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

III. The 24 Preludes op. 34 for Piano—
the ABCs of Shostakovich’s Compositional Style

Having structured The Preludes by their cyclic position and genre/style identification, we approach the question that I asked myself many years ago whilst playing The Preludes for the first time: why is there a strong feeling of high integrity with this prelude cycle? There are 24 different pieces but when studied and performed, it becomes clear that the work consists of one single piece of many smaller parts. The reason for this becomes obvious when looking closely at the music: all 24 pieces consist of the same (or very similar) set of stylistic elements, the majority of which will become the common transcendent elements of the later, mature compositional style of Shostakovich (the third style level). In addition, some elements ‘travelling’ from one prelude to another, work specifically in The Preludes (the fourth and narrowest style level). I will make a distinction between the two kinds of elements by marking them with a single asterisk (more common elements) and a double asterisk (more unique elements).

As shown below, the number of elements of each kind comprises the entire Roman alphabet. Hence is the presentation of The ABCs of Shostakovich’s Compositional Style (by stylistic/special effects categories). The elements are grouped by major stylistic characteristics (tonality, intervals, chords, rhythm, texture, structure, special effects) and proceed from the more common (one asterisk) to the more unique (two asterisks) within each group. (Musical examples are offered for the ‘two asterisks’ kind of elements only.)


(a)* Diatonic ‘pure’ or ‘extended’ tonality (with lowered or raised scale degrees):

‘Pure’ diatonic: Prelude No. 4 (with the exception of two bars – 27 and 28 – the ‘invasion’ of the Ab Major key); Prelude No. 21 (bars 1-10).

‘Diatonic ‘extended’ tonality: Preludes Nos. 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 14, 17, 18, 19, 21, and 23.

(b)* Use of ‘church’ modes:

Prelude No. 10 (Dorian mode);

Prelude No. 13 (Lydian mode);

Prelude No. 14 (Phrygian mode);

Prelude No. 17 (Lydian mode);

Prelude No. 18 (Phrygian mode).

(c)* Chromatic ‘extended’ tonality - with modulations and juxtapositions of distant keys (e.g., mediant chromatic, common third, tritone relationship):

Prelude No. 2:
modulation from A minor to B minor - the major second relationship;

Prelude No. 3:
juxtaposition of G Major – C# minor – the tritone relationship;

Prelude No. 9:
‘passing’ modulations from E Major to D minor and Bb Major (the second and tritone relationships);

Prelude No. 10:
modulation from C# minor to Bb minor in bars 28-38 (the mediant chromatic relationship) and to C Major (bars 49-51) – the ‘common third’ relationship;

Prelude No. 11 (one of a few preludes where the tonic is not clearly stated at the beginning of the piece):
‘passing’ modulation from B Major to Bb Major (the minor second relationship) – in bars 30-31 (in the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase);

Prelude No. 12:
‘passing’ modulations from G# minor to G Major (bar 7, the ‘common third’ relationship); F Major (bar 12), B minor (bar 16), C minor (bar 21) and E minor (bar 23) – the mediant chromatic relationships (the major and minor thirds rising and falling); from G# minor to G minor (the minor second relationship) and C# Major (the major subdominant relationship);

Prelude No. 13:
modulation from F# Major to C minor in bar 23 – the tritone relationship;

Prelude No. 15:
modulation from Db Major to G Major in bar 21 – the tritone relationship, juxtaposition of Ab Major and D minor in bar 40 – the tritone relationship; juxtaposition of Db Major and G minor in bar 52 – the tritone relationship;

Prelude No. 16:
modulation from Bb minor to A minor (bar 11) (the minor second relationship); ‘passing’ modulation to G minor (bar 23) (the mediant chromatic relationship);

Prelude No. 20:
‘passing’ modulation from C minor to Bb minor (bar 11) (the major second relationship);

Prelude No. 22:
modulation from G minor to E Major (bar 16) (mediant chromatic relationship); juxtaposition of E Major - E minor (bars 16-20) (the parallel relationship); juxtaposition of G minor - Bb minor (bar 36, beginning of the transition – ‘genre modulation’) (the chromatic mediant relationship);

Prelude No. 24:
juxtaposition of D minorAb Major in bars 40-41- the tritone relationship.

(d)* Diminished tetrachords (encompassing a diminished fourth):

Prelude No. 1 (bars 14-15);

Prelude No. 5 (bars 19-20);

Prelude No. 8 (bars 27-28);

Prelude No. 12 (bars 5-6, 8, 9, 13–14, 22–23; 28–29);

Prelude No. 14 (bars 4-5);

Prelude No. 23 (bars 20-21) - an obvious arch to the Prelude No. 1 (same tetrachord – D-Eb-F-Gb).

(e)* Major-minor third alternation:

Prelude No. 1 (bars 18-19);

Prelude No. 8 (bars 8-9);

Prelude No. 10 (bars 46-47);

Prelude No. 17 (bar 31);

Prelude No. 23 (bars 22-23).

(f)** Use of ‘artificial’ scales (solid or broken): 1) chromatic solid scale, 2) chromatically ‘sliding’ up or down intervals/chords/trichords/tetrachords (solid or broken) (‘sliding’ effect); 3) whole-tone solid scale; 4) whole tone broken scale; 5) whole tone-half tone scale;6) 7-8 tone series.6

Prelude No. 2:
2) ‘sliding’ seconds (bars 16, 19, 28). See Example 1a;
3) whole tone solid scale (bars 25, 35). See Example 1b;
4) whole tone broken scale (bars 34-35). See Example 1c.

Example 1a. Prelude No. 2.

Boxed are 'sliding' seconds (diminished thirds).

Prelude No. 2

Example 1b. Prelude No. 2.

Boxed is a whole-tone scale.

Prelude No. 2

Example 1c. Prelude No. 2.

Circled are the five segments of the broken whole-tone,
bracketed is the solid whole-tone scale.

