Monday, February 10, 2014

Franck - Prelude, Chorale And Fugue For Piano

After many years of composing for solo organ and choral pieces César Franck renewed his interest in the piano. He had began his career as a virtuoso pianist while still a child, while his first compositions written as a child were for solo piano. Two of the pieces that saw his renaissance as a composer for the piano, the Piano Quintet in F Minor, and Les Djinns for piano and orchestra, were followed by pieces for piano solo, one of which was the  Prelude, Chorale and Fugue.

The organ music of J.S. Bach was a great influence on Franck, as was the music of Beethoven, Liszt and Wagner. In this piece Franck paid homage to this legacy by molding it in a traditional form while radically changing the style of music he put into it. Camille Saint-Saëns, the great French contemporary of Franck disliked the chromaticism and style of the music and declared, "It is neither a Chorale nor a Fugue." Of course he was correct; it was Franck's personalization of the forms. To a musician that had grown somewhat conservative like Saint-Saëns, this music did no service to the art of music. Regardless of the criticism of his music, (which could be very harsh) Franck continued composing and wrote some of the most beautiful music of the late 19th century. Music that looked backwards in some ways, and forwards in others.

Prelude - The music begins straight away in the key of B minor with a melody played in the middle of an arpeggiated accompaniment:


After seven bars, Franck draws attention to a time signature change 2/4 for one bar that is marked a capriccio. This one bar contains the kernel of one of the first main theme that is referred to throughout the work. The time signature changes back to common time as the kernel is expanded for a few measures before the prelude figuration heard in the beginning returns. The first theme reappears and is explored further. The prelude returns and leads directly to a two-bar transition to the Chorale.

Chorale - The key changes to C minor as the subject for the following fugue is partially revealed before the chorale proper sounds out by large rolled chords with the melody in the high treble:

The music follows this pattern of subject - chorale until the music modulates to the key of E-flat minor in the chorale.

Fugue - After a few bars of transition, the music modulates back to the home key of B minor. The music rumbles in anticipation and leads to the beginning of the fugue:
The fugue progresses with the fugue subject weaving its way through key changes as Franck explores the theme. All of the exploration leads to a cadenza of rapid 16th notes that lead to the reappearance of the prelude and its theme, which is itself explored and expanded. The chorale theme also reappears in a different guise. The fugue and chorale themes intertwine, and the music changes key to B major. Pieces of themes are heard in a grand coda that ends the piece.

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