Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chopin's Preludes - Op.28

A number of years ago I attended a piano recital with my father at the Mannes School of Music in New York during their annual summer keyboard festival. To my regret I do not remember the name of the pianist, but she was particular fabulous and enjoyable to listen to. One of the pieces she played was Chopin's Opus 28, the preludes, a composition which I feel is generally under appreciated, so I was quite happy when it was on the program. Walking out of the concert my father asked me a question, which I later realized could be the reason why Opus 28 is so undervalued. He asked, "A prelude to what?". Now, that's a pretty darn good question. Bach wrote preludes to his fugues, Shostakovitch wrote preludes to fugues, but where are Chopin's fugues? And the truth of the matter is that the preludes sound exactly like that - preludes. The listener expects something to follow. The pieces are not so melodic, and their lengths themselves would not pass for more than a prelude. For anyone that's played Opus 28, he will know that most of the preludes are not difficult to play at all, and almost all of them are intermediate level. So taking these facts into consideration, while keeping in mind that Chopin wrote scores of piano work almost all of which is extremely popular and often played at concerts and recitals, it is no wonder that the preludes suffer the blow.
          But in truth, the preludes are no less ingenious than the scherzos and ballades, something their seeming simplicity obfuscates. Franz List once said of the Opus: "Chopin’s preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart. They are not only, as the title might make one think, pieces destined to be played in the guise of introductions to other pieces; they are poetic preludes, analogous to those of a great contemporary poet, who cradles the soul in golden dreams, and elevates it to the regions of the ideal." Indeed, if a poet could cradle the soul half as well as that I would be impressed. Such is the power of words; such is the power of music. The preludes are not meant to be played as individual pieces, but as a collective unit, a compilation of the different aspects of the soul. Each prelude flows well and appropriately into the next as if painting a whole picture with many small ones. There are 24 preludes, one in each key, beginning on C major and working upward in the circle of fifths. There has definitely been criticism regarding the work, but that should not deter anybody from approaching the music clear minded. One musicologist has been quoted as saying that if all the music in the world should be destroyed with the exception of one piece, it should be Chopin's Opus 28. Prelude No. 20, the funeral march, captures with such stunning accuracy the mortality of life, and one renowned pianist once told me that in this prelude Chopin is writing about his own death, his own funeral. In Prelude No. 4 in E minor Chopin expresses the indifference of the world to an individual's sorrow and pain. The prelude begins with basic chords which even climax into a chilling forte, but the indifference of the world continues like nothing happened. The different expression of the soul are enunciated beautifully in the opus, which is truly an epic work. So no, there are no fugues, but the language of the soul is in preludes, which make up a beautiful picture. 

Rubinstein plays prelude no.20

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