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Tempo, Effect and the Emergence of Line
In Chopin’s Prelude, Op. 28 No. 14
Aeron Ogden
Graduate Music Theory
May 18, 2009
Frederic Chopin’s Preludes, Opus 28, completed between 1835 and 1839, are an example of the
composer’s mature style and predilection of form. They consist, primarily, of what A. Redgrave
Cripps deems “one-idea pieces.”1
They are poems, “eagle’s feathers” according to Schumann2
,
rarely straying from a single subject, mood, or even compositional device. Although intensely
personal and emotionally expressive, Chopin is able to avoid melodrama through the
sophistication of his craft. And while each piece in this work retains an individual and specific
character, it can be argued that four clear expressions emerge in relation to the nature or
personality of the Preludes: elation, depression, peacefulness and agitation. Consisting of a single
piece in each major and minor key, as Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the contrast of the cheerful
and the morose may seem too obvious. But in conjunction with this dichotomy of mood, there is
also a clear delineation in the level of emotion that is displayed. When Chopin’s mood is dark and
excited, it is expressed in agitation, even violence. When he is melancholic but reserved, we have
pieces such as the famous B minor, No. 6- somber and introspective. The same approach can be
observed, on the more jovial side, in the major key pieces. Bright mood with high emotion equals
elation in the Preludes; pleasant yet restrained emotion is presented as peacefulness. This
contrast is heightened when the pieces are played in numeric order, as a complete set. Frequently
Chopin follows an exuberant piece (bright mood, emotion high) with a piece expressing the polar
opposite, melancholy (dark mood, emotion low). And so he follows the tranquil No. 13 in F-sharp
major, with the fierce and menacing No. 14.
On paper, the harmonic parallels between the fourteenth and twentieth preludes (in C minor)
are easily noted. The former opens with a i-VI-vii-V-i progression; the latter begins with i-iv7-
1
A. Redgrave Cripps, “Chopin as a Master of Form,” The Musical Times, Vol. 55, No. 858 (Aug. 1, 1914), pp. 517-519.
2
Robert Schumann, Music and Musicians: Essays and Criticisms. London: William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street, 1877.
Vsus-V7-i, the variant chords being substitutions which share a similar sound and function. The
two preludes also share a common harmonic rhythm, with chord changes on each quarter note
throughout both pieces.
But the blitzing tempo of the fourteenth obscures this connection, especially when combined with
the devices Chopin has chosen to employ - homogenous part writing (left and right hands given
the same material) , low register, tightly spaced chords, legato and pesante articulation, and the
“buzz” that is created by unceasing volume changes. These things are joined, in symbiotic fashion,
and inextricably linked to the tempo, to achieve the sound, or line that emerges. In Chopin and
Genre, Jim Samson refers to such effects as comprising the major stylistic changes the composer
brought to the piano repertoire. “Bravura figuration3
of conventional origin became dense with
information, its formal status aspiring to that of melodic line and harmonic progression, its very
identity at times deliberately blurred with theirs. Ornamental figures, also of conventional origin,
were similarly transformed from inessential elements to essence.”4
Regarding Chopin’s performance
of one his own compositions, Schumann once wrote the following:
“…it would be a mistake to suppose that he allowed us to hear every small note in it; it was
rather an undulation of the… chord, brought out more loudly here and there with the
pedal, but, exquisitely entangled in the harmony; we followed a wondrous melody in the
sustained tones, while, in the middle, a tenor voice broke clearly from the chords, and
joined the principal melody. And when the etude was ended, we felt as though we had
seen a lovely form in a dream, and, half awake, we strove to seize it again; —but such
things cannot be described, still less can they be fitly praised.”5
Stylistically the fourteenth prelude is most similar to the nineteenth, in E-flat major. Both
consist of triadic rhythms6
in both hands from beginning to end. The triplets in each are also
similar in that they avoid consecutive pitch order (low to high, or high to low), but employ various
arpeggiations. But this is where the similarities end. The listener will hardly be aware of the
3
“Bravura figuration” refers to devices (i.e. arpeggiations, scale patterns, etc.) employed by composers which demand
virtuosic ability of the performers. “Ornamental figuration” is used to denote decorative expressions which have been
conventionally used to augment melodic lines.
