Some years ago I started writing some piano preludes in odd moments between writing other things, partly to play myself, but also for others to play, of around Grade 6-8 standard. They grew into a set of twelve, one in each major key – hardly an original concept, but one which gave me an opportunity to think hard about variety within my self-imposed limit of only two pages per piece! This first set was published in 2017, and I then followed this up with a second set, again written in odd moments, which was published very recently, in February 2020. The second set contains one in each minor key.
In both sets, if played complete, I recommend repeating the first prelude to make a final thirteenth prelude – hence the title Twelve or Thirteen Preludes.
I’ve always liked some kind of limitation in my work, whether it be the necessity for sticking to a five-finger position in a very easy piano piece, the demands of a certain key or mode, a specific motif or shape, or the expectations and skills of a particular group of singers, real or imagined. It releases the mind to concentrate on other parameters of musical invention. In these pieces, the aim for variety of style and texture was an important consideration, without ever (I hope) losing sight of my own musical voice. Some movements suggest the romantic, some the neo-classic, some the minimalist, and it was surprising how the requirement for one piece in each key suggested different moods. In the first set, for example, there is a lively D major, a simple and repetitive F sharp major, a quixotic F major, and a mysteriously floating B major; and in the second set there is a quirky B minor, a dramatic C minor, a romantic E minor, and a poignantly heartfelt G sharp minor, dedicated to the memory of a friend who passed away during its composition.
So, apart from key and variety of mood and character, my two main constraints in writing these pieces were, firstly, that I could manage to play them, and secondly, that they were two pages long. It’s been a real joy to explore a variety of textures and moods within these parameters, and it has rekindled my interest in writing for the piano. You can hear me playing them all on YouTube here:
Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for piano Set One (major keys)
Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for piano Set Two (minor keys)
Further details, and how to buy copies, follow this link.
I’ve also made a version of six of the preludes (some from each set) for clavichord. This has involved a certain amount of rewriting to make them work, and was a really interesting project because it gave me the opportunity to look at the preludes with fresh eyes and ears. This version was first performed by Francis Knights in Fitzwilliam College Chapel on 29 February 2020.