Prelude No. 2

Prelude No. 3:
2) ‘sliding’ six chords (bars 14-15). See Example 2a;
3) whole-tone solid scale (bars 30-32). See Example 2b.

Example 2a. Prelude No. 3.

Bracketed are the ‘sliding’ down six chords.

Prelude No. 3

Example 2b. Prelude No. 3.

Bracketed are the ascending and descending whole-tone scales
in the ‘invasion’ episode (immediately after the climactic point).

Prelude No. 3

Prelude No. 5:
2) ‘sliding’ triads and six-four chords (bars 17–18). See Example 3.
3) whole tone solid scale (bars 2-3).

Example 3. Prelude No. 5.

Circled are 'sliding' down triads and six-four chords.

Prelude No. 5

Prelude No. 8:
6) 7-tone series (bars 36-38).

Prelude No. 11:
1) chromatic solid scale* (bars 2, 24);
2) ‘sliding’ up fourths (bars 3-4).

Prelude No. 15:
2) ‘sliding’ down melodic (broken) thirds (bars 17-18). See Example 4.

Prelude No. 16:
2) ‘sliding’ trichords (bars 24-25).

Example 4. Prelude No. 15.

Ellipsed are the 'sliding' down melodic major thirds.

Prelude No. 15

Prelude No. 17:
2) ‘sliding’ six-four chords (bar 18);
6) 7-tone series (bars 24-27). See Example 5.

Example 5. Prelude No. 17.

Bracketed are the 7-8 tone series.

Prelude No. 17

Prelude No. 19:
2) ‘sliding’ up broken perfect fourths (bars 3 and 26) and ‘sliding’ down trichords (bars 27-28). See Example 6. ‘Sliding’ down solid major thirds (bars 40-41). See Example 29.

Example 6. Prelude No. 19.

Bracketed are the 'sliding' up perfect fourths (lower layer)
and the 'sliding' down trichords (middle layer).

Prelude No. 19

Prelude No. 20:
2) ‘sliding’ (up the octave) tetrachords (bars 31-32). See Example 7.
1) chromatic solid scale* (bars 3, 5, 8-9, 24).

Example 7. Prelude no. 20 (the coda).

Ellipsed are 'sliding' up through the octave tetrachords.

Prelude no. 20 (the coda)

Prelude No. 22:
2) ‘sliding’ down harmonic thirds – first used in the climactic point of the piece (bar 24).

Prelude No. 23:
2) ‘sliding’ trichords (bars 5 and 26). See Example 8.

Example 8. Prelude No. 23.

Ellipsed are the 'sliding' up melodic tetrachords.

Prelude No. 23

Prelude No. 24:
5) whole-half tone (octatonic) scale (bar 42). See Example 9.

Example 9. Prelude No. 24.

Bracketed is the whole-half scale.

Prelude No. 24

(g)** Lament motive (in most cases, the expression of the composer’s presence in the piece): descending or ascending second (suspension): downbeat-upbeat structure:

Prelude No. 2:
The first appearance is in bar 7 – an ascending motive G# – A. See Example 10a. The next appearance is in a final cadence (bar 37), ‘hidden’ in the bass descending F - E natural - in the composer’s ‘afterthought’ that becomes a pattern for many following preludes. See Example 10b. [I call this pattern the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase (the ‘program’ note as in the Schumann’s album); appearing at the very end of the most sarcastic and grotesque preludes, the ‘lament’ motive seems to manifest the composer saying ‘sorry’ for his indulgence in depicting such a ‘distorted’ view]. Those appearing in the lower voice in bars 25 through 29 (C natural-B) draw more attention because of the ‘trampling’ repeats (five times!) This prepares the final appearances of the ‘lament’ – in penultimate bar 33 (same C natural–B) and final bar 34 – that is the one we are already familiar with – the final ‘wink’–‘sorry’ of the composer (A#–B). See Example 15.

Prelude No. 3:
Appears in bars 33-34 (as a response to wild ‘invasion’ that happened in bar 27), in the top voice (Eb-D), followed by the ‘The Poet speaks’ final phrase. See Example 11.

Prelude No. 4:
In bar 28 (as a response to the ‘invasion’ in bar 27) – descending Ab-G followed by a coda. See Example 12.

Example 10a. Prelude No. 2.

Ellipsed is the first example of the lament motive (suspension to A) in the prelude cycle.

Prelude No. 2

Example 10b. Prelude No. 2.

Ellipsed is the lament motive in bass, in the final bars (the composer’s ‘wink’).

Prelude No. 2

Example 11. Prelude No. 3, final bars.

Circled are the lament motives in the top voice (reaction to the
previous 'invasion'); bracketed is the broken 'quintal' chord.

Prelude No. 3, final bars

Prelude No. 6:
In the strong ‘invasion’ episode (bars 51-54), the transformed ‘laments’ in the top voice - strong dynamics (fff), accented articulation (‘pin’ accents) and dense chordal texture - create a frenzy effect; in bar 57, the ‘lament’ gets its ‘regular’ interpretation as a final composer’s ‘wink’ (descending C natural–B in bass). See Example 13.

Prelude No. 8:
The first appearance of the ‘lament’ is in bar 29 (G natural–F#); in the coda, the composer ‘comes out of the closet’ playing with the ‘artificial’ elements (serialistic sets, the whole-tone scale), and in the final bars 41-42 the final ‘lament’ (Bb–A) appears ‘hidden’ in the lower voice - the composer sends us his final ‘wink’. See Example 14.

Example 12. Prelude No. 4 (the Fugue).

The ‘genre modulation,’ invasion effect and lament/transition to coda. Boxed is the Ab Major triad—the climax of the piece at which the genre modulation is complete.

Prelude No. 4 (the Fugue)

Example 13. Prelude No. 6, the Invasion Episode.

Bracketed are the transformed ‘trampling’ laments (frenzy effect),
circled is the lament in bass—the final composer’s ‘wink’.

Prelude No. 6, the Invasion Episode

Example 14. Prelude No. 8 (the coda).