4
Jim Samson, “Chopin and Genre,” Music Analysis, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Oct., 1989), pp. 213-231.
5
Robert Schumann, Music and Musicians: Essays and Criticisms. London: William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street, 1877.
6
I am consciously avoiding the term “triplet” because of the conventions and associations related to their use. The
nineteenth prelude certainly employs triplets in a traditional manner; but the fourteenth prelude avoids the common
accent pattern, thus avoiding the emergence of a melodic line from the first note of each triplet as is typically found.
The lack of any rhythmic change throughout the piece, and the absence of any “3 over 2” patterns also confirms this
decision. The 1915 Schirmer edition of this piece, in fact, does not note the figures as triplets, although they are
grouped in threes by the eighth note beam.
connections I have just made unless specifically looking for them because the sound and style of
the pieces differ so greatly. Another quality which further diffuses this relationship is the variation
of the placement of the high note, or lead line, between these two preludes. In No. 19, a lyrical
line is clearly brought to the fore due to the consistent placement of the high note at the first beat
of each triplet. The natural accent and the consummation of the listener’s expectation result in a
stable and defined melody. No. 14 is equally adept in its avoidance of these qualities.
The nineteenth prelude uses the following arpeggiated patterns from beginning to end:
HIGH
MIDDLE
LOW  
 
Right Hand Left Hand
 
The fourteenth prelude, in just 19 short measures, utilizes all of the following patterns:
ARPEGGIATION
INSTANCES
HIGH
MIDDLE
LOW     
 


 
E F

A B C D
  
229 27 7 3 4
The contrast of these arpeggiated patterns illustrates that this is a primary thematic element of
the prelude. It does not play an important role in the nineteenth, where the lyrical melody takes
precedence. But a closer look at the larger sequence of these arpeggiations reveals that Chopin
used them as a structural device, every bit as important as the harmonies themselves. In the
following diagram, each measure is broken down into the arpeggiated patterns and chords that
Chopin has used. The red text in the middle row highlights the first instance of each arpeggiation;
in the top row, the red text indicates the first instance of each sequence of four arpeggiations:
MEASURE
ARPEGGIATION
CHORD
MEASURE
ARPEGGIATION
CHORD
MEASURE
ARPEGGIATION
CHORD
MEASURE
ARPEGGIATION
CHORD
MEASURE
ARPEGGIATION
CHORD
MEASURE
ARPEGGIATION
CHORD iv7 (CONT.) i (CONT.) i
16 17 18
A B A B F C F
V ANTVI ET i VI ET i7 VI PT iv
C F
eb PT G7 iv PT ii iv NT i
D F B
i VI II+ (CONT.) gb Ebb
E B
V (+3)
13 14 15
A B A B A B
VI vii V (+3) i VI+ vi (-3)f7 F7 vii i i
E C E B
10 11 12
A B A B A B A B A B A B
Ebb Ebb7 f f7 PTFb Fb7 g g7 PT g g ANT
i
A
V i gb Ab7 APP f
7 8 9
VI iv ANT vii (+R,+5) ANT i VI vii
*Key of eb *bb
A B
V7 ANT
4 5 6
A C A D A B
VI vii V i VI, ANT v/vi VI vii V
1 2 3
A B A B A B A B A C A D
*eb
*eb*Transitional
*Transitional
B A B
A D A B A DA B A D A B
e APP C
SEQUENCE
INSTANCES
MEASURES 181-2, 5-6, 10-13, 16 3-4 7-9 14 15 17
FDFB
9 2 3 1 1 1 1
ABAB ACAD ABAD ABEC EBEB FCFC
In the final few bars of the piece, the change in sequence, on the larger scale, and the direction of
the arpeggiations, on the smaller scale, gives rise to the feeling of tension and release. It is a
creative approach, masterfully executed, and lends great interest to the prelude.
Another feature which sets the fourteenth prelude apart is its incredible brevity. Although many
of the Preludes are very short pieces, this one exceeds them all in the speed at which it is ended.
