Update: This link takes you to a more recent blog introducing Set 2 (minor keys) alongside Set 1.
About four 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, on 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!
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: a lively D major, a simple and repetitive F sharp major, a quixotic F major, and a mysteriously floating B major, for instance. There has been much written about the association of colours with particular keys in composer’s minds – usually different for each composer – and actually I think my views on key and colour relationships has moderated and changed over time, particularly as, due to sometimes playing in baroque performances at A=414, my sense of absolute pitch has become a little less reliable.
To take one example, my view of the key of E flat was often associated with something martial, military, and ‘valiant’ – possibly because of the decisive E-flat-ness of the hymn ‘He who would valiant be’ (tune: ‘Monk’s Gate’) much sung in my youth. And yet, when I came to write my prelude in E flat, it turned out to be reflective and calm, with lots of rubato – the furthest from a military march that one can get!
The sheet music of Twelve or Thirteen Preludes, Set 1 is available from Spartan Press:
And you can hear me playing them here:
The ‘Thirteen’ simply refers to the fact that if played complete you can round them off by repeating the first prelude!
I’ve really enjoyed writing these preludes, and I hope you enjoy listening or playing them too. In fact I’ve started another set – in minor or modal keys – and I hope it won’t take me as long as four years to complete them!