D. Shostakovich in Retrospect, 34/1; Thanksgiving Dinner

There's only one way to say it: I have a man/music crush on D. Shostakovich. There! I've said it! Just can't get enough Shosy. Aside from the bountiful tributaries of thought and study that arise, my ultimate attraction at this point comes from that year-long sojourn though Op 34, his 24 Preludes. It has been wonderful to play them. And even better to attempt to analyze them at some level and put that into words. I was able to do that with the last few pairs and feel compelled to try my skill at the others. I'd say that my analysis is an attempt to probe the question of cohesion, of the Kallbergian relationship between notes and listeners. As a performer it is my attempt to breathe my own life into the black and white sheet music before me, to make real music, and music that I find has a lot to say.
Prelude 1. I've already written a bit about this first prelude in C Major, it's ambiguous Alberti bass figure, the powerfully impotent low C octave, the fading mezzo forte. However you'd like to phrase it, the prelude starts with attention being drawn (quietly, straightforwardly, blatantly) to the structural and characteristic elements of the prelude. Extremely contrapuntal. Perhaps a little embarrassing or exposing as none of the elements seem that strong. Let's see this through.
Leaving the first measure and a half we are introduced to a melody. A melody marked espressivo. This expression marking appears four times in the piece, somewhat humorously or disproportionately. This first instance is attached to a descending chromatic noodling. Dress it however you'd like, but it's still a chromatic line, something that would have sent Renaissance and Baroque aesthetes weeping. Strangely the melody needs to descend farther than its range allows, and so extends the floor with a jump upward: F2 down to A1, sweep up to A-flat2, down to E2, jump up to E-flat3, down to C3... and then rescued by the ever-dashing yet ever-late bass F octave (m 5) who nevertheless manages to confuse things even more with an unstable B-flat minor 6/4 chord. I'd say the that constitutes one of the funnest places for the hands in the piece as the right hand scoops up the Alberti accompaniment figure like a mother monkey. This ride through the trees peters out at measure 7 into, maybe, a G7 chord. I could keep talking about the piece in this way, mentioning the bass fragments, the key modulations, the rhythmic hiccups of the accompaniment, misguided climaxes and cadences, parallelisms, whole tone scales... 
What a piece! It's as though none of the elements are in agreement. No one is the leader. They interrupt each other. They make each other nervous or forget what they were saying. It's such squabbling! So where is the beauty, why do I love this piece so much? I can't say for sure. To me it speaks of both power and confusion. Where do we put our efforts? How much? Why? What about failure, disgrace, repeatedly? And after all this searching and overreacting and assuming and sulking, the piece has the loveliest and most befittingly strange ending: some sort of synthetic ascending scale, the penultimate note a whispered A2, and then pianississimo. That A2 for me signals a peace between the voices of the prelude. It is an incredibly small and comparatively enormous victory. The prelude has not slipped into C minor. It is a triumph over the A-flat2 in measure 4, the F minor of 10, the tantalizing D-flat major stairway in 13, and most importantly the tantrum-filled, toe-stepping collapse of 18 and 19. All is well, though it fills me with a sadness. We will try again tomorrow. Gracious tomorrow. And gracious today in the midst of misguided power and distancing confusion. All is well.

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