PRELUDES SET THE MUSICAL TONE

BUILDING MUSICAL EXCITEMENT

Preludes set the musical tone of an event be it a wedding, church service or a concert.  But what is not known to most people is that n the baroque era, around 1700,  a keyboard soloist would play a prelude while the audience was settling down, i.e. before the program of the concert actually started.  While patrons were still finding their seats, keyboard player would improvise flashy runs and passages on the spot.  The audience marvel at his talent thus peeking their interest in the concert.

TESTING THE INSTRUMENT AND THE ROOM

The prelude gave the performer the opportunity  to check:

  1. The acoustics of the room and
  2. The resonance of the instrument. Thus, if the instrument had short sustaining power, he would play trills and tremolos faster.
  3. And that he had to play slow pieces at a faster tempo.
  4. The Prelude also served the purpose of allowing the performer to judge the action or response of the keys.

If the acoustics of the room were dead, the soloist would quicken the tempo. If the acoustics were  live, he would observe slower markings. In effect the soloist did the sound check; thus acting like a modern day sound engineer. If my reader would like to know more about what performers did before electrical sound engineering I recommend reading  Francois Couperin (1668-1733) in his L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin , published in 1716.

Francois Couperin author of  L’Art de Toucher le Clavecin 

 PRACTICING CHOPIN’S PRELUDES DAILY

For years, I’ve kept a log of my piano practice and still do.  The Preludes by Chopin are regular part of my warm ups. I choose three. The first emphasizes work with the right hand. The second emphasizes the left. The third works both hands equally. Chopin was a great fan of Johann Sebastian Bach.  In writing his Preludes, Chopin chose Bach for the model. As Bach wrote preludes in all the key signatures, so did Chopin. Chopin’s 1st Prelude is a stylistic copy of Bach’s 1st Prelude in Book I of the Well Tempered Clavichord. Both hands interlock in the continuous motion of 16th notes.  Chopin, however, gives this prelude beautiful melodic import. This characterizes his then newer style of writing music.

PRELUDES OF THAT ARCH MUSICAL INNOVATOR, CLAUDE DEBUSSY

For centuries, preludes were written as absolute music. Absolute music is defined as music that is meant to be free of any extra musical implications.  As absolute music, preludes were simply intended to be played as an introduction to a longer work. That was it.  In his preludes Debussy changes tradition in a humorous manner. He numbers each Prelude with Roman numerals on the title page. Innocent enough.  However according to the Paris edition by Durand et Cie. copyright 1910, he broke the tradition.What he did reminds me the surprise toy that we used to find in boxes of Cracker Jacks. At the very end of each Prelude, he zings you with a descriptive title! Thus, for example when we play Prelude X, we think that that is all we are playing.  But at the bottom of the last page,  we learn that we have really been playing, La Cathedrale engloutie  (The engulfed or sunken Cathedral). I know that Debussy had fun with this intentional reversal.

I’M WORKING ON ONE HOUR OF DEBUSSY’S PIANO MUSIC

I’ve been practicing to make a recording of 60 minutes of Debussy’s music. What a task! He was  a first place award winning concert pianist. That fact together with his avowed goal of braking all previous rules as much as possible makes him very difficult to play. His rule breaking, I must admit, is always in good taste.  My teacher, Mischa Kottler, who studied in Paris and Vienna in the 1920’s (see blog) wanted me, with one of his last wishes, to give a Debussy concert. I have upped my practicing for this purpose.  I’m finding out that 3.5 hours daily is not enough. I’ll have to up it even more; or, it will not happen. Keep watching for my hour on the web site of recorded Debussy. I’m determined.