin considered writing the études in all the tonalities, but eventually came to the conclusion that it wasn't practical, and turned back to it later, for the 24 Preludes, Op.28. The fact that the first étude of Op. 10 is made of arpeggios in C major draws a connection to Bach's first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier, and makes it clear that Chopin had the tradition on his mind.


  1. ^ Keys with flat signatures
  2. ^ Keys with sharp signatures
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Arranged in a circle of fifths with major keys preceding the minor keys: C, G, D, A etc.; a, e, b ... d. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "altrel" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  4. ^ Préludes et exercices: C, a, F, d, G, e, B, g, D, b, E, c, A, f, A, f, E, c, D, b, B, g, F, e; Grande Exercice: C, a, F, d, B, g, E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e, B, g, E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e
  5. ^ C, a, G, e, D, b, A, f, E, c, B, g, F, d, C, a, F, d, B, g, E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e, C, a
  6. ^ C, a, G, e, D, b, A, f, E, c, B, g, F, d, C, a, C, a, G, e, D, b, A, f, E, c, B, g, F, d
  7. ^ A, D, G, C, F, B, E, A, C, G, B, E
  8. ^ a, d, g, c, f, b, e, g, c, f, b, e
  9. ^ C, a, F, d, B, g, E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e, B, a (the prelude is headed "A-flat minor or G-sharp minor"), E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e
  10. ^ C, c, D, c leading to D, D, d, E, e, E, e, F, f, F, f, G, g, A, g, A, a, B, b, B, b
  11. ^ C, a, F, d, B, g, E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e, B, g, E, c, A, f, D, b, G, e, C
  12. ^ C, e, G, b, D, f, A, c, E, g, B, e, F, b, D, f, A, c, E, g, B, d, F, a, C
  13. ^ a b c d e C, c, D, c, D, d, E, e, E, e, F, f, F, f, G, g, A, g, A, a, B, b, B, b, C; Alexander Wunderer and York Bowen chose G over F; Valery Zhelobinsky notated his B minor prelude with a 6-flat key signature (ostensibly E minor), using accidentals to achieve the correct tonality.
  14. ^ e, f, E, c, G, g, D, b, g, A, C, a, B, d, B, F, f, A, F, e, c, E, b, D
  15. ^ c, f, B, d, D, g, E, c, A, e, G, C, b, E, e, G, f, F, a, A, b, B, g, D
  16. ^ C, G, F, A, E, E, A, D, B, D, B, F
  17. ^ g, D, a, E, b, F, c, A, e, B, f, C, G, d, A, e, B, f, C, g, E, b, F, c
  18. ^ C, c, C, c, D, d, E, e, E, e, F, f, F, f, G, g, A, g, A, a, B, b, B, b
  19. ^ C, G, D, A, E, B, F, C, D, A, E, B, F
  20. ^ There are 12 notes in the octave. Each of them can be the tonic of one major and one minor key.
  21. ^ Note names which designate the same actual note in the 12 note octave such as G-sharp and A-flat.
  22. ^ Keys whose tonics are enharmonic to one another such as F-sharp major and G-flat major.
  23. ^ If one restricts oneself to the note names used for the diatonic and chromatic tones of the 15 keys which use no double flats or double sharps in their signature.
  24. ^ The seven notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G can be natural, flat or sharp. All notes except C and F can be double-flatted. All notes except B and E can be double-sharped. F-double-flat and C-double-flat occur only (first as chromatic tones) in keys with double flats in their key signature. B-double-sharp and E-double-sharp occur only (first as chromatic tones) in keys with double sharps in their key signature.
  25. ^ G-flat major and F-sharp major, E-flat minor and D-sharp minor
  26. ^ C-flat major and B major, A-flat minor and G-sharp minor
  27. ^ D-flat major and C-sharp major, B-flat minor and A-sharp minor
  28. ^ In the ascending order of the octave; another common way to order them is, for example, according to the order of the cycle of ascending fifths


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External links[edit]