Depending on the precise tempo chosen by the performer (and the duration of the final note!) it
can be played in as little as twenty seconds. And it is this quality, more than any other, which
controls the emergence of line and the way the piece is perceived. As Thomas Higgins stated in his
essay Tempo and Character In Chopin, “Tempo is of the essence in a study; if a performer mistakes
it, the piece not only is of less value technically, but loses in character as well. All the many other
directions a composer might take pains to include- articulation, fingering, and dynamics - have
genuine relevance only at the tempo he has in mind.”7
A third piece must be mentioned at this point lest I be accused of missing the obvious. The final
movement (Presto) of Chopin’s B-flat minor Sonata (completed in 1839, the same year as the
Preludes) is the piece most clearly linked to the fourteenth prelude. But these two are so similar
that nearly everything I state in direct relation to style and line in the prelude can also be applied
to the sonata, and so my discussion of the former piece may serve to lend some understanding to
the latter as well. For the purposes of this analysis I have chosen to touch on harmonic treatment
(vertical) only briefly in preference to an explanation of line, or melody (horizontal). In Voice
Leading and Chromatic Harmony In the Music of Chopin, Richard S. Parks asserts the following:
“…except for secondary dominants and leading-tone relationships, which occur often enough but
usually account for only a portion of a given example, a look at the vertical dimension yields only
7
Thomas Higgins, “Tempo and Character in Chopin,” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), pp. 106-120.
an identification of a given sonority by quality - French augmented sixth, dominant seventh
sonority, or whatever. The logic of these passages with regard to tonal organization is to be found
in the melodic dimension; their function may be explained by voice leading.”8
It is here that an understanding of one practice technique employed by pianists can be helpful,
and that is the method of condensing broken chords, especially when written as triplets, into block
chords as a way of working out fingerings and quickly progressing through the physical layout of
the notes and the position of the hands. This technique, however, can yield further insight into the
composer’s intention of voice leading and melodic stress, and inform the performer as to what
should be brought out when returning to the broken chords as written. And so a simplistic
presentation of the primary melodic motive can be represented by the following:
But, as mentioned before, Chopin ingeniously obscures this motive by the placement of the line in
the triplet patterns. The first note of this motive, for instance, is assigned to the unlikely position
of the triplet 8th
immediately following the downbeat, as such:
This effect, carried out over the course of the piece, serves to destroy the feeling of accent usually
ascribed to triplet patterns and is a central component of the feeling of agitation which is
achieved. The result is a “buzz” that is created, as if two bees are fighting a territorial battle over a
8
Richard S. Parks, “Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin,” Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 20,
No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 189-214.
flower. There is a sense of rushing ahead on the notes that do fall on the normally accented beats
(the first C-flat in the above example) and the notes that follow them (frequently a repeated note,
as in the second C-flat), and a falling behind on the notes which do not. And so the performer
would do well to deny any emphasis that is normally given to the beginning note of the triplet, on
the one level, and beats one and three in the measure on the larger level, avoiding the groupings
of six, as in the following figure, which would be an amateurish mistake:
This feeling of speeding and braking, which I assert is central to the piece, can be depicted in the
following simplified example:
I must mention that my use of notation here is not conventional. I am not attempting to make the
claim that one hears this melody as a strict quarter-eighth-eighth rhythm. This notation allows me
to show the lead line while maintaining the basic value of the quarter note in common time. But it
is also useful in that it conveys the general idea of the way the listener perceives the melodic line,
keeping in mind that at the tempo of performance an entire measure is flying by every second.
I will add credibility to my assertion that the line emerges only in relation to the tempo and the
sum of the effects employed by mentioning the instrument for which this piece was written and
the performance style of its composer. It is not correct to say this piece was written for the piano,
at least if one has in mind the piano of our time. In the 1830s the cast iron plate had not yet been
incorporated into the design of the piano, a feature which amplified the volume of the instrument,
by means of its reflective quality and the structural strength which gave manufacturers the ability
to tremendously increase string tension. The pianoforte of Chopin’s day was a vastly different
instrument, and this is crucial to a proper understanding of the “sound” of Chopin’s music. It is
widely documented that Chopin had an alarmingly light and soft touch on the keyboard, and his
preference for the Pleyel grands is no wonder, as they were known for possessing a delicate sound
even for pianos of the day. So the performer may justifiably wonder, upon coming to a fortissimo
in measure 11, followed by a crescendo, as to how to achieve the massive volume required. But
we would do well to consider the historical facts I have just mentioned in order to steer clear of an
overpowering dynamic level at any point in the prelude. We must also acknowledge the register of
this piece as being a primary factor of sound and the emergence of line. Acoustically, equal
intervals do not have equal effect across the spectrum of frequency. An octave, for example, at the
extreme low end of the keyboard is separated by a narrower variation, in terms of cycles per
second, than the half step between B4 and C5 (above middle C). Because of this, there is a
reduction in the clarity of intervals the lower they are played on the keyboard. And so, imagining a
performance of this piece that is duly quiet, and recognizing the low range of notes throughout
this piece, the incessant crescendos and diminuendos, and the feverish tempo, the question of
what the listener actually perceives becomes incredibly pertinent.
