The Cycle of 24 Preludes and Fugues. Modern Interpretations in the Russian Music
University of Arts “George Enescu” from Iaşi
7-9 Horia Street, Iaşi, 700126
Abstract: Although the pair prelude-fugue is naturally associated with Bach's Well-tempered clavier, modern treatments applied to fugues and to other forms belonging to the Baroque were relatively common in the 1920s and the 1930s. The waning interest for the imitative polyphonic composition in the second half of the 20th century was compensated by the emergence in European musical cultures of several valuable collections. This study concerns the Russian musical space and two representative works from the sequence of modern reinterpretations of the cycle of preludes and fugues composed after 1950: 24 Preludes and fugues, Op. 87 by Dimitri Shostakovich and 24 Preludes and fugues Op. 29 and Op. 45 (1970) by Rodion Shchedrin.
Key-Words: polyphony, prelude, fugue, structure, tonal sistem
Interest for the prelude-fugue combination has fluctuated during the stylistic periods dominated by the homophonous thinking, as the composers approached polyphony and Baroque forms as neoclassical (neo-Baroque) re-designs, with more or less overt constructivist tendencies. Among the numerous cycles or single groupings of the prelude-fugue type, we have the modern responses to the Well-tempered clavier1, some of them using the same title as the Baroque model, realised with the constructive means and the language of the 20th century. The diversity of approaches is visible within a unique composition school, the Russian musical culture of the 20th century, which contains three remarkable responses to the Well-tempered clavier, belonging to Dmitri Shostakovich, Rodion Shchedrin and Sergei Slonimsky. This study aims to compare the works of the first two composers, from the perspective of their similarities and differences, both between the two creative visions and between them and the Baroque model. Each of the two works was influenced in a different manner by Bach's Well-tempered clavier. Thus, whereas Shostakovich's cycle of preludes and fugues Op. 87 follows closely Bach's model, both in structure and in tone, while affirming the composer's personal style, Rodion Shchedrin associates the musical ideas of his preludes and fugues with the Baroque concept in a much more radical manner, creating a completely different musical style, while preserving the original formal idea of the baroque patterns.
2. Tonal organisation
Bach's filiation can be detected in Shostakovich's creation due to the fact that he uses a well-outlined tonal structure, related to the laws of the system of functionality. The tonal organisation in Op. 87 revolves around a circle of fifths, with pairs of preludes and fugues in major tonalities and their minor relatives, rather than follow an ascending sequence at semitone intervals. This tonal sequence can also be found in Chopin's Preludes op. 28, and the composer had used it previously, in 24 Preludes op. 34 (1932-33). Also, the tonal sequence of the prelude-fugue pairs have a subliminal narrative subtext, related to the expressive connotations of tonalities, which carries the sound expression from the "innocent" tonal world of the Prelude and Fugue in C major to the profound and sublime severity found in the finale of the Prelude and fugue in D minor. Although the general sound structure has a tonalism with multiple insertions, from the chromatic and modal to those found in Stravinsky's works and in folk music, Shostakovich's harmonic language bears the mark of the obvious or latent presence of a motif translated in sound as a minor fourth. The composer uses the DSCH motif and its transpositions in the Scherzo of the Violin concerto op. 77. In op. 87, the DSCH motif (DSCH - SDCH: E flat, D, C, B natural) lends cohesion to the whole, as it appears...
References: Yun-Jin Seo, B.M., M.M. 2003: Three Cycles of 24 Preludes and Fugues by Russian Composers: D. Shostakovich, R. Shchedrin and S. Slonimsky, The University of Texas at Austin May
Hakovian, Levon, 1998 - Music of the Soviet Age 1917-1987. Stockholm: Melos Music Literature, ©1998 apud. Yun-Jin Seo, B.M., M.M., 2003
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