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The concise, thirteen-bar Prelude in C minor is a chorale. It would be hard to outdo the condensation of form, texture and expression that it displays. For the first four bars, a questioning melody proceeds in a largo tempo (the slowest of the slow) and a fortissimo dynamic, and in the utmost concentration, with gravity, simplicity and loftiness. The answering melody also moves slowly, but in a softer voice. The final bars bring only a distant echo of that response.

Jane Stirling, one of Chopin’s last pupils, called the C minor Prelude ‘La prière’ [The prayer]. As she mentioned in a letter to Chopin’s sister, Ludwika Jędrzejewicz, ‘under Chopin’s fingers, the chords of this Prelude sounded more like heavenly music than like sounds from this world’.

The succinctness of the form and the force of the stifled expression have moved a number of composers to take the C minor Prelude as the starting point for their own Chopin-inspired compositions. In 1884, one of the most interesting Italian pianists and composers, Ferruccio Busoni, composed a cycle of variations on the theme of Chopin’s C minor Prelude, ending with a fugue. Two decades later, in 1905, Sergey Rachmaninov followed suit. His monumental cycle of 22 Variations, Op. 22, crowned with a triumphant polonaise, is occasionally played in concert. One may assume that the music of Rachmaninov’s C sharp minor Prelude, one of his most famous works, was also born of the spirit of Chopin’s C minor Prelude.

Author: Mieczysław Tomaszewski
[Cykl audycji "Fryderyka Chopina Dzieła Wszystkie"]
Polish Radio, program II


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Prelude in C minor, Op. 28 No. 20 Op. 28 No. 20
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