The Influence of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on Dmitry Shostakovich's op. 34 and op. 87 Preludes and Fugues (1)


Timothy J. Bowlby

It is obvious that a discussion of keyboard Preludes and Fugues would be incomplete without mentioning the name Johann Sebastian Bach and giving due consideration to The Well-Tempered Clavier. It is also obvious that any composer who undertakes to write individual or collections of Preludes and Fugues for keyboard instruments will, eventually, have his or her work compared to Bach's justly famous "forty-eight." In too many cases, though, such comparisons take the form of hushed invocations of the blessed name Bach, the muttering of shallow, platitudinous tripe praising the master, and a pious rebuke of the wayward soul who dares violate the innermost sanctums of the musical treasury. This is especially likely to happen if the offending miscreant is still alive, has a local mailing address, and composes in musical idioms that fall hard upon the ears of the lazy-listening public.

Thankfully, this is not the only way that comparisons to Bach and his truly magnificent contributions to the art of music have to be made. Composers can have Bach in mind when writing Preludes and Fugues for keyboard instruments, solo instrumental works, cantatas, concerti grossi, and so on. They can use him not only as a general inspiration but also as a creative guide by modeling their music directly on specific works of his. If produced by a truly gifted composer, the new works are far more than pastiches; they are truly significant contributions to the art of music and are among the best ways to honor the memory and achievements of Bach or any other great composer living or dead.

They are also golden opportunities for us to conduct comparative studies of them and the models on which they are based. Such studies give us a chance to imagine and notate possible steps in the compositional process. Exactly that type of comparison of excerpts from Dmitry Shostakovich's Opp. 34 and 87 piano works to passages from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is the principal focus of this paper. I will begin with some introductory remarks and a brief summary of the literature on Shostakovich's Opp. 34 and 87. Next I will comparatively analyze portions of the fore-mentioned works and The Well-Tempered Clavier, during the course of which general techniques of musical variation that can be used to compose out from Bach's source works and arriving at Shostakovich's finished pieces will be revealed. Evidence supporting the contention that the experience of writing the Op. 34 Preludes for Piano got mixed together with fresh observations of The Well-Tempered Clavier in Shostakovich's mind while composing the Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues will also be considered.


Shostakovich's op. 34 Preludes and op. 87 24 Preludes and Fugues for Piano

Dmitry Shostakovich wrote two sets of preludes for piano: a group of five in the early 1920's, and the Op. 34 Preludes for Piano about ten years later. (2) His two-book set of Twenty-four Preludes and Fugues Op. 87 was composed in 1950-1951, in response to hearing a performance of a prelude and fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier by Russian pianist Tatayana Nikolayeva at the first International Bach Competition (Leipzig, 1950). According to Richard Taruskin, Nikolayeva:

bowled the jury over with her proposal, in lieu of announcing [which prelude and fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier she would perform], to play from memory which one of the 48 such pairs the jurors requested. She won the prize. (3)

After returning to the Soviet Union, the understandably inspired composer "sat down in October [...] and didn't get up [...] till three and a half months later by which time he had produced the whole [Op. 87]." (4)

Discussions of Shostakovich's Opp. 34 and 87, while small in number, have ranged over a variety of topics including the negative reaction to both sets of keyboard works by the Soviet government. Writers have also commented on connections between passages found in Opp. 34 and 87, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and music by other composers (Shostakovich included) with the majority focusing on relationships between the Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues and Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier. Ivor Keys, writing in 1956 for Music and Letters, for example, notes similarities between Shostakovich's Op. 87 no. 10 prelude in C# minor and the E-flat major prelude from the first book "of the '48' [that are] strong enough to to invite the odious comparison." (5) Richard Taruskin has observed:

prelude [of Op. 87] invokes the Bachian muse, as if seeking its protection: a gentle sarabande, it begins with a chord made up of exactly the same notes that Bach had presented as an arpeggio in his opening prelude. Only occasionally thereafter does the [Russian's] music actually allude to Bach. (6)

Two thesis-length studies have noted inter-relationships between Op. 87 and The Well-Tempered Clavier. R. Thomas' 1979 study (7) is the most extensive, discussing the influences of thirteen Bach model works on ten of Shostakovich's own compositions. In 1981, R. Adams published a comparative study of the fugues in Shostakovich's Op. 87 and those in the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, wherein he concluded that the Op. 87's were "an emulation of Bachian fugal methods as observed in the Well-Tempered Clavier, Volume 1." (8) Where appropriate in his analyses, and again in his summary, Adams identifies specific allusions to subjects in The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 made by Shostakovich. Table 1 (below) gives a summary history of the scholarly/critical identifications of Well-Tempered Clavier source materials in Op. 87.

