In an article entitled “Breaking Down Chopin’s 24 Preludes,” Wojciech Oleksiak of Culture.pl explores the context and history of Chopin’s quintessential 24 Preludes, op. 28, as well as a brief discussion of each individual Prelude. The article is based on Mieczysław Tomaszewski Chopin, information from chopin.com, and an interview with Urszula Oleksiak. Below is an excerpt:
Chopin’s 24 Preludes are universally recognized as some of the composer’s most characteristic works. Not only are they quintessential of his style, but are also deeply tied with upheavals in Chopin’s personal life at the time.
Until 1938, Chopin’s career was developing extraordinarily well. He had become one of Paris’ favourite composers and performing pianists. He had a long queue of prominent students eager to pay large amounts of money for his piano lessons. He had entered the high society of what was, in those days, the world’s cultural capital. The world seemed to be his oyster. In these circumstances, he decided to go to Majorca with his lover George Sand, a celebrated French novelist. A trip initially planned as a romantic journey soon turned out to be a roller-coaster of emotions…
Circumstances of the Creation of 24 Preludes
First of all, Majorca was the place of Chopin’s tuberculosis outbreak. It was diagnosed by one of the local doctors, which resulted in Chopin, George Sand, and her children being unable to rent any kind of accommodation within the city of Palma. The inhabitants of Majorca where so frightened of possible contamination that they refused to give the travellers shelter anywhere near the town. After a few days of wandering, they ended up in the abandoned monastery in Valldemossa. From that point, they were forced to spend their days in this secluded place, far from the vibrant capital of the island. To make matters worse, Chopin’s piano got stuck in customs and he was forced to rent an instrument which he called a ‘wretched replacement’. Moreover, the weather on Majorca during winter is very much varied, from mild 15o C / 59o F days to heavy showers and gusty winds.
All these circumstances made the overwhelmingly sensitive composer go through extreme emotional ups and downs. One day, he was ecstatically delighted with (as he wrote in the letters to his friend Camille Pleyel in Paris) ‘the colours of most wonderful places, not obliterated by human sight’ and had a feeling of ‘everything breathing poetry’. The next, he would write that he ‘lives in a strange place, beyond the sea and rocks’ and his letters would emanate with fear of death and consciousness of his own dashed hopes and the necessity to reformulate his far-reaching plans. These constant fluctuations of emotion are reflected in the preludes and are probably the main factor of them being so varied and sometimes so grave and harmonically uneasy.
To read the entire article, visit culture.pl.