Dissertation Abstract

Chopin's 24 Preludes, Op. 28
A Cycle Unified By Motion
Between the 5th and 6th Scale Degrees

Chopin’s twenty-four Préludes, Op. 28 stand out as revolutionary in history, for they are neither introductions to fugues, nor etude-like exercises as those preludes by other early nineteenth-century composers such as Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Johan Baptist Cramer, Friedrich Kalkbrenner, and Muzio Clementi. Instead they are the first instance of piano preludes as independent character pieces. This study shows, however, that Op. 28 is not just the beginning of the Romantic prelude tradition but forms a coherent large-scale composition unified by motion between the fifths and sixth scale degrees. After an overview of the compositional origins of Chopin’s Op. 28 and an outline of the history of keyboard preludes, the set will be compared to the contemporaneous ones by Hummel, Clementi, and Kalbrenner. The following chapter discusses previous theories of coherence in Chopin’s Préludes, including those by Jósef M. Chominski, Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, and Anselm Gerhard. The final chapter consists of an analysis demonstrating that all twenty-four preludes are distinguished and unified by recurrences of movement between the fifth and sixth scale degrees. The scalar movements are grouped into the following categories: scalar motion as melodic idea, motion between fifth and sixth scale degree as motivic seed, alternation between major and minor sixth scale degrees, alternation between the two scale degrees to form an underlying structure, motion of fifth and sixth scale degrees highlighted by marcato accents, and motion between the two scale degrees at climactic moments. The study includes all twenty-four preludes and shows that the movements between the two scale degrees appear in significant ways throughout the set to unify the entire composition and create a coherent cycle