Gla3.jpg I now own scores for all the Hans Gal 24 Preludes & Fugues. It wasn’t completely straightforward, but I’m slightly amazed that they are available at all. They are all late works. The 24 Preludes, all brief (none of them last over four minutes in performance) were written in 1960 when the composer was already 70 years old, and published five years later. He began composing them while in hospital “as a present to himself” according to Michael Freyhan’s notes to the Alada Racz premiere recording, issued in 2001. Gal himself called them “studies in piano sound, piano technique and concentrated miniature form”. They are also elegant and beautiful, ranging from the graceful late Brahms of No 24, the flowing 5/8 of No 19, and the surprising polytonality of No 21, which despite a right hand stave in C major (avoiding any accidentals) and left hand stave in F sharp major, still manages to sound (in Gal’s description for the whole set) “unconditionally tonal”.  I don’t think there’s a dud among them, but one of my favourites is Prelude No 7, “just” a study in using the thumb to cover seconds, but the end sounding to me like Ravel at his most luminous

Of course there’s a nod to Bach in the title, something made more apparent by the publication twenty years later (the composer now 90) of the 24 Fugues. I admit I’m still getting to know these rather more abstract and single-minded works, which can be formidable to listen to as a set. While the Preludes are varied and wide-ranging in their influences (from Chopin through Mussorgsky to Ravel, Poulenc and Shostakovich), the Fugues are all about purity of counterpoint. My feeling is that a pairing of the two works into a set of 24 Preludes and Fugues would provide the necessary counterbalances, but I haven’t actually tried this out yet. They weren’t written using the same tonal scheme – the Preludes come in four groups, where the six keys form an augmented triad, while the Fugues are move conventionally sequenced – so presumably weren’t intended to be matched. There are now three recordings of the complete Preludes (by Alda Racz, Martin Jones and Leon McCawley) and one of the complete Fugues (by McCawley).

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