Willeby in his “Frederic Francois Chopin” considers at length the Preludes. He agrees in the main with Niecks, that certain of these compositions were written at Valdemosa—Nos. 4, 6, 9, 13, 20 and 21—and that “Chopin, having sketches of others with him, completed the whole there, and published them under one opus number. ... The atmosphere of those I have named is morbid and azotic; to them there clings a faint flavor of disease, a something which is overripe in its lusciousness and febrile in its passion. This in itself inclines me to believe they were written at the time named.”
This is all very well, but Chopin was faint and febrile in his music before he went to Majorca, and the plain facts adduced by Gutmann and Niecks cannot be passed over. Henry James, an old admirer of Madame Sand, admits her utter unreliability, and so we may look upon her evidence as romantic but by no means infallible. The case now stands: Chopin may have written a few of the Preludes at Majorca, filed them, finished them, but the majority of them were in his portfolio in 1837 and 1838. Op. 45, a separate Prelude in C sharp minor, was published in December, 1841. It was composed at Nohant in August of that year. It is dedicated to Mme. la Princesse Elizabeth Czernicheff, whose name, as Chopin confesses in a letter, he knows not how to spell.
Theodore Kullak is curt and pedagogic in his preface to the Preludes. He writes:
Chopin’s genius nowhere reveals itself more charmingly than within narrowly bounded musical forms. The Preludes are, in their aphoristic brevity, masterpieces of the first rank. Some of them appear like briefly sketched mood pictures related to the nocturne style, and offer no technical hindrance even to the less advanced player. I mean Nos. 4, 6, 7, 9, 15 and 20. More difficult are Nos. 17, 25 and 11, without, however, demanding eminent virtuosity. The other Preludes belong to a species of character-etude. Despite their brevity of outline they are on a par with the great collections op. 10 and op. 25. In so far as it is practicable—special cases of individual endowments not being taken into consideration—I would propose the following order of succession: Begin with Nos. 1, 14, 10, 22, 23, 3 and 18. Very great bravura is demanded by Nos. 12, 8, 16 and 24. The difficulty of the other Preludes, Nos. 2, 5, 13, 19 and 21, lies in the delicate piano and legato technique, which, on account of the extended positions, leaps and double notes, presupposes a high degree of development.
This is eminently a common sense grouping. The first prelude, which, like the first etude, begins in C, has all the characteristics of an impromptu. We know the wonderful Bach Preludes, which grew out of a free improvisation to the collection of dance forms called a suite, and the preludes which precede his fugues. In the latter Bach sometimes exhibits