Chopin: 'Prelude No. 15'

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  • Created by: Callum
  • Created on: 26-04-14 14:16

The Romantic Period

  • 1825 to 1900
  • Music is more expressive and emotional than in earlier periods
  • Rich and chromatic harmonies are used, with greature use of dissonance, and modulations to more remote keys
  • Technical advances in instruments are exploited, which in part leads to larger orchestras and the rise of the virtuoso
  • Structures and forms became longer
  • Pieces are often descriptive titles, and programme music becomes more common.

Important composers from this period include Liszt, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Chopin.

There were also many changes to the piano in this period including:

  • Size - the piano changed shape and got bigger giving it a wider dynamic range
  • Keys - the number of keys (notes) increased to just over 7 octaves (larger range of pitch)
  • Pedals - two pedals were invented (Sustain - right and Una corda - left) which were notated in
  • Frame - the frame had been made of wood but was now metal making it easier to transport
  • Hammers - they were given a felt covering rather than leather making the tone softer
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Context

The piece is nicknamed the 'Raindrop' prelude, possibly due to the repeated quavers that can be heard throughout (which sound like raindrops falling steadily).

It comes from a collection of preludes by Chopin known as Op. 28 (work number 28), composed in 1839. There are 24 preludes in total: one in each of the 12 major and 12 minor keys.

This piece would most likely be performed in a small space, such as in the home, a recital room or a small concert hall.

This piece was written during Chopin's stay at the deserted monarchy in Valldemossa, Majorca when he was suffering from tubercuosis. When he wrote it there was a storm outside and the title refers to the dripping of raindrops from the roof of the monastery.

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Structure and Dynamics

Structure

The raindrop prelude is in ternary form (ABA):

A is in D flat major. There is a lyrical melody accompanied by quavers in the bass. This section also has its own ABA structure.

B is in C sharp minor. In contrast to the first section, the melody which is new, is now in the bass and the quavers are heard above it. The music has moved from major to minor and builds up to a couple of ff climaxes.

C is in D flat minor. It returns to the opening melody. This repeat of section A is shorter and finished with a brief coda.

Dynamics

  • Chopin uses lots of crescendos and diminuendos.
  • There is a wide range of dynamics (from pp to ff) but no sudden contrasts
  • Section A is quieter than Section B, which climaxes to ff twice.
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Rhythm, Metre and Tempo

  • The time signature C is the same as 4/4 time - four crotchet beats per bar.
  • One unusual rhythmic feature is the septuplet in bars 4 and 23: seven notes of equal length are played in a single crotchet beat.
  • In bar 79 there is a dectuplet: ten notes of equal length fit into a single beat.
  • 'Sostenuto' is written at the start of the score. This means 'sustained' - the piece should be played in a legato, unhurried manner.
  • Rubato is used in the recorded performance. The pianist plays some notes longer than written and others shorter than written, creating a flexible tempo for expressive effect.
  • Repeated quavers are a unifying rhythmic feature throughout the piece.
  • The melody begins with a dotted rhythm. This is repeated a number of times in Section A, helping to give it a lighter feel than the melody of Section B.

Rubato literally means 'robbed' - the performer plays around with the tempo, slowing down and speeding up for expressive effect (doesn't have to be written into the music)

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Melody and Use Of The Piano

Melody

  • The prelude begins with a lyrical melody in the right hand. It is decorated with ornaments, such as acciaccatura which is a crushed note (played very quickly)(bar 4) and a turn (bar 11). The melody features dotted rhythms and some chromaticsm.
  • In Section B the melody moves to the bass. It has a narrower range and is mostly made up of longer notes (crotchets and minims)
  • The prelude is mostly made up of four- and eight- bar phrases

Use Of The Piano

  • Most of the prelude uses the middle and lower ranges of the piano.
  • Unlike some of Chopin's other works, the piano writing is not virtuoso in character. Instead, Chopin concentrates on the piano's ability to create a legato, singing tone (cantabile).
  • Chopin exploits the piano's wide dynamic range, with much use of crescendos and diminuendos
  • The sutaining pedal is used for resonance to help create legato melodies
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Tonality and Harmony / Texture

Tonality and Harmony

  • The prelude is in D flat major. It uses mainly diatonic harmony with occasional chromaticism.
  • The piece modulates from the tonic major (D flat major)  to the enharmonic tonic minor (C sharp minor).
  • Section A and B both end with imperfect cadences. The prelude ends with a perfect cadence.
  • There is a dominant pedal that can be heard throughut most of the piece (Abs in Section A and the repeated G sharps in Section B)

Texture

  • The overall texture of this piece is homophonic.
  • Section A: melody in the right hand, supported by broken chords in the left hand.
  • Section B: melody passes to the left hand with repeated quavers in the right hand. The pedal is inverted for most of the section and is doubled in octaves as the music builds to a climax.
  • Coda: There is a short monophonic passage.
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