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The Preludes and Beyond

Bengt Edlund

The first study of this volume looks for reminiscences of Dies Irae in Chopin’s works. A great number of allusions and affinities are found in the preludes as well as in Chopin’s output. The study also yields insights into Chopin’s composition method. These intertextual findings are used in an attempt to establish the extra-musical content of the Second Ballade. Five preludes – A minor, E minor, B minor, A major and C minor – are closely examined, using diverse analytical approaches. A primary concern is to critically assess previous readings, and Schenkerian ones in particular. An analysis of the initial right-hand passage of the F-minor étude from Méthode brings up matters of idiomatic and ontology.


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Chapter 1. Allusions and affinities Tracing an ominous motif


Chapter 1 Allusions and affinities Tracing an ominous motif If you have an edition that pays respect to Chopin by simply rendering exactly what he wrote, you will find a four-note motif indicated by a seemingly unnecessary, intricate notation in mm. 1­ 2 of the A-minor Prelude Op. 28, No. 2. You will also notice that this motif sounds virtually throughout the left-hand accompaniment of the prelude and also, if your frame of musical reference allows of the association, recognize it as being almost identical to the very beginning of the Dies Irae sequence. Thus, whatever its harmonic and tonal complexities, and whatever its melodic and formal ambiguities, the enigmatic A-minor Prelude over and over again repeats a motif that has become a symbol of death within Western musical culture.1 Indeed, the text of this 13th century sequence, words that some hundred years later reflected the horror of each and everyone in a society visited by the Black Death, is nowadays considered so gruesome that this song, the very signature melody of the Requiem, as it were, has been deleted from the Catholic funeral service. But the Romantic composers were less thoughtful, and Dies Irae is readily heard in quite a few works and might be identified in still others. Its two initial phrases can be cited in full, making up a dramatic element in a musical representation (as in the last move­ ment of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique) or serving as a theme for 1 Whether Ingmar Bergman was aware...

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