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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Students of literature can often adduce collections that verify this old dictum: Joyce’s Dubliners for example. Each story is a gem. Brief, potent and self-contained. But the cycle as a whole accumulates resonances exceeding the scope of its individual components.

The musical world has Chopin’s Preludes, Op. 28.  Twenty-four miniatures, nearly half less than a minute long – a few measures on the page, sampling all the major and minor keys. Each is a dense, emotionally saturated, independent composition that can stand alone in performance, but heard together they create Chopin’s most elaborate and enigmatic emotional journey.

There is no evidence that the composer ever performed more than a few of the preludes at one time. Was it even intended to be played as a single entity? The only certainties we have are the fact that they were published as a single opus, and their unstoppable cumulative effectiveness in performance.

This is no place for a checklist description of all the preludes in sequence. Even beginning students of the piano will recognize some familiar chestnuts. Savor, instead, the kaleidoscopic flickers as they register and move along, from ebullience to disaster.

Only this spoiler. Chopin completed the Preludes during his wretched stay in Majorca with his lover George Sand (the novelist Amantine Lucile Dupin) in the winter of 1838-1839. Foul weather, inadequate lodgings, illness, and emotional strain conspired against the couple. There is never any reliable connection between biography and musical inspiration, but Op. 28 ends darkly in D minor with a headlong triple fortissimo thrash down the length of the keyboard to three harrowing unaccompanied low Ds.

Grant Hiroshima, former Director of Information Technology for the
Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, is a frequent contributor to the program book.