Shostakovich

24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87

Hannes Minnaar proposed a plan to release a CD of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues back when he was recording Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2020. With Bach’s pure music fresh in his mind, Minnaar says his thoughts naturally turned to this work by the Russian composer.

That is not as strange as it may sound, though, despite the two hundred years separating these compositions. Both, after all, inhabit their own distinct universe of polyphonic music.

‘I’ve always found polyphony interesting,’ Minnaar admits. ‘All the notes have meaning within it. You can’t leave out a single note, since something would be missing in one of the musical lines. Romantic music is always a bit more arbitrary in that sense. And even though Shostakovich wrote very different music from that of Bach, it holds enormous appeal for me.’

Like so many composers, Shostakovich spent his life studying Bach’s oeuvre. By 1934, he had already composed his 24 Preludes, Op. 34 in every key. Shostakovich considered the series of fugues he had started work on at the same time (only the one in A minor would ultimately be included in Op. 87) as compositional exercises. A large-scale prelude and fugue also happen to make up the opening to the Piano Quintet, Op. 57, which dates from 1940.

Shostakovich would again delve deep into Bach’s work in 1950, when he sat on the jury of the International Bach Competition in Leipzig marking the two hundredth anniversary of the composer’s death. The winner was the Russian pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, who knew all the preludes and fugues making up Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by heart. So inspired was Shostakovich that he had composed his 24 Preludes and Fugues just four and a half months after having returned to Moscow.

From the booklet notes by Sandra Kooke, translated by Josh Dillon/Muse Translations