Composer’s ‘play’ with different pitch and scale elements and his ‘lament-wink’ at the end

Prelude No. 8 (the coda) The lament (the composer’s ‘wink’)

Example 15. Prelude No. 11—the coda.

Ellipsed are the sequenced fourths in the right hand part,
circled are the ‘trampling laments’ in the left hand part.

Prelude No. 11—the coda

Prelude No. 10:
In bar 17 (D natural-C#): in the first cadence (due to the use of the lowered second degree, this occurrence is rather perceived as a ‘comic’ lament (exaggeration of emotion); in bars 30 and 33, the descending Ab-Gb is perceived much more seriously.

Prelude No. 11:
The ‘laments’ are ‘all over the place’ in this prelude. The first appearances (in bars 19 and 22 – descending F natural-E and Bb-A natural) are largely absorbed by the quick tempo of this scherzo-burlesque.

Prelude No. 12:
As in the previous prelude, the final ‘lament’ is prepared ‘in advance’ – in the second part of the piece, in the top voice, in consecutive bars 23 (Gb-F natural), 24 (Ab-G natural) and 25 (A#–G#); the final ‘lament’ appears in the penultimate bar 38 (C natural- B in the middle voice). The composer places his ‘lament’ at the very end of the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase – this sounds quite serious, but Shostakovich assures us – no, not now, the truly serious pieces are still a way ahead! See Example 16.

Example 16. Prelude No. 12 (the Coda).

Prelude No. 12 (the Coda)

Prelude No. 13:
The ‘laments’ are mostly sarcastic here, such as in bars 14 and 29, in the top voice (descending G natural–F#); the piece obviously predicts the next ‘grand’ prelude No. 14: hence there are no ‘poet’s words’ at the end of it, the structure is quite open…

Prelude No. 14:
In this, the most significant prelude in the cycle and an extremely dramatic piece, the ‘lament’ motives become transcendent and assimilated in the dense texture. The most important motives are: in the first part – in bar 12 (ascending F# – G natural in the top voice), in the very climax of the piece, in bars 25–26 – transformed into the bellowing dissonant sonority (top notes – G natural–Gb); and in the final cadence, ‘hidden’ in the bass’s Gb-F doubled in octaves. This ‘grand’ and great prelude is so much ‘Shostakovich’s’ in its genre and style that there is no need for the composer’s afterthought.

Prelude No. 16:
The ‘lament’ returns in bar 15 (descending Ebb-Db) predicting the dramatic ‘genre modulation’ from the marching song to the dramatic march. The next important instance is in bar 24, enforced by sforzando and ‘pin’ accent (Cb-Bb in the uppermost voice); after the ‘invasion’ episode, there is a short afterthought with an almost inconspicuous ‘lament’ in the lower voice (ascending E natural-F). The composer’s presence is becoming almost ‘virtual’…

Prelude No. 17:
The music of this, slow and languished Waltz Boston, is full of ‘laments’; they are treated here in a grotesque fashion, being exaggerated by a slow tempo and juxtaposition with ‘out of tune’ and ‘out of meter’ in-between motives. For instance, the ‘lament’ motive in bar 11 (3/4 time, ascending D natural-Eb) is juxtaposed with the motive in bar 12 in common time, and out of the Ab Major tonality. There is still a composer’s afterthought in the final six bars which is somewhat camouflaged by the return of the waltz’s tonal and rhythmic patterns. The ‘lament’ intonations in the melody (descending Fb-Eb, then F natural-Eb) are those signalling a composer’s presence in the piece. Again, this presence is so subtle that is barely audible…

Prelude No. 18:
The most identifiable ‘lament’ in this piece is in bar 36 (descending Db-C); the melody unexpectedly ‘jumps’ a fifth to reach Db in a way that clearly ‘grabs’ the attention. There are two more ‘laments’ – in bar 43 (descending Gb-F) and in bar 44 (descending Bb-Ab). The next descending legato phrase is obviously the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase, and most noticeable is the repeat of Db - C ‘lament’ in bar 46, and again, in the final two chords (the upper voice) that means - the composer is surely there!

Prelude No. 19:
The most identifiable ‘laments’ in this piece are in bars 17 through 19 – they ascend sequentially by half tones (C# – B natural, D natural-C, and Eb-D). In the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase starting in bar 40, there are descending chromatically ‘laments’ doubled in thirds – they are an unalienable part of the composer’s image.

Prelude No. 21:
The ‘laments’ first appear in the central part of the song (bar 12, Db-C in the top voice). They are further transformed (in bars 21-22) into the ‘romance’ intonations (see below); there is an ascending expressive ‘lament’ in bar 24 (A natural-Bb), and one in the next bar 25 (Bb-A) which is repeated in bar 28 (Bb-A). The final one is in bar 32 – made up from the expressive lowered sixth degree (Gb-F). The accumulation of ‘lament’ and ‘romance’ intonations incite the wonderful music of the next piece.

Prelude No. 24:
In the final prelude, the short ‘lament’ in the second bar (Gb–F) (the illustration of the Gavotte gesture) is worthy of note, in that it returns in bar 44 as F#–F natural. These final bars of the entire prelude cycle apparently convey the image of the composer who sends his final ‘wink’ to the listener – notwithstanding he was only 26, Shostakovich had already matured enough to obtain and indulge in the grotesque view of the contemporary musical world. See Endnote 12.

(h)** Romance motive: contains the ‘lament’ motive, but goes beyond it with the inclusion of the ascending minor sixth before it - from the upbeat (upbeat–downbeat–upbeat structure).

Prelude No. 7:
The first appearance of the ‘romance’ motive: slightly ‘hidden’ in bar 6 (Bb-Gb-F natural); then more evidently – in bars 19-20 (A-F natural-E). See Example 22.

Prelude No. 13:
Romance intonation can be clearly detected in bars 20-21 (A#–F#–E#); it signals the ‘genre modulation’ – from the march-parody to the expressive romance - and launches the arch to the next dramatic prelude. See Example 17.

