Recorded on 08/28/2007, uploaded on 01/12/2009
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Though he was not the first to compose a collection pieces traversing the twenty-four major and minor keys, Johann Sebastian Bach certainly established the precedent and standard by which all other would be judged, and simultaneously offered the pianist a plentiful source of exercise and the composer a manual of composition and a point of origin for inspiration. Others followed in his footsteps—throughout the 19th century, most notably Frédéric Chopin, Charles-Valentin Alkan, and Alexander Scriabin. Even two centuries after the composition of the two books of The Well-Tempered Clavier (give or take a few decades) they still held sway over composers’ imaginations. Of the 20th century composers, Rachmaninoff’s twenty-four preludes and Shostakovich’s opus 87 are the two most worthy to be named with Bach’s great “Forty-eight.” While the Chopin, Alkan, Scriabin and Shostakovich all set out with the purpose of providing a prelude (or étude) in each of the major and minor keys, and Shostakovich followed Bach’s example even more closely by composing complimentary fugues, Rachmaninoff, however, did not, and the idea of doing so seems to have occurred to him only after a majority of them had been composed.
>In order of composition, Rachmaninoff’s collection of twenty-four preludes began with the Prelude in C-sharp minor, the second piece of his Morceaux de fantaise, op. 3, published in 1892. Between 1901 and 1903, he composed ten more preludes, none of which were, perhaps incidentally, in C-sharp minor, and published as the Ten Preludes, op. 23. Perhaps here, or in the following years, Rachmaninoff decided to emulate the great composers before him. In 1910, thirteen more preludes appeared from Rachmaninoff’s pen, published as his opus 32, composed in the keys not yet utilized in the previous eleven, and thus completing the set. Given that these preludes were composed over nearly two decades, it will be no surprise that there is a progression of style from the earliest to the latest, and the preludes of opus 32 certainly possess a greater subtly of expression and complexity of harmony than the C-sharp minor Prelude or those of opus 23. Joseph DuBose
Perhaps the most renowned composition by Sergei Rachmaninoff during his lifetime was the Prelude in c-sharp minor. Fresh from his studies at the Moscow Conservatory in 1892, he wrote it as part of a group of five Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3, but it was during his concert tours after he left Russia in 1917 that the piece invariably was demanded on his programs (and if he did not play it as part of the concert, it was demanded as an encore). Whatever his thoughts about the piece at the time he wrote it, he certainly never envisioned a cycle of preludes in all the major and minor keys. Nevertheless, he returned to the genre in 1901, composing a work in g minor (it would become No. 5 in his next collection), and in 1903 wrote nine others, publishing the group as his Op. 23. Rachmaninoff would complete the cycle of keys with 13 additional preludes, composed in 1910 and published as Op. 32. Although each collection is carefully arranged to alternate mood and key, there is otherwise no strict logic to the sequence, nor, as with the two collections of études-tableaux, is there a need to perform them as a group. Alessio Bax
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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