SOURCES
 “Chopin as a Master of Form.” A. Redgrave Cripps, The Musical Times, Vol. 55, No. 858 (Aug. 1,
1914), pp. 517-519, Musical Times Publications Ltd., http://www.jstor.org/stable/910651
 “Tempo and Character in Chopin.” Thomas Higgins, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jan.,
1973), pp. 106-120, Oxford University Press, http://www.jstor.org/stable/741462
 “Chopin and Genre.” Jim Samson, Music Analysis, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Oct., 1989), pp. 213-231, Blackwell
Publishing, http://www.jstor.org/stable/854288
 “Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin.” Richard S. Parks, Journal of Music
Theory, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 189-214, Duke University Press on behalf of the Yale
University Department of Music , http://www.jstor.org/stable/843684
 “Concepts of Closure and Chopin's Opus 28.” V. Kofi Agawu , Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 9
(Spring, 1987), pp. 1-17, University of California Press on behalf of the Society for Music Theory,
http://www.jstor.org/stable/746116
 “The Chronology of Chopin's Preludes.” Maurice J. E. Brown, The Musical Times, Vol. 98, No. 1374
(Aug., 1957), pp. 423-424, Musical Times Publications Ltd., http://www.jstor.org/stable/937215
 Chopin: Preludes for the Piano. Ed. by Rafael Joseffy, Comments by James Huneker. G. Schirmer,
Inc., Library of Musical Classics, Vol. 34, 1915.
 Schumann, Robert. Music and Musicians: Essays and Criticisms. London: William Reeves, 185 Fleet
Street, 1877.

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Tempo, Effect and the Emergence of Line in Chopin's Prelude, Op. 28 No. 14

  • 1. Tempo, Effect and the Emergence of Line In Chopin’s Prelude, Op. 28 No. 14 Aeron Ogden Graduate Music Theory May 18, 2009
  • 2.
  • 3. Frederic Chopin’s Preludes, Opus 28, completed between 1835 and 1839, are an example of the composer’s mature style and predilection of form. They consist, primarily, of what A. Redgrave Cripps deems “one-idea pieces.”1 They are poems, “eagle’s feathers” according to Schumann2 , rarely straying from a single subject, mood, or even compositional device. Although intensely personal and emotionally expressive, Chopin is able to avoid melodrama through the sophistication of his craft. And while each piece in this work retains an individual and specific character, it can be argued that four clear expressions emerge in relation to the nature or personality of the Preludes: elation, depression, peacefulness and agitation. Consisting of a single piece in each major and minor key, as Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, the contrast of the cheerful and the morose may seem too obvious. But in conjunction with this dichotomy of mood, there is also a clear delineation in the level of emotion that is displayed. When Chopin’s mood is dark and excited, it is expressed in agitation, even violence. When he is melancholic but reserved, we have pieces such as the famous B minor, No. 6- somber and introspective. The same approach can be observed, on the more jovial side, in the major key pieces. Bright mood with high emotion equals elation in the Preludes; pleasant yet restrained emotion is presented as peacefulness. This contrast is heightened when the pieces are played in numeric order, as a complete set. Frequently Chopin follows an exuberant piece (bright mood, emotion high) with a piece expressing the polar opposite, melancholy (dark mood, emotion low). And so he follows the tranquil No. 13 in F-sharp major, with the fierce and menacing No. 14. On paper, the harmonic parallels between the fourteenth and twentieth preludes (in C minor) are easily noted. The former opens with a i-VI-vii-V-i progression; the latter begins with i-iv7- 1 A. Redgrave Cripps, “Chopin as a Master of Form,” The Musical Times, Vol. 55, No. 858 (Aug. 1, 1914), pp. 517-519. 2 Robert Schumann, Music and Musicians: Essays and Criticisms. London: William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street, 1877.