Example 17. Prelude No. 13.

Boxed is the 'romance' motive; brackets show the 'genre modulation' from march to romance.

Prelude No. 13

Prelude No. 14:
The modified ‘romance’ motive can be found in bars 25-26 (the top notes of the bellowing chords at the climactic point – Bb-G natural-Gb) and in bars 27-28 – Bb–Fb-Eb (a diminished fifth up instead of a minor sixth); the use of a Phrygian mode makes it sound gloomier yet more expressive. See Example 18.

Example 18. Prelude No. 14 (the climactic point).

The modified romance motives—a) (bracketed): Bb-G natural-Gb, b) (circled):
Bb-Fb-Eb (the diminished fifth up instead of a minor sixth).

Prelude No. 14 (the climactic point)

Prelude No. 19:
The ‘romance’ motive has been crystallized through bars 16-18 and matured in bars 18-19 (G–Eb-D) delineating the G minor key (an obvious precursor of the ‘romance’ motives in the Prelude No. 22 in the same key). See Example 19.

Example 19. Prelude No. 19.

Crystallization of the romance motive (in G minor, as in the Prelude No. 22)

Prelude No. 19

Prelude No. 21:
The ‘romance’ intonations appear in bars 21-22 (Bb–Gb–F) - the most recent precursor of the mature ‘romance’ intonations in the Prelude No. 22. See Example 30.

Prelude No. 22:
This prelude is the quintessence of the genre of romance and is the apogee of the development and maturing of the ‘romance’ motives within the entire prelude cycle. These motives appear at the beginning of the phrase - in bars 9-10 (delineating the G minor ascending sixth – D-Bb). In the middle of the first verse, there is a ‘passing’ modulation to the Eb minor – the tonal reminiscence of the Prelude No. 14 (as we will further see, there are some other tonal links to this most dramatic and significant prelude of the cycle). The next verse of the romance modulates into E minor and starts from the ‘romance’ motive in bars 18-19 (B natural–G-F#). The E minor phrase receives an intense development moving up to the climactic point, which is positioned unusually early in the piece. (Whatever happens after that point, never reaches the strong climax again.) See Example 20. There are some more ‘hidden’ ‘romance’ motives in the lower voice with the sixth filled in by the ascending G minor scale – in bars 31-32 and again in bars 33-34 – these ‘filled in’ motives resemble the flowing tides of emotions; they ebb and flow again and again until exhausted. The final appearance of the ‘romance’ motive is clearly heard in the coda where in the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase (bar 41) the long D which is held through the bar line rises to Bb before scaling ‘down the hill’.

Example 20. Prelude No. 22—the Quintessence of the Genre of Romance.

Circled are the romance motives at the beginning of the second and third verse of the piece. Boxed is the Eb minor chord—the tonal reminiscence of the Prelude No. 14.

Prelude No. 22—the Quintessence of the Genre of Romanc


(i)* Changing meter (14 preludes out of 24):

Prelude No. 4 (bar 14);
Prelude No. 5 (bar 19);
Prelude No. 6 (bars 48, 50);
Prelude No. 7 (bars 19–20);
Prelude No. 11 (bar 29);
Prelude No. 12 (bars 17, 25, 27, 30);
Prelude No. 13 (bars 10, 22, 23);
Prelude No. 14 (bar 23);
Prelude No. 17 (bars 4, 8, 12, 34 – 3/4 meter is ‘stretched’ to the common time);
Prelude No. 18 (bars 18, 33);
Prelude No. 20 (bar 5);
Prelude No. 22 (bars 18, 30);
Prelude No. 23 (two final bars – 28 and 29 – the common time is chosen to reflect the shortcomposer’s afterthought);
Prelude No. 24 (bar 29, transition to coda).

(j)** Syncopated rhythm at the climactic/‘genre modulation’/transition points, usually in combination with other ‘deviating’ elements (‘artificial’ scales):

Prelude No. 1:
Bars 16-18 - in combination with the elements of the whole-tone (or, in another interpretation, Phrygian/Dorian) scale.

Prelude No. 3:
Bar 16 – solo, transition; bars 30-32 – the strong climax of the piece; the whole-tone scales are all syncopated. See Example 2b.

Prelude No. 17:
Bars 25-27 – soft climax of the piece, the 7-8 tone series in the upper layer is syncopated (the waltz meter is completely dissolved). Bar 34 – combination with the changing meter (the feeling of a cadential closure is dissolved there too). See Example 5.

Prelude No. 22:
Bars 36–38 – hemiola, genre modulation, transition to the coda. See Example 21.

Example 21. Prelude No. 22—Transition and Coda.

Syncopation in the genre modulation/transition section (hemiola); Ellipsed (the top staff) is the ‘filled in’ romance motive; Circled (the bottom staff) is the modified rhythmically romance motive (the top note is shifted from the downbeat).

Prelude No. 22—Transition and Coda


(k)** Sequence of ascending/descending fourths:

Prelude No. 7:
Bars 15-16: the sequence of ascending perfect and augmented fourths. See Example 22.

Example 22. Prelude No. 7.

Bracketed is a sequence of ascending perfect and augmented fourths;
Ellipsed are the early examples of romance motives.

Prelude No. 7

Prelude No. 9:
Bar 10: the sequence of descending perfect fourths. See Example 23. Bars 40-41: the sequence of ascending perfect fourths.

Example 23. Prelude No. 9.

Bracketed is the sequence of descending fourths.

Prelude No. 9

Prelude No. 11:
Bars 25-26, 27–28 – the sequence of ascending perfect and augmented fourths. See Example 15.

Prelude No. 19:
Bars 3 and 26 – the sequence of ‘sliding’ up chromatically perfect fourths. See Example 6.

Prelude No. 24:
Bars 38-39: ‘transitional’ ascending sequence of fourths – leads to the ‘invasion’ of the Ab Major triad. See Example 24.

