Recorded on 09/28/2004, uploaded on 01/19/2009
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
A fellow student of Scriabin's at the Moscow Conservatory, Sergei Rachmaninoff's eclectic individual style, his harmonic colorations, the emotional flavor of Russian nationalism and melancholic nostalgia in his music, all serve to illustrate his mastery of the piano idiom. Perhaps there is no better example of this than his 24 preludes written for solo piano. Rachmaninoff patterned his key relationships after Chopin and wrote one prelude in each major and minor key. These three preludes from Op.32 are the epitome of Rachmaninoff's original compositional style. No. 5 in G Major possesses his grand architectural structure with a lovely melodic theme, variations, bridges, and coda; No.10 in b minor is the essence of his imaginative poetic eloquence; and No.12 in g-sharp minor evokes the haunting Siberian winds of his native Russia. Grace Nikae
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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