Sophia Gorlin

24 Preludes op. 34 for Piano by Shostakovich (cont'd)

II. 24 Preludes op. 34 for Piano—
Grouping by Genre/Style Identification

Below are the brief descriptions of ‘genre origins’ and ‘genre associations’ (e.g., analogous or similar genre from the past that might have influenced the music of The Preludes, or such a genre in the future that might be influenced by The Preludes) for each of the preludes, along with the cyclic positions where applicable and with ‘most special stylistic features’ where applicable.2

The Preludes can be divided and presented in several groups, according to their cyclic position and their style/genre identification. These groups may be structured as follows:

  1. The preludes, the musical language of which definitely depicts one of the older historical styles (Renaissance, Baroque, Classicism, Romanticism, or Impressionism), will comprise a historical group of preludes.

  2. The preludes in which the composer intends to depict the notion of a contemporary lifestyle will comprise a current group of preludes. Most of these preludes are written in a humorous (comic, sarcastic, ironic, grotesque or parody) manner, realised by hyperbolizing genre-style musical stereotypes.

  3. The preludes that do not belong to either of the above groups will comprise the intermezzo group. This type of a prelude is usually more ‘neutral’ in style, more solid in genre characteristics (rhythmic, textural patterns, etc.) and does not convey much ‘programme’ information. The cyclic role of such preludes is the bridge to connect previous and subsequent pieces.

In light of this, we can distribute the 24 pieces as follows:

  1. Historical Group (10 preludes):

    Prelude No. 1 (C Major):
    a) the cyclic position: the Prologue of the prelude cycle; b) style: Neo-Baroque, contrapuntal polyphony, imitation of timbre and texture of an organ – top two layers (manuals) and bass; c) genre origin: Baroque organ music.

    Prelude No. 2 (A minor):
    a) style: Neo-Romanticism; b) genre origin: a ‘gallant’ waltz of the 19th century. Some exotic motives of Spanish music are also identifiable – imitation of the texture of guitar playing in the accompaniment throughout the piece and of a tambourine playingin the upper layer inbars 19-22.

    Prelude No. 3 (G Major):
    a) style: starts as Neo-Classic, then modulates to Neo-Baroque, an early example of a mini-cycle ‘Prelude and Fugue’; the Prelude No. 3 is the first from the historical group “invaded” by the current, more complex, “alien” style; b) genre origin: an instrumental aria in strophic form (three verses) in the Neo-Baroque style; the texture ‘modulates’ from a ‘pure’ homophonic two-layer structure in the first verse to a three-layer contrapuntal structure in the second verse.

    Prelude No. 4 (E minor):
    a) style: Neo-Baroque; b) genre origin: strict form of a Baroque fugue. The fugue subject is a diatonic melody based on Russian folk tunes (typical characteristics – diatonic, 5/4 time). There is a mild ‘invasion’ effect in this prelude too (see further description).

    Prelude No. 7 (A Major):
    a) style: Neo-Romanticism; b) genre origin: an instrumental aria-monologue (with a recitative); c) genre associations (imitation of a cello timbre): analogies with the Elegy by Massenet and with the Recitative and Romance from the String Quartet No. 2 by Shostakovich.

    Prelude No. 12 (G# minor):
    a) style: Neo-Impressionism; b) genre: a lyrical impressionistic toccatina (relentless motion of 16th notes, piano – pianissimo throughout the piece); c) genre association: an analogy with Ravel’s Sonatina.

    Prelude No. 14 (Eb minor):
    a) the cyclic position: the dramatic culmination of the entire prelude cycle; b) style: synthesis of late Baroque (the genre of Sarabande), Classicism (an analogy with Beethoven’s Funeral March from Piano Sonata No. 12, op. 26) and Romanticism (an analogy with Chopin’s Funeral March from Piano Sonata No. 2) – all three marches are in the ‘gloomy’ flatted keys: Ab minor (Beethoven), Bb minor (Chopin), Eb minor (Shostakovich); c) genre origin: synthesis of a funeral march-procession (in 3/4 time, which will be common for later Shostakovich) and a Baroque sarabande (the Baroque sarabande is commonly a slow triple dance of Spanish origin). Syncopated rhythm with an accented second beat – one of the most distinctive features of sarabande – is used throughout the Prelude.