Example 24. Prelude No. 24.

Boxed is a 12-segment ascending sequence of fourths

Prelude No. 24


(l)* Chords of tertian structure - solid or broken (Arpeggio); present in all preludes (signals the traditional tonal musical language).

(m)* Chords of non-tertian structure (signals the modern musical language):

Prelude No. 3:
Bar 35: the broken ‘quintal’ chord in the final ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase. See Example 11.

Prelude No. 6:
bars 36-41: trichords consisting of 7ths and 9ths;

Prelude No. 7:
trichords consisting of 4ths and 9ths (bar 5);

Prelude No. 9:
bars 40-43: ‘trampling’ trichords consisting of 5ths and 2nds (A–E–F natural);

Prelude No. 12:
trichords consisting of 2nds (bar 33), 2nds and 3rds (bar 34); cluster-like hexachord in bar 35;

Prelude No. 22:
tetrachord consisting of 7ths and 4ths (bar 37 – Gb–F–Bb–Eb); pentachord consisting of 9ths and 4ths (bar 38 – D-G-Bb-Eb-Gb).


(n)* Counterpoint (use of two or more independent lines): Preludes Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 22, and 23.

(o)* Imitative Polyphony – use of canons and fugues: Preludes Nos. 3, 4, and 18.

(p)* Use of distant - extremely low/high - registers:

Prelude No. 9:
Use of extremely high register – from bar 43 to the end, with the distance between the bottom and the top notes (bar 44) of about 6.5 octaves!

Prelude No. 13:
Distant registers in bars 29-34 (‘rarefied’ texture): distance between the top and bottom notes – 6 octaves!

Prelude No. 20:
Use of extremely low register in bars 14-18 – the ‘tuba’ theme (speech of the ‘orator’).

(q)* Parallel motion of 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths or 8ths:

Prelude No. 1 (parallel 2nds);

Prelude No. 5 (parallel triads);

Prelude No. 6 (parallel 6ths);

Prelude No. 8 (parallel 5ths);

Prelude No. 14 (parallel octaves);

Prelude No. 16 (parallel 3rds, 6ths and 8ths – in the climax);

Prelude No. 22 (parallel 3rds – in the climax);

Prelude No. 24 (parallel 6ths).


(r)** 1 part form: through-composed/avoidance of full cadential closures/open structure (attacca type):

Preludes Nos. 1, 5, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 17, 20 and 21.

(s)** 3 part form with a short modified reprise, transition/genre modulation/coda:

Preludes Nos. 2, 10, 11, 15, 16, 18, 19, and 23.

(t)** Polyphonic form (fugue)with the ‘invasion’ episode and the coda: Prelude No. 4.

(u)** Strophic form with transitions/codas (as ‘genre modulation’/’invasion’ episode/’The Poet Speaks’ phrase):

Prelude No. 3:
Strophic form with unsteady texture modulating from homophonic (the first verse) to contrapuntal (the second verse), then to the homophonic transition (bars 14–16) and back to the contrapuntal (the third verse). The instant genre and stylistic modulation (‘invasion’ effect) happens in the coda that starts in bar 27 (sudden tremolo and fanfare), followed by ‘lament’ intonations in bars 33–34 and the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase in the two final bars. Tremolo starting in high register and then moving to the low register launches the bridge to the climax of the Prelude No. 14.

Prelude No. 6:
Starts from the introductory phrase (first 6 bars) which leads to the tonic in the first cadence. Each of the three verses (parts) ends with the same cadence ‘trampling’ the tonic triad (in bars 21, 32 and 49 – the last one interrupted by the sudden ‘invasion’ elements); these cadences intend to bring the tonic back after playing the false notes by the two wind orchestras. As in the Prelude No. 3, the coda brings the strong and sudden climax by ‘invading’ the new elements – chords in the top voices and dissonant diminished thirds in the lower voices, both articulated with ‘aggressive’ pin accents and supported by forte-fortissimo dynamics. There is a short composer’s ‘wink’ in the final two bars; this modulation is very quick – the new element is inserted in bass (C natural–B) – it is a barely audible ‘lament’ intonation.

Prelude No. 8:
As in prelude No. 6, the tonic of this piece becomes legible in the first cadence when the third of the tonic triad first appears in bar 9 (A natural); the second cadence brings the key of harmonic dominant (C# Major) in bar 17. The third part brings the F# minor tonic back, but then, without actual stop, flows into the coda where ‘The Poet speaks’ again. This final episode consists of several short motives – the first one is a 7-note series (non-repeated tones) motive in the lower voice whilst the fifth in the top voices is held through it (bars 36–38). The second motive is a part of a whole-tone scale (bar 39), and the third motive is the brief composer’s ‘wink’ in the final two bars, ‘hidden’ in bass (Bb–A). Although very short, these motives are still very distinctive from each other by texture, modes and rhythmic patterns. They kaleidoscopically follow one another (as in a cinematographic music). See Example 14.

Prelude No. 12:
The first 32 bars of this prelude is a ceaseless 16th notes motion in the accompaniment – that is why the genre is identified as toccatina (etude, exercise). These 32 bars consist of two parts, 16 bars each (the first part ends with a cadence modulating into the B minor in bar 16). The second part brings many ‘lament’ motives into the melody (especially in bars 22–25), this is why the genre of the piece is also identified as ‘lyrical’. There is a coda where the ‘genre modulation’ happens: the ceaseless motion stops, and the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase follows in a quiet (pp), chordal and legato atmosphere; and, of course, the composer’s ‘wink’ is there (in the final bars, as always, ‘hidden’ in a middle voice). [It seems interesting to compare the final bars of this prelude to the final bars of a previous Prelude No. 11. Look quite similar, don’t they?]

