The 24 preludes which make up The Well-Tempered Pianist are studies in tonality. The 7-note scale round which they are formed is constructed identically on each of the twelve degrees of the chromatic scale, in both major and minor modes. It was in this way that, early in the 18th century, J.S.Bach had formulated the 7-note diatonic scale when composing the 48 Preludes and Fugues that make up Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. The new scale differs from that in so far as it consists of the six notes of the whole – tone scale, which Debussy introduced into Western music early in the 20th century , with the addition of the perfect fourth. Thus the twelve semitones that fall within the octave are divided equally into two tetrachords, which differ only in their leading note, and whose bass notes are set apart by the interval of the tritone.
This interval, known to the ancient Greeks, which medieval theorists described as the devil in music, diabolus in musica, lies midway between the fourth and fifth degrees, the subdominant and dominant, of the diatonic scale, yet possesses the tonal characteristics of neither. Nevertheless, it exercised the strongest pull in determining the music’s tonality, whether vertically through the harmony or horizontally through the melody. This interval is now made the matrix of a new scale of extended tonality.
This scale evolved from The Manger Throne (1959) through to its complete formulation for The Well-Tempered Pianist (2010). The successive stages of composition of these works, and three day-long recording sessions in which each piece was honed, were conducted like an ongoing scientific experiment, with a predetermined unanimity of purpose, and a common aesthetic aim between composer, performer and producer. Only when the correct musical data were in place at each stage, and each test had proved successful to the satisfaction of all the participants, would they proceed to the next stage. A creative momentum thus built up, as success at each stage indicated the way forward to the next stage. The final stage, the release of the recording, was marked by a house concert in December 2010, at which Charles Matthews performed groups of two or three of the new preludes, interspersed with preludes by Bach and Chopin, to an invited audience and their guests, all of whom received a copy of the new CD of The Well-Tempered Pianist .
The opportunities which such a creative momentum would open up were very soon made clear, when Charles Matthews asked “Have you anything for strings ?” Every year he directed an international summer school for young string players, at the Festival of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Madrid, and he was looking for new works to feature in the 2011 festival. Routh proposed two, Suite for String Orchestra, Op.50, and Romance for Cello and String Orchestra, Op.51 . The former had been written for the Royal Academy orchestra (RAM Da Capo, 1993; the latter had been a commission from Christopher Bunting in 1989, which he intended to perform with the students of the Royal College of Music and the Yehudi Menuhin School, where he taught.
The early stages of composition of Romance were soon completed, and Bunting had edited the solo part, when illness prevented his proposed idea from reaching completion. He died unexpectedly in 2005; but the work done already was not to be wasted, and Romance was premiered by Charles Matthews in the Teatro Auditorio, San Lorenzo, in July 2011 as part of the XXXIII International Course of Musica Matisse. The soloist was the cello coach on the course, the young Welsh cellist Kathryn Price. As well as Romance, Suite for String Orchestra was also featured under the same creative impulse, in celebration of traditional English court dances of the 16th and 17th centuries. Both these performances took place on the initiative of Charles Matthews, in the wake of his recording of The Well-Tempered Pianist. In the meantime a new work for orchestra was also to follow without delay.
The extended scale had the power to impose a new tonal order over the 24 Preludes. The contrapuntal and harmonic movement of the parts led to the opening up of fresh areas of tonality. Indeed The Well-Tempered Pianist could only be followed up by one path, which was indicated by the example of Bach himself. When he composed Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, the first book of 24 Preludes and Fugues was published in 1722. This was followed up many years later with the second book of 24 Preludes and Fugues, which were on a larger scale and more developed than the first. So the complete work that has come down to us is 48 Preludes and Fugues.
In the case of The Well-Tempered Pianist, the preludes were followed up by another such work based on the same architectural structure, but on a larger scale and using more resources. The preludes were for a single player, and a solo instrument; a private statement of musical expressivity and virtuosity. The new work would be a symphony for full orchestra, and 100 players. The preludes were a few minutes in duration, and monothematic. Each of the three movements of the new work would be of symphonic proportions, and would be based on the material of one of the preludes, would transform it, add to it, develop it, and turn it into a public expression of orchestral virtuosity, to be shared by many.
Prelude V, Vivace (92), of The Well-Tempered Pianist generated the first movement, Vivace (88), of Symphony 3. To this was added a second theme as well as symphonic development.
Prelude XXII, Largo elegiaco, was the source of the fuller treatment of the elegiac second movement.
The third movement finale of the Symphony, Rondo Vivace, is the full orchestral version of the final movement, La Volta, of the Suite for String Orchestra.
10 June 2020