    Prelude No. 22 (G minor):
    a) the cyclic position: the second (after Prelude No. 14), ‘romantic’ climax of the prelude cycle – concentration of expressive ‘romance’ motives that had been incubated earlier in the cycle; b) style: Neo-Romanticism; c) genre origin: the genre of romance in a synthetic strophic/through-composed form.

    Prelude No. 23 (F Major):
    a) the cyclic position: the penultimate piece that launches an arch back to the Prelude No. 1 (the use of the same diminished tetrachord, imitation of old styles); b) style: Neo-Renaissance; c) genre origin: the genre of Gregorian chant with melismatic organum and faux bourdon.

    Prelude No. 24 (D minor):
    a) the cycle position: the Epilogue of the prelude cycle, inclusive of an expanded coda, functioning simultaneously as the coda of the entire prelude cycle; b) style: Neo-Baroque; c) genre origin: the genre of a French Gavotte (bars 1-26); starting from bar 27, modulates to the genre of a Baroque instrumental prelude imitating the lute (the coda).

  2. Current Group (9 preludes)4 (for this group of the preludes, genre identification and genre association only are described):

    Prelude No. 6 (B minor):
    a) genre origin: synthesis of a polka-march and a gallop (quick polka) treated in a ‘grotesque’ manner; b) genre associations: this piece brings to mind some other Shostakovich’s grotesque images – for instance, the Nose (from the opera The Nose) walking down the Nevsky Prospect, or the Polka from the ballet The Age of Gold. The coda (the climax of the piece with the stressful ‘invasion’ effect) seems to be extrapolated from the ballet The Little Humpbacked Horse by Pugni but composed in a hyperbolized, grotesque manner; this music can also be imagined as a background for the parade-alle in the circus.

    Prelude No. 8 (F# minor):
    The ‘secondary’ genre of a humorous scherzo; genre origin: synthesis of Russian and Ukrainian folk dances (barinya, trepak, gopak and tropotyanka).

    Prelude No. 10 (C# minor):
    a) genre origin: an instrumental song-romance in a gallant-sentimental style treated ironically; imitation of a barrel-organ playing style; b) genre associations: analogous to the of the Barrel-Organ Waltz from the film The Gadfly and to the Barrel-Organ from the piano cycle Dances of the Dolls by Shostakovich.

    Prelude No. 11 (B Major):
    The ‘secondary’ genre of a scherzo–burlesque; genre origin: synthesis of French dances – contredance and cancan; there are six different motives, which reflect the six ‘figures’ of a French quadrille – the most popular type of a contredance. The cancan is also the dance of French origin and also a type of a contredance (often called a ‘Paris quadrille’). The ‘rolling’ and ‘jumping’ melodic contour in the piece is the imitation of corresponding pas (movements) of a contredance in a hyperbolized, grotesque manner.

    Prelude No. 16 (Bb minor):
    The genre of a marching song – synthesis of the martial characteristics in the accompaniment (common time and the dotted rhythmic patterns) and the song-like melody, which gradually modulates into the genre of march (the second verse). The Prelude No. 16 is the unique in the cycle whereby the genre modulation process is complete – from the marching song to the dramatic march.

    Prelude No. 17 (Ab Major):
    a) genre origin: a gallant sentimental waltz-boston treated ironically; the ‘ironic’ effect is reached by the exaggeration of stylistic features of a ‘primary’ genre: a very slow tempo (Largo, tempo rubato) and a changing meter create the ‘stretching’ effect – 3/4 changes to 4/4 (extra beat) which appears in bars 4, 8, 12, and 34. The accompanying formula is frequently interrupted by rests – as a result, the typical waltz texture is ruined; b) genre associations: this prelude is a clear precursor of the second movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Sonata No. 2 (same key) – in a similar way, the composer avoids full cadences by tying the thirds and the fifths of the tonic triad (the first full cadence appears in bar 28 only!)

    Prelude No. 18 (F minor):
    Genre origin: a gallop-buffo, treated in a sarcastic manner.

    Prelude No. 19 (Eb Major):
    a) genre origin: synthesis of the vocal genre of an aria-romance and the instrumental genres of a barcarole and a notturno (treated ironically). Some features of a serenade and a minuet can also be detected. In the coda, there is the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase;4 b) as a genre association, the Song of Venetian Gondolier by Mendelssohn should be mentioned.

