Three cycles of 24 preludes and fugues by Russian composers: D. Shostakovich, R. Shchedrin and S. Slonimsky
Although the Prelude and Fugue pair is most strongly associated with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (48 Preludes and Fugues), modern treatments of fugue and other Baroque forms were common in the 1920s and 1930s. Interest in fugal composition decreased in the second half of the twentieth century, but three leading Russian composers, Dmitry Shostakovich, Rodion Shchedrin and Sergey Slonimsky, wrote large collections of fugal compositions after 1950. It is remarkable that they left these tremendous and encyclopedic works, because there are not many such large-scale works written for the piano in recent decades. These cycles, all with twenty-four preludes and fugues, were influenced by Bach’s preludes and fugues in various ways. Dmitry Shostakovich’s cycle of twenty-four preludes and fugues, Op. 87, composed in 1950-51, follows very closely Bach’s collection both structurally and tonally, while displaying his distinctive musical style. Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932) connected twentieth-century musical ideas to the Baroque concept of music in a much more radical way. He created a very different style of music in his own set of twenty-four preludes and fugues for piano (1964-70), but fundamentally, his cycle still uses the basic formal idea of the Baroque prelude and fugue. Finally, despite the fact that Sergey Slonimsky (who was born in the same year as Shchedrin) composed his twenty-four preludes and fugues for piano very recently (1994), his cycle is more conventional than Shchedrin’s, is more closely related to Shostakovich’s, and stylistically is sometimes closer to Bach’s.