Limiting a comparison of the Op. 87 fugues to those of one book from the The Well-Tempered Clavier is problematic. Table 1 shows it is possible for a Bach fugue from either book of the Well-Tempered Clavier to have influenced the composition of a Shostakovich Op. 87 fugue; so too could one of Bach's preludes from either volume of the Well-Tempered Clavier influence the composition of an Op. 87 prelude.

The scant literature on Shostakovich's Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues is vast in comparison to the writings about the Op. 34 Preludes. Thomas' study contains the most detailed look at the relationship between Shostakovich's Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues and Op. 34 Preludes. He notes that the fourth Op. 34 prelude (e minor) is a "complete fugue," and sees relationships between it, because of its 5/4 meter, to Op. 87's 5/4 compositions. Similarities between the accompanimental patterns of Op. 34 no. 1 (C) and Op. 87 no. 17 (A flat) preludes, the melodic curves of Op. 34 no. 7's (A) opening and the subject of the Op. 87 C fugue, and the prominent use of thirds in Op. 34 no. 15 (D flat) and Op. 87 no. 15 prelude (same key) are also noted. He concludes, based on those "examples and other less specific similarities, Shostakovich drew much from this earlier set in composing his [Op.] 87 cycle."

While Thomas' statements and comparisons are valid and helpful, they only begin to scratch the surface of the many subtle connections between Shostakovich's Op. 34 and Op. 87. And no research of which I am aware has ever been conducted using the Op. 34 Preludes as a "center point" between Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and Shostakovich's Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues. But the Op. 34 Preludes must occupy exactly that position if we are to appreciate fully how the eighteenth century German master's keyboard music could more than once influence that of a twentieth century Russian.

Why has the relationship of Shostakovich's Op. 34 Preludes to his Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues and The Well-Tempered Clavier not been studied more extensively until now? There are at least two possible reasons. First of all, research on Shostakovich's music in general is, apparently, very much in its beginning stages, and discussion has focused principally on his relationship with Russia's communist government and his "more important" works such as his symphonies, string quartets, and so on. The concept of a composer's "important works" and the belief that only they are worthy of serious study is too confining. Rather we should be striving for as complete and thorough a knowledge as possible of the music of Dmitry Shostakovich or, for that matter, any other composer. Many composers besides myself, I am confident, feel that their "most important work" is the one being written at the moment, that all their works have an equal value in the long run. To get a sense of "their work" critics and scholars must see their life's output in music in as much of its totality as possible. What we consider to be "minor" works may very well contain seeds of creative ideas that eventually get taken up and dealt with more fully in a composer's "major" works. Perhaps the working out of the idea in the so-called minor piece might be more easily grasped for the first time than if seen for the very first time in the major work. Looking at both "important" and "unimportant" pieces gives us a fuller and more complete perspective that we otherwise might have missed.

Similar to this issue of a composer's "important work" is the problem of determining what piano preludes are or, what they are not. The standard definition of preludes in general and piano preludes specifically allows for their being grouped in collections of more than one. For collections of preludes to exhibit signs of large-scale cohesion between movements, however, is impossible. This issue has been raised in at least three scholarly sources: Leonard's book and Aster and Lee's studies of Shostakovich's preludes have all emphasized this. (9)


Case Studies in Interpretive Analysis


What, if this is really the case with Shostakovich's Op. 34, are we to make of Examples 1a-c (which show the opening measures of the fugue in C minor from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier and Shostakovich's preludes in F# and C minor, Op. 34 no.'s 8 and 20)? It is plain to see the rhythm of the head of Bach's fugue is prominent at the outset of each of Shostakovich's preludes. After a slightly closer look at the beginning of Op. 34 no. 8 it is also clear that intervallic manipulation through contraction, expansion, and inversion will derive Shostakovich's opening idea from Bach's. By shrinking Bach's minor second (C-B) to the unison F#-F# that appears on the last half of beat one, expanding Bach's fourth to a seventh (G#-F#) and then inverting its direction, we arrive at Shostakovich's first measure.