Prelude No. 22:
The structure of this prelude (the lyrical climax of the cycle) combines characteristics of the composed through and the strophic form; this is why some sections of the prelude should be considered dualistically. For instance, the first nine bars of the piece are clearly perceived as the introduction (in the composed through version). At the same time, this section functions as the first verse of the strophic form - offers a pattern for the quasi authentic half cadence in bars 8-9 (the two melodic descending thirds in the top voice followed by the D – dominant -in the bottom voice). This pattern is followed by the cadences of the next two verses – in bar 17 (the second verse cadence – includes the two descending thirds which end on the B natural – the dominant of the E minor) and in bars 34-35 (the third verse cadence – includes both descending thirds in the high top voice and the dominant D in the bass). In the composed through version, the second verse (bars 10-17) functions as the exposition (introduces the mature version of the ‘romantic’ motive), and the third verse (bars 18-35) functions as the development (tonal modulations to the E minor and B minor) and the tonal recapitulation (bars 26-35). Up to this point, the form remains open; then it is concluded by the transition and the coda (the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase). (For more details, see the discussion on page 45.)

Prelude No. 24:
This final prelude of the cycle consists of two parts: first is an imitation of a French gavotte (the prelude proper) and the second is a coda of the entire cycle (with a short reprise – second coda). There are three verses in the first part, each ending with a cadence: the first two verses end with a full cadence in D minor, and the third one ends with the cadential six-four chord thus opening the structure to the next part - Baroque instrumental prelude. [This stop on the cadential six-four chord should remind us of the orchestral final chord before the cadenza solo in the first movements of classical concertos. This additionally proves that the following section is actually the cadenza (coda) of the entire cyclic piece.]

Special Effects:

(v)* ‘Trampling’ (repetition) effect:

Prelude No. 6:
The ‘trampling’ effect as part of the ‘invasion’ episode: ‘trampling’ seconds are notated as diminished thirds (bars 50–54);

Prelude No. 9:
‘trampling’ seconds (bars 28-31); ‘trampling’ trichords in bass (bars 40-43); ‘trampling’ broken trichords with octaves in the top layer (F natural–E-B, bars 44-49); ‘trampling’ octaves (bars 32-33; 36-37) with the following unisons (bars 38-39);

Prelude No. 11:
‘trampling’ thirds (bars 11-13);

Prelude No. 12:
a) ‘trampling’ unisons throughout the piece (bars 1, 2, 4, 7, 9, 14, 16, 19);
b) ‘trampling’ seconds (bars 10-11);

Prelude No. 13:
a) repetition of the accompanying formula throughout the piece - bars 1-10 (first part), 14-19, 24-27 (middle section), and 29-36 (reprise); b) ‘trampling’ fourths (bars 14-15);

Prelude No. 15:
Repetition of an accompanying formula – bars 1 through 10 (Db Major triad), then bars 34 through 38 (F minor triad); bars 42-51 (reprise, Db Major triad again);

Prelude No. 16:
‘trampling’ thirds and seconds (the accompanying formula) in the first verse – bars 2 through 6, in the second verse – bars 14–15 and 20–21, in the coda (in the different harmonic environment) – in bars 28–29;

Prelude No. 18:
starting from bar 8 – ‘trampling’ tonic triads, melodic and harmonic, along with unisons (an intentional primitivism of the melodic and harmonic language that creates a ‘grotesque’ effect);

Prelude No. 20:
a) in bars 8-9 - ‘trampling’ tonic triad in the accompaniment;
b) in bars 14-19 - ‘trampling’ thirds;

Prelude No. 21:
‘Trampling’ thirds and seconds in the accompaniment are frequently repeated throughout the piece;

Prelude No. 23:
The numerous repeats of the trichords throughout the piece (C1-C2-D).

(w)* Comic (ironic, parody, sarcasm, grotesque) effect:

All of the preludes of the Current Group eventually create at least ‘comic’ or at most the strong ‘grotesque’ effect. The ‘comic’ effect is reached by hyperbolizing the stylistic features of the ‘primary’ genre. The most brilliant examples of such treatment are:

Prelude No. 6:
As prominent Russian pianist H. Neihaus observed, “This prelude is a parody on two wind orchestras playing out of tune and out of beat”.7 After a six-bar introduction, Shostakovich creates a bitonal episode – the main theme (the top layer) is in G Major and the accompaniment (the bottom layer) is in B minor (the tonic). This is how the ‘grotesque’ effect is created - C# and C natural sounding simultaneously create a dissonant sonority that really ‘strikes’ the ear.

Prelude No. 13:
The ‘grotesque’ effect is created by the following: firstly, by imitation of the barrel-organ style of playing (see above); secondly, in the reprise, the texture becomes almost transparent (‘rarefied’ texture) due to a placement of the melody and the accompanying chords in the extremely distant (high and low) registers (the distance between the top and the bottom notes reaches 6 octaves!) As a result, the martial structure is dissipated leaving just one note – the common tone in the enharmonic equivalence (A#-Bb) – as an almost inaudible connection to the next piece.

Prelude No. 17:
The ‘grotesque’ effect is created by the following: firstly, the Waltz Boston melody is ‘stretched’ until goes out of meter – 4/4 instead of 3/4 – and out of key (with all naturals in the key of Ab Major); secondly, the ironic effect in this prelude (as in several others) is reached through imitation of a barrel-organ style (see above – Nos. 10, 15 and 21 – from the Current and Intermezzo groups.)

In both Preludes 18 and 20, the ‘grotesque’ effect is attained through the exaggeration of genre characteristics. In Prelude No. 18 (gallop-buffo), the ‘trampling’ tonic chords (after the introduction, in bars 8 through 16) create an impression of primitiveness in the music and of artificially unnatural movements of the gallop dancers. In Prelude No. 20, in the same bar 8 after the introduction (!), there are ‘trampling’ tonic chords in bass – creating the same impression of a primitiveness of the people gathering at a meeting (as a reminder – the untitled ‘programme’ of this prelude is a ‘meeting scene’). In bars 14-24, the ‘trampling’ thirds in the upper voices and unnaturally low register of the ‘melody’ in conjunction with accentuation (‘pin’ accents in bars 14-17) create a strong ‘grotesque’ effect as if somebody at the meeting had tried to speak but that his voice was too low to be heard, which is why the crowd (‘trampling’ thirds) had ‘overpowered’ the ‘orator’.

