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ProduitsPartitions pour guitareGuitare seule24 Preludes

24 Preludes
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24 Preludes

Compositeur: JOHANSON Bryan

DZ 1775


ISBN: 978-2-89655-674-8

Guitare seule

52 p.


Bryan Johanson has contributed a number of significant works to the guitar repertoire, but with his Twenty-Four Preludes, he has made an immense contribution to our music. Each of the works is exceedingly well crafted compositionally with both integrity and variety of thought, yet perfectly idiomatic to our instrument. As is noted in the following review, it would be silly to attempt to describe each of the works; the music would be devalued by the attempt. But I will cite Preludes No. 10, a beautifully heartfelt work (with it's own little story - read the notes online); No. 12, "Calmato - Vivo ma non troppo"; and No. 19, "Lento sostenuto", very beautiful. But I need to stop. Johanson can write music that is muscular or gentle, disjunct or lyrical, overt or reflective, and find a beautiful aesthetic tone for each. It is composition of the highest order.
The composer wants the Preludes to be considered as an integral set, but at over forty-seven minutes length (as recorded here) it is inevitable that they will be excerpted by many players. Nonetheless, I would love to hear a complete performance if the playing is as good as Michael Partington's. It really seems as if he has lived with these works for a very long time, which clearly cannot be the case. But his complete technical mastery of and committed identification with the material are hugely impressive...
Al Kunze (Soundboard Magazine)

There are relatively few fingerings, articulations, and dynamic marks in the score. And for the most part textures look quite lean on the page. The music is written very well for the guitar, and I found sight reading to be easy and enjoyable. The preludes are not really easy, and there’s a fair amount of meter changes and rhythmic tricks, but the music flows very naturally and logically. I found it quite easy to step into Bryan’s musical world and flesh out any details that are not explicit on the page. Most of the preludes are short, and you would think that these would be easy to write, but they actually are not. You still need appealing musical ideas, good ways to develop and support them, and a coherent form. But with short pieces everything is condensed, and you have to be concise and strategic with what you want to say. There’s a lot of really solid composing technique in these preludes. Number 2, for example, is a series of 8 variations on a descending four-note figure. It is first presented as a sequence, and then with a line of lower counterpoint. As the piece progresses it is gradually expanded, filled in, and transformed. In Number 17 Bryan introduces a repeated sixteenth note figure about a quarter of the way through. It sounds like a natural part of the main idea, but then, toward the end of the piece he returns to this figure and develops it independently. This is a common technique in longer pieces, but in a movement that lasts just over a minute it’s a pretty unexpected device. And it adds to the overall feel of fluid and inevitable musical flow. Video Link & Source: A really nice feature of the set is that every prelude in the first half has a companion in the second half. Number 5, which is one of my favourites, is bright, dance-like, and one of the simpler in the set. It starts with natural harmonics that outline the undulating A major and E minor chords that immediately follow, and continues with a short melody to go with these chords. Bryan develops this a bit, repeats some of the music, and ends by introducing an F natural in the bass that sounds very fresh. The companion piece, Number 13, retains the dance feel, the undulating major and minor chords (here G minor and C major), and a similar contour to the melody. But it’s darker, more developed, and more chromatic. It starts fairly brightly, but takes a melancholic turn when the main theme comes in on a g minor chord. The music is developed, pausing on a d-flat major chord, and continues briefly in f-sharp minor before returning to g minor. The recapitulation, or return to the opening material, is followed by a coda with some new fresh ideas. Many of the preludes have nice surprises at the end, by the way, so the endings are never boring. A few of the pieces are chromatic: Number 14 is kind of a twisted blues, Number 20 is raucous and rhythmic, and Number 7 is slow with really nice chromatic lines and harmonies. But my impression after playing through the whole set is that the freely tonal, fairly mellow music stands out, and sets the tone for the whole piece. The 24 Preludes make a really lovely set that is very well crafted and expertly written for the guitar. The music is a pleasure to read and play, and is pretty much immediately gratifying. Michael Karmon


Johanson, Bryan: 24 Preludes. 

Saint-Romuald: Les Productions d'OZ, 2012 [DZ 1775]. 49pp. $2l.00 (CAN). 

Although Johanson includes the standard twenty-four numbers in this collection, his intent is not to explore the full spectrum of major and minor keys. He explains in his introduction that "the idea of composing 24 Preludes grew on me, primarily because the Soundboard Vol. 41 No. 1 55 

historical model proved successful at challenging composers to dig deeply into the inventive possibilities of the short form." Johanson pursues this challenge mostly within the bounds of the guitar's principal keys and modes but sometimes transcends them by cultivating a chromaticism that borders on, and occasionally crosses into, atonality. 

24 Preludes is conceived in two halves. Johanson further elucidates: "In Part One (Preludes 1-12) the pieces begin short and simple, slowly working toward longer and more complex forms and increasing harmonic diversity. In Part Two (Preludes 13-24) the process is reversed with the formal, harmonic and melodic content becoming more simplified as the cycle works toward the concluding prelude." 

