for guitar by Bryan Johanson
Initially the 24 Preludes began as a composition exercise intended to teach me how to write short, concise works. The project rapidly evolved into the cycle of preludes presented here. Ironically, I achieved my initial goal while simultaneously composing my longest sustained work for solo guitar to date.
Many composers have written 24 Preludes, usually basing their set on Bach’s WTC model (Chopin, Shostakovich, Scriabin, etc.); composing one in every major and minor key. However, for me, composing a prelude in every key was not very appealing. There are several reasons for this: 1) my personal harmonic language tends to stray in and out of keys, sometimes toward and away from tonality at the same time; 2) the classical guitar itself does not fit all keys equally well and; 3) the reasons for writing in every major and minor key, though it may have been challenging and essential to Bach’s harmonic development, no longer exist. Nevertheless, the idea of composing 24 Preludes grew on me, primarily because the historical model proved successful at challenging composers to dig deeply into the inventive possibilities of the short form.
My set can be roughly divided into two parts. In Part One (Preludes 1-12) the pieces begin short and simple, slowly working toward longer and more complex forms and increasing harmonic diversity. In Part Two (Preludes 13-24) the process is reversed with the formal, harmonic and melodic content becoming more simplified as the cycle works toward the concluding prelude.
One additional formal aspect is that each prelude in the first half has a companion prelude in the second half. Though each pair is not symmetrically placed, the pairs will become increasingly obvious as the listener becomes more familiar with the work. The binding agent between the pairs varies with each, creating pairs that behave sometimes like mates, sometimes like siblings, sometimes like cousins, and sometimes like twins (even an evil twin shows up in this process). However, the careful listener will eventually discover the commonalities, achieving what I hope will be a deeper level of musical and emotional engagement.
Bryan Johanson, Portland Oregon.