8.14.2012

Goltz Op. 2 No. 2: The Odious Ending

Prelude 2 in A minor, mm. 1–4: three-voice texture

Whereas the first prelude creates a multisectional picture of Neopolitan-spiced ambiguity, Prelude 2 in A minor ushers us into a more relaxed, consistent world, but with an unpredictable narrative direction. First with the unity: The piece begins in unambiguous, obvious tonic. The majority of the piece utilizes a skeletal texture, consisting of an adventurous melody undergirded by a slow-moving, chromatic tenor and a dry, plodding bass in off-beat eighth notes. It's a bit like Don Quixote, a flamboyant but confused melody, sitting astride his bare-bones steed teetering down the road to places unknown. Now for the unpredictability: Oh, harmonic syntax, where art thou?!?! The simplicity of the opening measure do not quite prepare you for the steady succession of non-functional harmonies. Even when harmonies appear without befuddling suspensions or anticipations they quickly fade away in the wake of the sliding, chromatic descent of the tenor and bass lines. In fact the first section (mm. 1–14) resembles in many ways the pitiable harmonic descent in Chopin's famous Prelude 4 in E minor, constantly shifting away to who knows where. Not even the momentary pause on a root-position bvi chord (m. 13) turns out to be a sneaky way of leading into the beginning of the second section.

P. Picasso
The binary form of the piece also relates it to the Chopin model and the second section (mm. 15–22) opens with a brief quotation of the opening bar. There the resemblance ends and the piece veers off into unexpected territory. The quixotic melody seems to take flight and lifts from the saddle into the stratosphere of the keyboard, playing with the angels as it were, but solemnly, quietly, first in p, then pp, and finally disappearing into ppp. The lower voices similarly descend, bringing a sense of widened transcendence to the piece, relaxation and openness rather than the comical conclusion to Shostakovich's Prelude 13 in F-sharp Major.

C.G. Carus

But then there's the Coda. So far, the highest dynamic level encountered has been a respectable mf and the prelude has seemed to ascend into sweet, pianississimo silence. The Coda is simply gruesome. All at once the soft and tender tonic is shattered by a fierce, ff b-flat minor chord in both hands, pouncing hands which, in the words of George MacDonald via Phantastes, "the fingers close, and grind themselves close, like the claws of a wild animal, as in in uncontrollable longing for some anticipated prey." (This blocked chord actually occurs in the same sonic space as the mysterioso section in Prokofiev's Visions Fugitives No. 1.) The dark and ferocious minor Neopolitan attack peters out back into pp silence, but forever covers over the final tonic with a sinister shadow. Very odious. The story of a trotting knight ends in the depths of the woods with only an empty ellipsis to keep us company. It makes me wander what lies beneath the surface of Goltz's disarming simplicity.
Prelude 2 in A minor, mm. 22–25: the odious ending!


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