Using the same techniques in a slightly different way generates the opening materials of Shostakovich's prelude Op. 34 no. 20. Expanding Bach's descending minor second to a major one and then inverting it gives the C-D that appears on the last half of Shostakovich's m. 1, beat one; contracting the descending perfect fourth to a descending minor third yields the E flat on beat 2, m. 1. Thus the Op. 34 preludes no.'s 13 and 20 are connected to the C minor fugue of Book 1 The Well-Tempered Clavier and, therefore, with each other. I do not know which of the two Op. 34 pieces in question was written first - is it possible that they were written simultaneously? - but clearly the same basic compositional techniques found in the one are re-used in the other. Seeing the Op. 34 Preludes as a set of disparate aphorisms completely unrelated to each other and having no association at all with the music of any other composer is difficult after this. The following case studies will demonstrate that they are also connected to the Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues, for the same kinds of simple transformative devices underlying Examples 1a-c were used by Shostakovich in the 1950's to derive new material for Tatayana Nikolayeva from source works in The Well-Tempered Clavier.


Case Study No. 1: Modeling and Co-Modeling Preludes in C Major: Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1; Opp. 34 and 87, no.'s 1.


Case study no. 1 compares the opening measures of Shostakovich's C major preludes, Opp. 34 and 87, no.'s 1, to the first prelude of The Well-Tempered Clavier (Examples 2a-c). Even brief passages such as these show how much chronology can help us interpret and deduce possible steps in Shostakovich's creative processes.

Taruskin observed that the opening chord of the Op. 87 C major prelude is a block form presentation of the first chord Bach arpeggiates at the outset of the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier's prelude in C. A look at the first figure in Shostakovich's Op. 34 no. 1 prelude leads to the observation that it too could have derived from Bach's chord by taking the right hand part of the baroque original, transposing it down an octave, re-arpeggiating it, and and then augmenting the running sixteenth note rhythm to eighth notes. Excision, transposition, re-arpeggiation, and augmentation are creative devices similar to the intervallic expansion, contraction, and inversion that are at work in the F# and C minor preludes Op. 34 no.'s 8 and 20.

Chordal restoration, the opposite of excision, can be used to generate in part the beginning of Shostakovich's Op. 87 no. 1 prelude where all of Bach's chord appears transposed back to its original register. Arpeggiation is not at work in Op. 87 no. 1. Instead the rhythm characteristic of the sarabande is masterfully appropriated, simultaneously providing the piece with a rhythmic life of its own and strengthening its connection to baroque music in general without further reference to any specific model piece.

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate the processes proposed in this first case study; in each, a few simple steps are taken to transform Bach's first chord from Well-Tempered Clavier to the opening material of either the Op. 34 no. 1 or Op. 87 no. 1 preludes. In Figure 1, we first excise the right hand of Bach's arpeggio figure and transpose it down an octave. Then we dissociate the rhythmic element of Bach's figure from the harmonic element leaving a string of running sixteenth notes and two statements of a C major triad in six-four inversion. Next, augment the value of the "dissociated rhythmic element" to generate eighth notes and rearrange the last four pitches of the "dissociated pitch element" from E, G, C, and E to G, E, C, and E. Fusing the new rhythmic and pitch elements back together forms the opening figure of the Op. 34 no. 1 prelude.

The following manipulations of the opening figure of the Op. 34 no. 1 prelude will result in the generation of the first measure of the Op. 87 no. 1 prelude. Begin by dissociating the rhythmic and harmonic elements of the opening figure of Op. 34 no. 1, then transpose the C six-four chord back to the level it occupied in the Well-Tempered Clavier's first prelude and restore the original left hand part. Appropriating the sarabande's characteristic rhythm and assigning it to the block form chord completes the process.

Figure 1: Possible Creative Processes Illustrated: Shostakovich's Op. 34, No. 1 Prelude in C Major (Opening).

Figure 2: Possible Creative Processes Illustrated: Shostakovich's Op. 87, No. 1 Prelude in C Major (Opening).