The composer's harmonic and tonallexica in this work are indeed diverse but reducible to a few categories. Here's a rough summary. 

Category 1 

Pentatonic!hexatonic/diatonic (major, minor, or their modes) 

a. Pentatonic!hexatonic - No.1 (E minor) 

b. Major/minor - Nos. 2 (Drn), 3 (Cm), 4 (Brn), 12 (Am), 13 (Gm, B" E), 19 (Em, C), 21 (B" E, A), 23 (G/Em), 24 (G) 

c. Modal- Nos. 5 (A mix.), 17 (E dor.), 18 (A dor.) 


Category 2 

Chromaticpantonal- Nos. 6, 7, 22 


Category 3 

Mixed diatonic! chromatic 

a. Major, minor, or modal with chromatic inserrs - Nos. 9 (Drn), 10 (Em), 15 (E lyd.) 

b. Integrated major/minor with chromatic inserts - Nos. 16 (A, B,), 20 (E) 


Category 4 

Sectionally juxtaposed idioms - Nos. 8 (categories l c, 2, 3a), 11 (l c, 3a), 14 (2, 3b) 

In general, we see that Johanson's collection is overwhelmingly tonal, mostly diatonic, chromatically inflected in many movements, and wholly chromatic in others. I describe the preludes that elude a sense of tonic as "pan tonal" in contradistinction to johanson's "atonal." In classic Schoenbergian atonality, tertian constructions are assiduously avoided because of their ability to create tonal references. In Johanson's conception, triads and sevenths play a prominent role. What's more, these chords occasionally form dominant-tonic relationships, in evidence across certain phrases and larger units, and not unrelated to the instrument's tuning. To cite one example, Prelude 7 opens with a D-ctD half-step motive, suggesting a possible I-V-I function. The composer confirms this when he recapitulates the motive at m.12, supporting it now with an incompletely voiced but unequivocal D-A-D progression. He reinforces the I-V-I idea two measures later (after a chromaticized B!,m7 intervenes) when he restates the same motive at the dominant, this time harmonized A-E-A. Even more tellingly, the prelude as a whole concludes with an extended E7 dominant (includ- 

56 Soundboard Vol. 41 No. 1 

ing 9th, ~9th, 11th, 13th) resolving to an Am7 tonic, reminiscent of the jazz harmony of Bill Evans. All of this Johanson characterizes as "fully chromatic/atonallanguage," and practically speaking it is (aside from the final cadence). Harmonies converge into small tonal cells only to see their pitch centers neutralized as they quickly sideslip to other, distant tonal areas and repeat the process. 

As with harmony and tonality, other elements of 24 Preludesrhythm, meter, texture, form-exhibit a broad range of treatment too. Johanson begins the set in eighth-note perpetual motion and later builds to syncopated or flexible improvisatory-sryle writing. Traditional meters dominate, though more advanced pieces show metric irregularly, no meter at all, or a mixture. Textures include single-line passagework, block and broken chords, strict counterpoint, and free polyphony. In addition to the prelude itself, this collection incorporates other forms and procedures of the past, such as chaconne, waltz, etude, folia, Sicilian, and canon. In short, Johanson utilizes any means of musical structuring concordant with guitar, as one would expect of a resourceful composer writing a fifty-minute solo work. 

Though Johanson implies a smooth trajectory from simple to complex to simple in his architectonic design (see above quote), the interplay of compositional elements creates a reality that is more nuanced, an arc more zigzagged. But the composer does end simplysimplistically more like-and so much so that he significantly vitiates his cycle's cumulative impact. To clarify, we need to see how an earlier prelude portends the final one. According to Johanson, Prelude 19 represents "an attempt at paraphrasing a pop song from my youth," one he deeply dislikes. Acknowledging its indelible, negative impression on him, he declares that "sometimes you have to embrace your past and make peace with the ghosts of cruddy songs." He composes No.19 with the purpose of "purging some of my musical ghosts." Well ... some maybe, but not all. In Prelude 24 they return, this time without parodistic purpose. 

No. 24 is based on a repeating l-vi-Iv-ii ground (linking it to the ground-bass structure of No. 2) that exhibits too little variation and too much four-square phrasing. As such, it mimics the same late-Sus, early-60s "spun sugar" pop hit that Prelude 19 critiques and johanson deplores. To be sure, a movement of contemplative lyricism, approached with imagination and a certain asymmetry, would make a convincing conclusion to johansons set. What we get instead is a kind of classico-pop pabulum unbefitting a composer ofjohansons integrity. 

Because of its length, 24 Preludes can present a programming challenge if played in its entirety. Yet one of the work's strong features is its preponderance of substantive movements that can be abstracted and recombined into smaller groups. Interested players may want to consult the YouTube performances of Michael Partington for ideas in assembling these kinds of subsets. The range of technical and interpretive difficulty in Johanson's collection also enables guitarists to select those items that best suit their performance level. Such adaptability will likely prove a major factor in the success of 24 Preludes among recitalists. 

- Robert Ferguson, Soundboard


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