(x)* Barrel-Organ’ effect (imitation of a barrel-organ playing style):

Prelude No. 10:
The barrel-organ effect is reached by soft dynamics (piano with a slight change at the end of the passage), semplice and sempre markings; use of the tonic pedal and repetition of the tonic chords, the melody looping around the tonic; repetitions of thematic material throughout the middle section, reprise and coda: bars 29-31 (32-34) and four more bars of repetition of the left hand part (bars 35-38); repetition of seconds in Allegretto (transition to coda); in the coda, repetition of bars 58-59 (60-61).

Prelude No. 13:
Thanks to the repetitive musical backcloth, the music can be associated again with the barrel- organ. There are some ‘trampling’ intonations in the top voices which enhance the barrel-organ effect (‘trampling’ fourths in bars 14-15); the ‘romance’, more ‘human’ intonations in the middle part seem to be played by another instrument (like cello, for instance); this ‘genre modulation’ lasts for four bars, then the reprise returns us to the barrel-organ playing style.

Prelude No. 15:
For the same reasons, the music can also here be associated with the barrel-organ playing style (alternatively, another association would be with Shostakovich’s the Barrel-Organ Waltz from the music to the movie The Gadfly).

Prelude No. 21:
As with the previous prelude, the music of the Prelude No. 21 can be associated with a barrel-organ playing style. In this prelude, there is another typical characteristic of a barrel-organ style - a melodic contour; in bar 8, the melody starts moving in a loop, down and back up using wide intervals (the composer’s future favourites – sevenths and ninths), first in a range of an octave, then in a wider range reaching more than two octaves (bars 17-18 – from the bottom D1 to the top Eb3). [It is interesting to note that both 15th and 21st preludes (both in the barrel-organ style) belong to the intermezzo group of The Preludes (not the significant ones).]

(y)** Invasion’ effect(usually in climactic zones):

Prelude No. 3:
The ‘invasion effect’ happens in bars 27-32, in the strong climactic zone, as a result of a ‘genre modulation’- juxtaposition of all major elements – new rhythm (dotted with 16th notes triplets), new texture (tremolo and fanfare exchanging textural positions), subito dynamics (fff after ppp), new tonality (C# minor chord – tritone relationship to the G Major) and the whole-tone scale (as an expression of an ‘alien’ image), with the ‘lament’ motives in bars 33-34 as a response to the ‘invasion’. See Example 2b.

Prelude No. 4:
The ‘invasion effect’ appears is bar 27 (much milder though than in the previous prelude) – in the climactic point of the piece: ‘pure’ diatonic E minor modulates to the Ab Major creating a ‘horizontal’ dissonance with the home key. The change of key (distant chromatic mediant relationship), rhythm and texture signals a genre modulation (see below). In bar 28, there is a ‘lament’ response to it (Eb–Ab–G). Then the E minor returns in the coda of this fugue. See Example 12.

Prelude No. 6:
The ‘invasion’ happens in the final bars 50-58 – the strong climax, ‘genre modulation’ (strong dynamics – fff, chordal texture with the dissonant sonorities, 16th notes triplets) – a clear connection with the previous ‘invasion’ in the Prelude No. 3 with the same rhythm and strong articulation (‘pin’ accents); all these elements also create a strong ‘frenzy’ effect. See Example 13.

Prelude No. 16:
Bars 28-30: the ‘invasion’ effect is reached by the new rhythm (dotted in the left hand part and, again, the eighth triplets in the right hand part); the new element – fanfare marcato – creates a clear link back to the ‘invasion’ section of the Prelude No. 3. See Example 25.

Example 25. Prelude No. 16.

Bracketed is the ‘invasion’ episode; Circled is the composer’s final ‘wink’ (‘lament’).

Prelude No. 16

(z)** Genre modulation: as with tonal modulation, may appear in two versions – 1) instant (most of the occurrences) - juxtaposition of different genres/stylistic features (texture, rhythm, dynamics, etc.); the instant modulation often creates an invasion effect; 2) gradual (or modulation-process) – complete or incomplete (passing) modulation – a gradual change of genre characteristics.

Preludes Nos. 3 and 6:
Instant ‘genre modulation’ creates the ‘invasion’ effect (see above).

Prelude No. 4:
Gradual genre modulation in bars 26-28: the fugue episode gradually (but quickly) reaches the climactic point (bar 27, ff) where the relentless polyphonic development suddenly stops at the Ab Major triad (new rhythm, new texture, strong dynamics) followed, after the rest, by the ‘lament’ motive (Eb-Ab-G) (reaction to the ‘invasion’). The following coda is therefore perceived as a composer’s afterthought. See Example 12.

Prelude No. 10:
Instant genre modulation: bars 49-52; Allegretto, the genre of song–romance (written as if a barrel-organ played it) modulates to the pure ‘barrel-organ’ style (bars 49-50). This short episode may also be perceived as a composer’s ‘wink’ unusually placed before the coda – the composer ‘comes out of the closet’ and then hides in again. Structurally, this episode is a transition to the coda. See Example 26.

Example 26. Prelude No. 10.

Prelude No. 10

Prelude No. 11:
Passing, incomplete genre modulation: bars 30-31, (legato amoroso, short classical cadence – D-T); scherzo-burlesque modulates to the ‘romantic’ motives (beginning of the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase), then changes back to the scherzo style, but with the final ‘lament’ motive (A#–B) as a composer’s ‘wink’. See Example 15.

Prelude No. 12:
Instant modulation: final bars 33-39, the relentless motion of the toccatina is followed by the lyrical episode (chordal texture, legato), which can be perceived as the ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase, but with the final ‘lament’ motive (C natural–B) as a composer’s ‘wink’ (in a similar way to the Prelude No. 11). See Example 16.