    Prelude No. 20 (C minor):
    a) genre origin: the theatrical declamatory genres of cinematographic music; most likely to be depicting a ‘meeting scene’ from a play easily imaginable from the Russia of the 1930s (the illustration of a ‘furious’ crowd and the ‘orator’ in the middle part); b) genre associations bring to mind the developments of the Second and Third Symphonies by Shostakovich (specifically, the ‘meeting episodes’).

  3. Intermezzo Group (5 preludes) – most of the preludes in this group are written in a barrel-organ style:

    Prelude No. 5 (D Major):
    a) the cyclic position: the bridge from the ‘serious’ fugue (Prelude No. 4) to the ‘grotesque’ march (Prelude No. 6); b) genre originis synthetic: toccata (etude), perpetuum mobile (right hand part) and elements of a march–grotesque (left hand part) where in bars 2-4 the whole-tone scale is used – as the image of an ‘alien’, or an ‘evil’ attack; c) genre associations: the motives of fourths in the lower layer – precursors of the ‘invasion’ episode in the first movement of the Symphony No. 7 by Shostakovich.

    Prelude No. 9 (E Major):
    a) the cyclic position: the bridge from the humorous scherzo to the song-romance in a barrel- organ style; b) genre origin is synthetic: a perpetuum mobile, anItalian tarantella (6/8) synthesized with a saltarella (rhythmic pattern is the alternation of quarter–eighth notes) and a galiarda.

    Prelude No. 13 (F# Major):
    a) the cyclic position: the bridge from the lyrical impressionistic toccatina (Prelude No. 12) to the dramatic funeral procession (Prelude No. 14) – the open structure speaks best of all for this position;8 b) genre origin: a march-parody in a barrel-organ style (with the ‘genre modulation’ into the ‘romance’ motives in the middle part).

    Prelude No. 15 (Db Major):
    a) the cyclic position: an intermezzo (the light-hearted music in the bright key of Db Major, with light articulation – staccato, light dynamics in the first and second parts and a light two-layer texture) between the two ‘serious’ preludes (No. 14 and No. 16); b) genre identification: the ‘secondary’ genre of a waltz-scherzo (or waltz-joke) in a barrel-organ style; c) genre associations: as with Prelude No. 10, the Waltz-Joke from Dances of the Dolls, the Barrel-Organ Waltz from the music to the movie The Gadfly and the later Ballet Suite for orchestra by Shostakovich.

    Prelude No. 21 (Bb Major):
    a) the cyclic position: an intermezzo (light dynamics and articulation) between the sarcastic furious meeting scene (Prelude No. 20) and the lyrical expressive romance (Prelude No. 22); b) genre origin: an ‘urban’ song, imitation of a barrel-organ style, especially at the beginning (‘pure’ diatonic).

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2 In this article, I use many genre identifications that were formulated in the paper of my conservatory teacher Nina Schevchenko.3 She gave me her permission to use this material, and I express my sincere gratitude to her for this unique opportunity.

3 N. Schevchenko. Music Genre and Style as the Important Categories Necessary for Understanding of Interpretation of 24 Preludes, op. 34 by Dmitri Shostakovich. Depository copy in the Moscow Central Library, 1981.

4 It is interesting to note that all nine preludes of the Current Group are written in a humorous (ironic, grotesque, sarcastic) manner; it reflects the composer’s view of the contemporary music world in particular, and the living style of his generation, in general; Shostakovich is ultimately trying to distance himself from these phenomena depicted in the ‘ironic’ preludes. The convincing proof of this position is an inclusion of the ‘The Poet speaks’ sections as the codas of almost all preludes of the Current Group.5

5 The expression ‘The Poet speaks’ is taken from the title of a final piece of Schumann’s piano album Scenes from Childhood which serves as a ‘résumé’ of all previous songs of the album. (N.B. Even though Schumann never used the word ‘prelude’ as genre identification for his compositions, the actual genre of this and some other albums by Schumann can be stylistically seen as sets of the ‘programme’ preludes.)

8 The Prelude No. 13 can be also perceived as an expansive introduction to the following prelude since it is written in an open form, with no cadential closure (attacca type); therefore, Preludes 13 and 14 can be perceived as a dualistic pair of a ‘prelude – fugue’ type (or a comedy – tragedy pair).

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