birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

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Opus 32, No. 12

Rachmaninoff's Prelude in g# minor is a piece of music that is meaningful to me because it's one of the last remnants of the repertoire I used to play in college. I have some of it in my muscle memory, so it's what I play when somebody asks to me to play.

The piece opens with shimmery notes in the upper register in the right hand. It sounds solemn but light and quickly-moving. The shimmery notes become an ostinato that will appear throughout the piece. It speeds up like somebody put their foot down on the accelerator and then comes back to the tempo at which it started.

The left hand is played louder than the RH ostinato because it has the melody. It comes in right around middle c, and it sounds like a lament. It is emphasized with soft chords reaching down the keyboard played like brush strokes. It is haunting and mysterious.

Then the LH goes away and the RH ostinato continues alone for a few measures, speeding up and receding into pianissimo again. The LH comes back with the melody, again with the brush stroke chords emphasizing each phrase.

Then the piece moves into the dominant 5th, which is d#. The ostinato keeps its shape, but in the new key. The LH becomes more urgent (and more difficult). The mid-register still has the melody, with chords repeating until they dissolve into a new chord, a landing place, that is broken up by arpeggiated runs after each stop. Each one builds the momentum.

Then the RH takes the melody for a minute, closing out this section of the piece. The LH plays the accompaniment, which is difficult because it is in a louder register of the piano but at this moment its sound is less important than the right. The piece pauses on a single note before transitioning on.

In the new section, the LH takes the melody again. The RH abandons the shimmery ostinato for some broken chords, and the piece urges forward again, building toward a forte. The chords become increasingly unresolved, until the climactic moment breaks through the tension over about 4 octaves.

Then there is a denouement and we are back in the home key, the tonic of g# minor. The shimmery ostinato comes back, and the LH returns to the mysterious melody that opens the piece. This time it is played two octaves lower, and quietly. The piece ends with both hands in the upper register of the piano joining together for a run that goes nearly but not quite chromatically up the scale.

It closes on the tonic, one note in each hand played twice, once at the higher end of an octave and once on the lower. It rings out, pedal down, until the sound dies away.


The Shimmer of Sunday