  • 4. Vsus-V7-i, the variant chords being substitutions which share a similar sound and function. The two preludes also share a common harmonic rhythm, with chord changes on each quarter note throughout both pieces. But the blitzing tempo of the fourteenth obscures this connection, especially when combined with the devices Chopin has chosen to employ - homogenous part writing (left and right hands given the same material) , low register, tightly spaced chords, legato and pesante articulation, and the “buzz” that is created by unceasing volume changes. These things are joined, in symbiotic fashion, and inextricably linked to the tempo, to achieve the sound, or line that emerges. In Chopin and
  • 5. Genre, Jim Samson refers to such effects as comprising the major stylistic changes the composer brought to the piano repertoire. “Bravura figuration3 of conventional origin became dense with information, its formal status aspiring to that of melodic line and harmonic progression, its very identity at times deliberately blurred with theirs. Ornamental figures, also of conventional origin, were similarly transformed from inessential elements to essence.”4 Regarding Chopin’s performance of one his own compositions, Schumann once wrote the following: “…it would be a mistake to suppose that he allowed us to hear every small note in it; it was rather an undulation of the… chord, brought out more loudly here and there with the pedal, but, exquisitely entangled in the harmony; we followed a wondrous melody in the sustained tones, while, in the middle, a tenor voice broke clearly from the chords, and joined the principal melody. And when the etude was ended, we felt as though we had seen a lovely form in a dream, and, half awake, we strove to seize it again; —but such things cannot be described, still less can they be fitly praised.”5 Stylistically the fourteenth prelude is most similar to the nineteenth, in E-flat major. Both consist of triadic rhythms6 in both hands from beginning to end. The triplets in each are also similar in that they avoid consecutive pitch order (low to high, or high to low), but employ various arpeggiations. But this is where the similarities end. The listener will hardly be aware of the 3 “Bravura figuration” refers to devices (i.e. arpeggiations, scale patterns, etc.) employed by composers which demand virtuosic ability of the performers. “Ornamental figuration” is used to denote decorative expressions which have been conventionally used to augment melodic lines. 4 Jim Samson, “Chopin and Genre,” Music Analysis, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Oct., 1989), pp. 213-231. 5 Robert Schumann, Music and Musicians: Essays and Criticisms. London: William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street, 1877. 6 I am consciously avoiding the term “triplet” because of the conventions and associations related to their use. The nineteenth prelude certainly employs triplets in a traditional manner; but the fourteenth prelude avoids the common accent pattern, thus avoiding the emergence of a melodic line from the first note of each triplet as is typically found. The lack of any rhythmic change throughout the piece, and the absence of any “3 over 2” patterns also confirms this decision. The 1915 Schirmer edition of this piece, in fact, does not note the figures as triplets, although they are grouped in threes by the eighth note beam.
