shostShostakovich’s set of 24 Preludes and Fugues, written between October 1950 and March 1951, may have been directly inspired by Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier but they aren’t in any sense neo-classical pastiches. Shostakovich has his own concerns and his own musical language, and these aren’t compromised even when he submits to the strict procedures of the fugue. For instance, Fugue No 1 uses only the white notes, while Fugue No 15 has a theme consisting of eleven of the twelve tones in an octave, with the twelfth only introduced at the very end of the fugue – apparently a commentary on serial music, as by the end of the piece tonic/dominant harmony is finally established. One of my favorites is the Ab Major Fugue (No 17) in four voices, with its 5/4 time signature, insistent rhythmic patterns and just about every fugal trick you can think of played out during its course – most obviously the augmented subject hammered-out in the left hand towards the end. The critic and composer Wilfrid Mellers, in his essay for Keith Jarrett’s recording on ECM, says the cycle “need fear no comparison with its model.”

Advertisements