Prelude No. 13:
Modulation–process: bars 20-24, the march-parody modulates to the ‘romance’ episode (marcato, then espressivo), then returns to the march, which becomes quiet and exhausted, and gradually fades away, yielding its path to the next prelude. See Example 17.

Prelude No. 15:
Instant modulation: final bars 52-59, the waltz-scherzo changes to the lyrical ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase – juxtaposition of distant keys (Db Major-G minor), long chords, legato. See Example 27.

Example 27. Prelude No. 15 (the coda).

Prelude No. 15 (the coda)

Prelude No. 16:
Gradual modulation (from bar 17 to the end) from the genre of a martial song to the dramatic march (reminiscence of the Prelude No. 14); modulation is accomplished by a) a gradual change of texture – becomes denser due to the octave duplication in basses and parallel motion of thirds and sixths in the top layer; b) gradual increase of dynamics reaching ff in bar 24; includes the ‘invasion’ episode (bars 28-30, see above). See Example 25.

Prelude No. 18:
Instant modulation (bars 45-47); the gallop-parody changes to the ‘The Poet speaks’ episode (legato pedalled through delineates the Eb11 chord in the bass, and the pure diatonic, expressive melody in the upper level) followed by a quick and light composer’s ‘wink’ (the final two chords). See Example 28.

Prelude No. 19:
Instant modulation (starts at the climactic point, final bars 40-44); for the ‘The Poet speaks’ episode, the composer re-uses the previously displayed material from bar 21 (alternation of thirds and fifths). See Example 29.

Prelude No. 20:
Instant modulation (final bars 26-33); the declamatory ‘furious’ style of this Prelude changes to 16th notes figurations in the genre of the instrumental Baroque prelude (the clear prediction of the final coda). See Example 7.

Prelude No. 21:
Passing modulation (bars 21-28); the ‘urban’ song in a barrel-organ style changes to a ‘romantic’ motive (the first one starting from upbeat to bar 21 and expressively dressed with the harmonic tone – Gb in the harmonic Bb Major) that clearly predict the ‘romance’ themes of the next prelude. See Example 30.

Example 28. Prelude No. 18 (the coda).

Prelude No. 18 (the coda)

Example 29. Prelude No. 19 (the coda).

Circled are the ‘sliding’ down harmonic (solid) thirds.

Prelude No. 19 (the coda)

Example 30. Prelude No. 21.

Bracketed is the ‘romance’ motive in the melody.

Prelude No. 21

Prelude No. 22:
Instant modulation (bars 36-38); the expressive romance juxtaposes with the genre of chorale (chordal texture, soft dynamics, hemiola as a rhythmic pattern); this episode serves as a transition to the coda where the main melody returns. The following short episode – the descending G minor scale marked espressivo that starts from the modified ‘romance’ motive (with the top note shifted from the downbeat to the upbeat) – can be considered as the final phrase of the ‘The Poet speaks’ episode (very serious this time, no more ‘winks’ from the composer. Semantically, this should mean that the composer does not simply illustrate the pictures he observes around him, rather he finally becomes a ‘hero’ of his music, and he finally merges with his own creation. The beauty and the expressiveness of the music of the G minor prelude speak for that). See Example 21.

Prelude No. 24:
Modulation-process through the transition (bars 27–29); the genre of a French gavotte modulates to the genre of the instrumental improvizational prelude (both in the Neo-Baroque style). See Example 31. The bi-functional second part of the Prelude (simultaneously the coda of the Prelude No. 24 and of the entire prelude cycle) can be also associated with a lute playing style - commonly known in the 15th – 17th centuries. (This episode also brings to mind the recent coda of the Prelude No. 20). Its 16th notes motion is stopped by a short ‘invasion’ of the Ab Major triad (this should remind us of the ‘invasion’ into the fugue at the end of the Prelude No. 4). The next two bars can be considered as the final ‘The Poet speaks’ phrase. There is one more and final genre modulation – the gavotte theme returns and, in its gracious manner, ends the prelude cycle. However, on the top of graciousness…

Apparently, there are some signs in the coda of the composer’s serious worries - he obviously had his reasons to juxtapose the keys of D minor (the home key) and Eb minor, which is the key of the most dramatic and expressive piece of the cycle – the Prelude No. 14. (The juxtaposition of the two keys in the minor second relationship might be also perceived as the quintessence of Phrygian modality extensively used in The Preludes – one of the most recognizable features of Shostakovich’s individual style.) Additionally, looking closely at the final bars (45-46), one may notice that the composer modifies the reprise using the Eb minor arpeggio again! These small ‘islands’ of a ‘gloomy’ key at the very end of the prelude cycle, as the ‘post comings’ of the tragic prelude No. 14, could possibly be ‘deciphered’ as a composer’s presentiment of the forthcoming terrible and tragic time in the Russian history (the Great Terror actually started in 1934 – just a year after The Preludes were completed). As early as in The Preludes, Shostakovich’s Aesopian language had already started working for him as a faithful means of expression of the composer’s ‘hidden’ thoughts and feelings.10

Example 31. Prelude No. 24 (coda of the prelude cycle).

Prelude No. 24 (coda of the prelude cycle)

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6 The different kinds of ‘artificial’ scales used in The Preludes most often appear in the final part of the piece -climax/‘invasion’/‘transition’/coda – for instance, in the climax/‘invasion’/transition to the coda in the Prelude No. 3; in the transition to the coda in the Preludes Nos. 1, 2, 17, and 24; in the coda/‘The Poet speaks’ episodes in the Preludes Nos. 8, 11, 19 and 20. It can be assumed therefore that the most ‘experimental’ language in The Preludes is associated with the composer’s ‘self’ and his playing around the different compositional techniques (in this respect, the absence of the ‘experimental’ elements in the ‘serious’ preludes - Nos. 4, 14 and 22 - becomes self-explanatory).

7 H. Neihaus. The Art of Playing Piano. Moscow, “Musika”, 1967.

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