  • 6. connections I have just made unless specifically looking for them because the sound and style of the pieces differ so greatly. Another quality which further diffuses this relationship is the variation of the placement of the high note, or lead line, between these two preludes. In No. 19, a lyrical line is clearly brought to the fore due to the consistent placement of the high note at the first beat of each triplet. The natural accent and the consummation of the listener’s expectation result in a stable and defined melody. No. 14 is equally adept in its avoidance of these qualities. The nineteenth prelude uses the following arpeggiated patterns from beginning to end: HIGH MIDDLE LOW     Right Hand Left Hand   The fourteenth prelude, in just 19 short measures, utilizes all of the following patterns: ARPEGGIATION INSTANCES HIGH MIDDLE LOW            E F  A B C D    229 27 7 3 4 The contrast of these arpeggiated patterns illustrates that this is a primary thematic element of the prelude. It does not play an important role in the nineteenth, where the lyrical melody takes precedence. But a closer look at the larger sequence of these arpeggiations reveals that Chopin used them as a structural device, every bit as important as the harmonies themselves. In the following diagram, each measure is broken down into the arpeggiated patterns and chords that Chopin has used. The red text in the middle row highlights the first instance of each arpeggiation; in the top row, the red text indicates the first instance of each sequence of four arpeggiations:
  • 7. MEASURE ARPEGGIATION CHORD MEASURE ARPEGGIATION CHORD MEASURE ARPEGGIATION CHORD MEASURE ARPEGGIATION CHORD MEASURE ARPEGGIATION CHORD MEASURE ARPEGGIATION CHORD iv7 (CONT.) i (CONT.) i 16 17 18 A B A B F C F V ANTVI ET i VI ET i7 VI PT iv C F eb PT G7 iv PT ii iv NT i D F B i VI II+ (CONT.) gb Ebb E B V (+3) 13 14 15 A B A B A B VI vii V (+3) i VI+ vi (-3)f7 F7 vii i i E C E B 10 11 12 A B A B A B A B A B A B Ebb Ebb7 f f7 PTFb Fb7 g g7 PT g g ANT i A V i gb Ab7 APP f 7 8 9 VI iv ANT vii (+R,+5) ANT i VI vii *Key of eb *bb A B V7 ANT 4 5 6 A C A D A B VI vii V i VI, ANT v/vi VI vii V 1 2 3 A B A B A B A B A C A D *eb *eb*Transitional *Transitional B A B A D A B A DA B A D A B e APP C SEQUENCE INSTANCES MEASURES 181-2, 5-6, 10-13, 16 3-4 7-9 14 15 17 FDFB 9 2 3 1 1 1 1 ABAB ACAD ABAD ABEC EBEB FCFC
  • 8. In the final few bars of the piece, the change in sequence, on the larger scale, and the direction of the arpeggiations, on the smaller scale, gives rise to the feeling of tension and release. It is a creative approach, masterfully executed, and lends great interest to the prelude. Another feature which sets the fourteenth prelude apart is its incredible brevity. Although many of the Preludes are very short pieces, this one exceeds them all in the speed at which it is ended. Depending on the precise tempo chosen by the performer (and the duration of the final note!) it can be played in as little as twenty seconds. And it is this quality, more than any other, which controls the emergence of line and the way the piece is perceived. As Thomas Higgins stated in his essay Tempo and Character In Chopin, “Tempo is of the essence in a study; if a performer mistakes it, the piece not only is of less value technically, but loses in character as well. All the many other directions a composer might take pains to include- articulation, fingering, and dynamics - have genuine relevance only at the tempo he has in mind.”7 A third piece must be mentioned at this point lest I be accused of missing the obvious. The final movement (Presto) of Chopin’s B-flat minor Sonata (completed in 1839, the same year as the Preludes) is the piece most clearly linked to the fourteenth prelude. But these two are so similar that nearly everything I state in direct relation to style and line in the prelude can also be applied to the sonata, and so my discussion of the former piece may serve to lend some understanding to the latter as well. For the purposes of this analysis I have chosen to touch on harmonic treatment (vertical) only briefly in preference to an explanation of line, or melody (horizontal). In Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony In the Music of Chopin, Richard S. Parks asserts the following: “…except for secondary dominants and leading-tone relationships, which occur often enough but usually account for only a portion of a given example, a look at the vertical dimension yields only 7 Thomas Higgins, “Tempo and Character in Chopin,” The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), pp. 106-120.
  • 9. an identification of a given sonority by quality - French augmented sixth, dominant seventh sonority, or whatever. The logic of these passages with regard to tonal organization is to be found in the melodic dimension; their function may be explained by voice leading.”8 It is here that an understanding of one practice technique employed by pianists can be helpful, and that is the method of condensing broken chords, especially when written as triplets, into block chords as a way of working out fingerings and quickly progressing through the physical layout of the notes and the position of the hands. This technique, however, can yield further insight into the composer’s intention of voice leading and melodic stress, and inform the performer as to what should be brought out when returning to the broken chords as written. And so a simplistic presentation of the primary melodic motive can be represented by the following: But, as mentioned before, Chopin ingeniously obscures this motive by the placement of the line in the triplet patterns. The first note of this motive, for instance, is assigned to the unlikely position of the triplet 8th immediately following the downbeat, as such: This effect, carried out over the course of the piece, serves to destroy the feeling of accent usually ascribed to triplet patterns and is a central component of the feeling of agitation which is achieved. The result is a “buzz” that is created, as if two bees are fighting a territorial battle over a 8 Richard S. Parks, “Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin,” Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 189-214.
  • 10. flower. There is a sense of rushing ahead on the notes that do fall on the normally accented beats (the first C-flat in the above example) and the notes that follow them (frequently a repeated note, as in the second C-flat), and a falling behind on the notes which do not. And so the performer would do well to deny any emphasis that is normally given to the beginning note of the triplet, on the one level, and beats one and three in the measure on the larger level, avoiding the groupings of six, as in the following figure, which would be an amateurish mistake: This feeling of speeding and braking, which I assert is central to the piece, can be depicted in the following simplified example:
  • 11. I must mention that my use of notation here is not conventional. I am not attempting to make the claim that one hears this melody as a strict quarter-eighth-eighth rhythm. This notation allows me to show the lead line while maintaining the basic value of the quarter note in common time. But it is also useful in that it conveys the general idea of the way the listener perceives the melodic line, keeping in mind that at the tempo of performance an entire measure is flying by every second. I will add credibility to my assertion that the line emerges only in relation to the tempo and the sum of the effects employed by mentioning the instrument for which this piece was written and the performance style of its composer. It is not correct to say this piece was written for the piano, at least if one has in mind the piano of our time. In the 1830s the cast iron plate had not yet been incorporated into the design of the piano, a feature which amplified the volume of the instrument, by means of its reflective quality and the structural strength which gave manufacturers the ability to tremendously increase string tension. The pianoforte of Chopin’s day was a vastly different instrument, and this is crucial to a proper understanding of the “sound” of Chopin’s music. It is widely documented that Chopin had an alarmingly light and soft touch on the keyboard, and his preference for the Pleyel grands is no wonder, as they were known for possessing a delicate sound even for pianos of the day. So the performer may justifiably wonder, upon coming to a fortissimo in measure 11, followed by a crescendo, as to how to achieve the massive volume required. But we would do well to consider the historical facts I have just mentioned in order to steer clear of an overpowering dynamic level at any point in the prelude. We must also acknowledge the register of this piece as being a primary factor of sound and the emergence of line. Acoustically, equal
  • 12. intervals do not have equal effect across the spectrum of frequency. An octave, for example, at the extreme low end of the keyboard is separated by a narrower variation, in terms of cycles per second, than the half step between B4 and C5 (above middle C). Because of this, there is a reduction in the clarity of intervals the lower they are played on the keyboard. And so, imagining a performance of this piece that is duly quiet, and recognizing the low range of notes throughout this piece, the incessant crescendos and diminuendos, and the feverish tempo, the question of what the listener actually perceives becomes incredibly pertinent. SOURCES  “Chopin as a Master of Form.” A. Redgrave Cripps, The Musical Times, Vol. 55, No. 858 (Aug. 1, 1914), pp. 517-519, Musical Times Publications Ltd., http://www.jstor.org/stable/910651  “Tempo and Character in Chopin.” Thomas Higgins, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jan., 1973), pp. 106-120, Oxford University Press, http://www.jstor.org/stable/741462  “Chopin and Genre.” Jim Samson, Music Analysis, Vol. 8, No. 3 (Oct., 1989), pp. 213-231, Blackwell Publishing, http://www.jstor.org/stable/854288  “Voice Leading and Chromatic Harmony in the Music of Chopin.” Richard S. Parks, Journal of Music Theory, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 189-214, Duke University Press on behalf of the Yale University Department of Music , http://www.jstor.org/stable/843684  “Concepts of Closure and Chopin's Opus 28.” V. Kofi Agawu , Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 9 (Spring, 1987), pp. 1-17, University of California Press on behalf of the Society for Music Theory, http://www.jstor.org/stable/746116  “The Chronology of Chopin's Preludes.” Maurice J. E. Brown, The Musical Times, Vol. 98, No. 1374 (Aug., 1957), pp. 423-424, Musical Times Publications Ltd., http://www.jstor.org/stable/937215  Chopin: Preludes for the Piano. Ed. by Rafael Joseffy, Comments by James Huneker. G. Schirmer, Inc., Library of Musical Classics, Vol. 34, 1915.  Schumann, Robert. Music and Musicians: Essays and Criticisms. London: William Reeves, 185 Fleet Street, 1877.