Eight Preludes, Op. 34: A Review

By Richard Human, Jr. • January 01, 1998 • 3 min read

Shostakovich CoverShostakovich, Dmitri. Eight Preludes, Op. 34, arranged for tenor and bass trombone by Douglas Yeo. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation, 1997. Score. $12.95.

Without the knowledge that they were originally composed as piano preludes, a close look at these eight short pieces would suggest that they could have originally been written as trombone duets. This is due to the fact that excellent compositions "work" as music in almost any setting; and that Douglas Yeo, bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony, has chosen from the original twenty-four preludes very well.

For this publication, Yeo has selected eight pieces which are balanced in terms of interest and challenge for the musicians, and also balanced as a collection. Through these short yet challenging pieces, the trombonist is able to intimately experience the wide variety of emotions Shostakovich used to color his music. Varying in style from lightly-articulated romps to almost painfully expressive and expansive melodies, these duets offer interest for both performer and listener.

Each prelude retains its original number and key, and no editorial comments or markings have been added. The collection opens with a brief introduction which acquaints the reader with historical backdrop of these preludes. Yeo writes:

Following the model of Chopin and others before him, the Twenty-Four Preludes traverse all of the major and minor keys. The infamous Pravda denunciation of Shostakovich was yet three years away, and he was enjoying a period of great compositional success. The Preludes provide a personal glimpse into Shostakovich's life (some commentators refer to them as "psychological sketches"); they cover a wide emotional range from excruciating somberness to sardonic humor and unbridled playfulness.

Published by G. Schirmer, and distributed by Hal Leonard, the Eight Preludes reads very easily. The music is well spaced and of a sufficient size so that both players can perform from the same stand, and no page turns are required while performing (an important but often overlooked aspect!).

These preludes-turned-duets are not for the faint of heart or lip. The range extends from CC to Bb1 for the bass trombone, and F to e2 for the tenor trombone. As is expected from Shostakovich, the lines are quite disjunct; having leaps of up to two octaves between notes. A good example of extreme ranges coupled with large skips and death-defying technique is "Prelude No. 24." In this duet the tenor trombonist is called upon to execute very quick figures, while the bass trombonist skips lightly over passages which encompass rather wide intervals. This duet is indicative of the high level of musicianship required by all eight pieces. (The recording is by Ronald Barron and Douglas Yeo, and is available on Boston Brass CD BB 1004.)

Do not allow the musical demands to dissuade you, however, from acquiring this edition. It is refreshing to have duet literature which does not quickly grow old on the ears. The time and effort put into learning these pieces will yield not only musical rewards, but also a better understanding of a master composer's musical language. This edition is highly recommended.

Prelude 24