(Originally Posted 17 February, 2014)
Several years ago I wrote a set of 24 preludes in all major and minor keys. In some future post I will talk a bit more about the series including why I (stupidly) chose the order they’re in. For now I want to concentrate on just one prelude, the Prelude in Ab Major.
Listen to the track below. Don’t read on until you’ve listened.
Finished? OK, start it again while you read.
What does it make you think about? Perhaps of days gone by, of bittersweet memories? I wanted to get the feeling of trying to recapture a fleeting moment but it staying just out of reach until it finally slips away at the end. More on the ending later.
I used these preludes as a music lab to explore ideas. Many of the ideas were lifted and used elsewhere, occasionally note-for-note. With this one I was exploring a trick Wagner used.
Reading through his music I noticed that Wagner liked to have a melody line that passes through a chord but pauses on a “non-harmonic” tone, a note not in the chord. He would then very briefly resolve that note in the normal way before the chord changed but end up on another non-harmonic tone. Usually it is very easy for someone versed in music to see what he was doing but even after over 150 years people still argue about the “Tristan chord”. If you look at it as an elongated passing tone the Tristan chord is actually very simple, though the underlying chord isn’t a typical chord.
The Introduction to “Tristan and Isolde” is famous for the unfulfilled tension. So I experimented with his idea to try to get this music of fleeting, bittersweet memories. I did over use it a bit, but what do you think? Does it work for you?
So, this piece is called a prelude. What, you may ask, is it a prelude to? Why, another prelude, of course. That ending that drifted off into space is resolved by the first note of the next prelude, the one in f minor. Listen to the Prelude in f minor just after listening to the Prelude in Ab Major below.
Did you hear how the Prelude in f minor answers the Prelude in Ab Major? Some of the preludes go even farther. I have one that echoes the one before so you think it is continuing for just a second. The Prelude in f minor is at one of the deepest emotional lows of this set of preludes and is, I think, well set up by the one before, the bittersweet memory going into funeral depression. In fact, I orchestrated the Prelude in f minor as the centerpiece of the funeral scene in my “Symphony in C – Hamlet”.
Of course the Prelude in Ab Major had a prelude into it, the Prelude in eb minor (see, I told you the order was stupid). The Prelude in eb minor is a descent into the pits, interrupted by an angry interlude. Here are the three in order – Give a quick listen to the preludes in eb minor, Ab Major and f minor in order.
Have you listened? Are you beginning to see the storyline? Do these all fit together now? When I created the preludes I wanted to make a unified whole not just a series of unrelated pieces. Although each prelude is a standalone piece, they all spring directly out of the one before and set up the next. There is a storyline that connects the series from beginning to end, a kind of plot curve.
A couple of months ago I posted “Write a Composition?” that went into some of the same themes. This type of thought and planning can be applied to any genre of music. An example that comes quickly to mind is Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. All of the pieces are musically tied together. There is an overall arch of the music even skipping the words. Despite the fact that this is one of my least favorite Pink Floyd albums, I have a lot of respect for it. (Least favorite = too much Roger Waters, not enough Richard Wright). It is well thought out.
It is possible to over think your artistic composition. On the other hand I think a composition needs a lot of planning, often planning that can be expressed in another medium. For example, sometimes I’ll show my wife a photo and she’ll say, “Nice, but what’s the story you’re trying to tell?” Art of any type has to have thought and planning.
Does knowing a little bit about where the music comes from help or hurt your enjoyment? Can you hear more or is it too much? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Since this was originally put up in early 2014 I have put up a video based on the Prelude in Ab Major with pictures of Paris: