Gabriel Fauré wrote these in his mid-sixties (1909-10), and was coming to terms with his failing hearing. Right in the middle of the late-romantic period, Fauré uses a very ambitious harmonic language, making use of chromatic and enharmonic language in all of the pieces. There are also polyphonic ideas in many of the movements
I. Prélude in D-flat major
Marked Andante molto moderato, this prelude uses a very simple melody in the top voice with the harmonic accompaniment filling out on the off beats until the cadence, upon which a Db major chord fills the downbeat in both hands. The B section (the piece is ABA form) is more tumultuous, before returning once more to the A section, where the lower register is used for a stronger final cadence.
II. Prélude in C-sharp minor
This prelude is the flightiest of the bunch, marked allegro. The right hand has triplet-sixteenth figures for almost the entirety of the piece, while the left hand plays short, sharp harmonies on the strong beats. This energy continues until the very last page, where there is a slow whole-tone chordal rise over a pedal tone Db, which has not become the tonic major. The piece ends in major.
III. Prélude in G minor
For an intermediate student, this prelude is perhaps the most approachable and would be a good challenge. The piece is marked Andante, and begins in a soft G minor. Instead of a set of three melodic phrases in which the third phrase expands to the next section, Fauré does this with harmony, using G minor twice before moving to a C dominant chord. These preludes have several interesting harmonic sequences, one of which is found in this piece. An idea is stated over three measures and modulated down a half-step twice. This idea happens twice throughout the piece. See the first iteration in the figure below:
IV. Prélude in F major
After two minor preludes, this prelude, marked Allegretto moderato, provides a very sweet, delicate contrast. Though still chromatic, it is less so than the other preludes of the suite, and has more of a pastorale affect.
V. Prélude in D minor
To contrast from the fourth prelude, Fauré gives us an Allegro piece in D minor. The affect is tempestuous, reinforced by polyrhythms between the hands as well as dense chromaticism. This is also perhaps the most contrapuntal prelude yet, an example of which can be seen in the following figure:
Notice above how each moving voice contains chromatic neighbors, though there are still vertical blocks each beat with some typical harmonies. The very end of this prelude features sparse modal section with a folk-like melody above mostly diatonic chords in D minor.
VI. Prélude in E-flat minor
The compositional process of this Prelude is very intriguing, as the soprano and bass voice engage in a two part canon from the beginning up until the last measures at the end. In Eb minor and marked Andante, the piece has an unstable quality to it, as the bass voice is always copying the soprano voice, occasionally at the expense of providing roots or even other chord tones. Below are the first measures of the piece, where the canonic process can be observed:
VII. Prélude in A major
Opposite from the previous prelude in pace (Andante moderato), affect, and even in tonal center (as Eb minor and A major are almost polar opposites), this prelude has a tonally ambiguous beginning. The right hand has a G# figure, and two voices enter and find the notes D# and B#, which seems to be setting up a cadence for C# minor. However, Fauré deceives us with a resolution to A. Since the piece is actually in A major, it is an interesting paradox of a deceptive cadence that is not really deceptive:
This piece also has parallel harmonic motion, moving in whole tones. This may have been influenced by the impressionistic works of Debussy and Ravel, who were also writing at the time of this composition:
VIII. Prélude in C minor
This prelude is in the same vein as the second prelude in its vigor, but is heavier and less flighty than that prelude. It is marked Allegro, and features repeated eighth-notes with staccato articulation generating most of the melodic content. The shortest of the set, it takes little more than a minute to perform, and feels very much like an Etude.
IX. Prélude in E minor
The final prelude, marked Adagio, is perhaps the most powerful of the set. Definitely the most contrapuntal, the usually three voices are so distinctly beautiful that they seem to align in tonal harmonies as is by accident, and separate just as quickly as they aligned. The piece is sparse, starting softly with the bass voice and gradually building up to one climax at the end, after which the voices slowly make their way to a shocking E major chord. The piece ends magically in E major. Below is the ending:
Publishers of Faure’s music include:
- Julien Hamelle
- Henle Verlag
Notable performers with recordings of this piece include:
- Jean-Philippe Collard
- Germaine Thyssens-Valentin
Captain Thaddius’ Hot Take:
It is too bad that these are seldom played. Though the notes of many movements could be attainable to intermediates, it take a very harmonically sensitive performer to achieve Fauré’s musical ideas.
The Captain feels a very deep emotional connection to these preludes, having studied them in his first year aboard the SS-Wildcat. He would listen to these preludes for hours on end, several days a week, and reflect on the emotion empathy. He used the different affects of the movements to reflect on different types of empathy. These pieces triggered reflections that taught the Captain a great deal about how to respond empathetically in life situations. Particularly, the seventh and ninth preludes are of significant sentimental importance, as he found them the most beautiful. Among his travels in the ocean of keyboard literature, these preludes remain a priceless treasure.