Niecks writes of the Prelude in C sharp minor, op. 45, that it “deserves its name better than almost any one of the twenty-four; still I would rather call it improvisata. It seems unpremeditated, a heedless outpouring, when sitting at the piano in a lonely, dreary hour, perhaps in the twilight. The quaver figure rises aspiringly, and the sustained parts swell out proudly. The piquant cadenza forestalls in the progression of diminished chords favorite effects of some of our more modern composers. The modulation from C sharp minor to D major and back again—after the cadenza—is very striking and equally beautiful.”
Elsewhere I have called attention to the Brahmsian coloring of this prelude. Its mood is fugitive and hard to hold after capture. Recondite it is and not music for the multitude.
Niecks does not think Chopin created a new type in the Preludes. “They are too unlike each other in form and character.” Yet notwithstanding the fleeting, evanescent moods of the Preludes, there is designedly a certain unity of feeling and contrasted tonalities, all being grouped in approved Bach-ian manner. This may be demonstrated by playing them through at a sitting, which Arthur Friedheim, the Russian virtuoso, did in a concert with excellent effect. As if wishing to exhibit his genius in perspective, Chopin carved these cameos with exceeding fineness, exceeding care. In a few of them the idea overbalances the form, but the greater number are exquisite examples of a just proportion of manner and matter, a true blending of voice and vision. Even in the more microscopic ones the tracery, echoing like the spirals in strange seashells, is marvellously measured. Much in miniature are these sculptured Preludes of the Polish poet.
VIII. IMPROMPTUS AND VALSES
To write of the four Impromptus in their own key of unrestrained feeling and pondered intention would not be as easy as recapturing the first “careless rapture” of the lark. With all the freedom of an improvisation the Chopin impromptu has a well defined form. There is structural impulse, although the patterns are free and original. The mood-color is not much varied in three, the first, third and fourth, but in the second there is a ballade-like quality that hints of the tragic. The A flat