This active at any time, this Prelude is full

This piece is from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II, dated 1742, when Bach was director of church music in Leipzig. It aimed to familiarize keyboard players with F Major. The Prelude, a dance in triple metre, is surprisingly more thickly textured and contrapuntal than the Fugue. It starts with an ascending then descending scalic passage which will pervade the piece. With three to five voices active at any time, this Prelude is full and flowing. While the fortepiano had been invented in the 1730s, Bach was not fond of it and the rich sustained notes here also show evidence of the influence of Bach’s organ-writing. Comparatively, the three-voiced, concise Fugue is more lighthearted. Its subject comprises two leaping figures segmented by rests, followed by a patter of scale notes in the similar up-and-down shape of the Prelude’s melody. Here, the lively rhythm and propulsive forward motion is prioritised over contrapuntal manipulation. 

At the time Mozart started to compose, the Baroque period was coming to an end and his music is characterised by homophonic balance and formal elegance. He was the first to write music for the piano which had just become popular. This sonata was written together with the Alla Turca during a summer 1783 visit to Salzburg made to introduce his wife to his father. Key modulations, including to parallel minor keys, employed by all three movements, create contrasts within them and unity between them. The 1st movement has a typical sonata structure. The varied textures here suggest other instruments: horns in the minuet-like response to the cantabile opening theme, flutes in the ‘second subject’. This lyricism is balanced with a tutti-like outburst and a tense, syncopated passage. The slow middle movement, a sonatina, is in B-flat major. The main theme – a delicate melody with a broken chord accompaniment, is presented in the tonic and then immediately repeated in the tonic minor. Presumably added under Mozart’s supervision, the more elaborately embellished theme in the recapitulation in the first published edition gives us an impression of his improvisations. The rapid finale is in sonata form and begins with a forte chord and a flamboyant toccata-like passage. The development, which erupts in C minor, is much longer than that of the first movement and given more thematic prominence. This sonata concludes with a pianissimo ending.

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Inspired by Javanese gamelan music, Debussy explored static textures and unconventional scales while still respecting Wagner’s harmonic drive. Voiles was composed in 1909. This title, meaning either ‘veils’ or ‘sails’, was printed at the end and was unintended as explanations of the piece, reflecting Debussy’s distaste at being labelled an “impressionist”. Voiles opens with gentle descending parallel thirds. A lower register of the music then introduces the melody while a B-flat note drones. The soft dynamics and whole-tone scale create a static texture, giving a mysterious and ‘veiled’ impression. Increasing tension leads to an animated 6-bar middle section comprising flourishes and rocking figures. The wider dynamic range and the E-flat minor pentatonic scale give an ‘unveiled’ impression. In the third section, melody from the first section returns, except in the high register over murmurous flourishes which could represent ‘moving veils’. The piece ends ethereally with a third. 

Being one of his earliest Nocturnes, this piece is written between 1830 and 1832 and dedicated to Madame Camille Pleyel. Here, Chopin continued features from Nocturne inventor John Field —  song-like melody, broken chord accompaniment, use of pedal. Additionally, he establishes the use of a rhythmically free right-hand melody and the ternary form. The piece begins with a sweet melody which is then invigorated by ornaments. This is evidence of Chopin being an advocate of the bel canto – beautiful and embellished singing. Tension leads to a passionate three-bar climax. The contrasting section proceeds in the relative major key. Here is a trance-like melody without ornaments and led in octaves. But suddenly, sonorous music with its echo emerges. After a series of left-hand arpeggios, the piece transitions back to its beginning melody. The piece breaks into a flourish before dying away in the B flat major mode.


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