Pieces of the Week 22 – Piano Preludes nos. 8 and 9

A few years ago I started writing some piano preludes, firstly in the twelve major keys and then in the twelve minor keys, the main criteria being (a) that I could play them, more or less, and (b) that they would fit on two pages.

Coincidentally, two of these got selected for Grade 7 music exams during lockdown: Prelude no. 8 for Trinity College of Music, and no. 9 for ABRSM. The selection for Trinity College is valid until further notice, and the ABRSM one carries on until 2024.  And they couldn’t be more different in character.

Both are published in the first book of my preludes (major keys) – the complete title is ‘Twelve or Thirteen Preludes, Set One’ because, if performed complete, the first prelude is repeated again at the end. Prelude no. 8 is printed in the 2021-23 Trinity College Grade 7 book and is also available separately, and Prelude no. 9 is an ‘alternative piece’ for the ABRSM syllabus and is published separately as well as in the complete book.

Now, when I wrote these preludes, I had no intention of their being examination pieces, and I was rather overwhelmed by the number of performances of these two that appeared on YouTube.  Some of these performances are excellent, but sadly some of the ones of no. 8 are inaccurate in rhythm, unfortunate for a piece where the continually changing metres, coupled with a steady pulse, are part of the music’s excitement and challenge!

Prelude no. 8 (in G major) is marked ‘Tightly rhythmic and bright’, and quaver equals quaver throughout the many time-signature changes (3/8, 5/8, 6/8, 3/4, 4/4, etc.). It is characterised by a loud fanfare-like motif which is contrasted with a quiet answering phrase in staccato quavers. The climax of the piece is a massive A major arpeggio (marked ‘Grandioso, ad lib’) which gives the opportunity for a real display of (relatively easy) virtuosity – followed by a very quiet, throwaway ending.

Prelude no. 9 (A flat major) is very different – it has a Faure-like quality, with a cantabile melody supported by flowing broken-chord semiquavers, with much opportunity for rubato. The melody appears first in the right hand, then in the left – then a central section, marked ‘lontano’, is like a distant chorale, presented chordally at first, and then repeated with semiquavers beneath and moving to the music’s climax. Then the opening melody is treated contrapuntally, moving down between the hands, and a short chordal coda (these are actually my favourite bars) brings the music to a quiet close.

From the many YouTube performances, here are links to my own, on the basis that they are at least ‘authentic’ if not always completely precise:

Prelude No 8
Prelude No 9

Also, for fun, I made digitised orchestral versions of the pieces, together with images which help to portray the mood, and might help to inspire those who are learning the pieces:

Prelude No 8 (orchestral version) 
Prelude No 9 (orchestral version) 

And here is me playing the whole set of preludes:

Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for Piano Solo – Set One
Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for Piano Solo – Set Two

The two complete books, and both preludes on their own, are on sale as digital downloads and in print versions, from this page.

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