In the early 1930s Shostakovich was beginning to feel restless about being pigeon-holed as a composer of theatre-music. He longed to write more serious instrumental music. At the same time, his style was beginning to simplify, to be less aggressively modernist and more neo-classical, tuneful and accessible. In this spirit, he completed this entrancing cycle of 24 Preludes, following the tonal scheme of Chopin’s famous work, but in an altogether lighter vein, filled with wistful echoes of jazz and theatrical music, as well as light-hearted parodies of romantic piano-music.
This work was written by the composer for himself to perform. At this stage in his life he spent much of his time touring and giving concerts as a pianist and was in need of piano music of his own to play that was less harsh and abrasive than his earlier piano pieces such as the First Sonata op.12 and the ‘Aphorisms’ op.13. The Twenty-Four Preludes were an immediate success and they have been yaken up by innumerable pianists since, and also arranged by other performers and composers for every combination from violin and piano to full orchestra.
Note by Gerard McBurney