This apparent use by Shostakovich of first an excised, transposed fragment from the opening chord of The Well-Tempered Clavier in the Op. 34 no. 1 prelude and subsequent re-transposition and restoration of Bach's first chord in the Op. 87 no. 1 prelude strongly suggests Shostakovich had his Op. 34 no. 1 in mind as well as the first prelude

The Well-Tempered Clavier when composing his Op. 87 no. 1. The Russian's borrowing of the sarabande's rhythm for the Op. 87 no. 1 prelude supports the argument for the Op. 34 no. 1 prelude being a "co-model" with the first prelude of the Well-Tempered Clavier: when dealing with pitches Shostakovich found a way to reverse his steps; with respect to rhythm the Op. 34 no. 1 prelude required him to seek an alternative solution to use of arpeggiation. Shostakovich met that challenge head on.

Case Study No. 2: Two Instances of Synthesis, Preludes and Fugues in B minor, D Major and G Major Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2; Op. 34, no. 21; Op. 87, no. 3.

In case study no. 1 Shostakovich used and re-used the opening of the C major prelude from book one of The Well-Tempered Clavier as a model for his own work. In Case study no. 2 he combines elements from the beginnings of two Well-Tempered Clavier movements, the B flat minor prelude and its accompanying fugue from book one (Examples 3a and b), and synthesizes them into the theme of a single "resultant work," the Op. 34 no. 21 prelude in B flat major. The second example in case study no. 2 compares the themes of the D major fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier book 1 and the Op. 87 no. 3 G major fugue to demonstrate how characteristics of the former influenced the composition of the latter.

Among the possible means for manipulating the basic materials found in the fore-named Bach prelude and fugue pair into a new work for piano are various retrograding and/or inversional techniques. Inverting the mode, for example, puts our piece into B flat major (see Figure 3, step 1). The "a 5" at the top of the fugue indicates Bach wrote for five voices; this calling "for five" can be creatively reinterpreted to "five four," and used as a metre signature (step 2).

Figure 3: Possible Steps to Generate the Opening of a New Piano Work from Bach's Prelude and Fugue in B flat Minor from The Well-Tempered Clavier Book1

This fugue's subject can be broken down, rhythmically, into two parts: 1.) a "head" motif consisting of two half notes (labeled A in Example 3b and step 3 of Figure 3) and a "tail" made up of a quarter rest followed by three quarter notes (B). If we retrograde B we get a quarter-rest-and-three-quarter-note motif (B/ret). Let us state B/ret in m. 1 of our hypothetical work. A/ret would, of course, be the same as A; we will state this at the outset of m. 2. This leaves an incomplete first measure, but inserting a quarter rest between B ret and A/ret solves this problem.

In terms of intervals Bach's subject consists of a descending fourth - motif A - followed by a minor ninth leap up after the rest that separates it from motif B (which is comprised of three descending scale steps). Inverting the melodic directions of A and B would results in a leap of a fourth up followed by a three-note scalar ascent. Let us decide to use the melodically inverted forms of Bach's motifs in reverse order but not, for the moment, assign pitches in our sketch. The ascending arrow in step 4 signifies our decision about the rising contour of our hypothetical piece's right hand part.

Turning our attention to Bach's prelude, we note that it starts with an eighth-note pedal point figure on the tonic pitch in the left hand; the right hand has nearly consistent parallel thirds in its top two lines. Augmentation of the left hand's pedal point rhythm yields a series of quarter notes (step 5). Adding the thirds of the top hand to the augmented rhythm of the pedal gives (step 6) the following produces quarter notes on B flat and D, which we will start on beat two, m. 1 of our sketch for a new piece after a single pulse-determining Ban octave below on beat one of m. 1.

A comparison of the resulting "hypothetical sketch" to the Op. 34 no. 21 prelude's opening measures (Example 4) suggests that we have just experienced a progression of steps very possibly similar to the one that Shostakovich went through to compose the first measures of his Op. 32 no. 21 prelude. In contrast to the way he derived material from the opening of the C major prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier's first book, Shostakovich was much more thorough and complete in his appropriation of materials from book one's B minor prelude and fugue. The thematic integration and motivic development are subtler than before.

Adams notes similarities between Bach's D major fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier's first book and Shostakovich's fugue in G major, Op. 87 no. 3 (Examples 5a and b). His main argument for seeing a Bachian influence is the opening scale passage in both fugues' subjects, with Shostakovich's being an augmentation of Bach's. (10) Yet there is more to it than that. The head of Bach's subject is really a combination of the scalar ascent of a perfect fourth from D to G on the first half of the beat (labeled "A" in Example 5a) followed by what is, in effect, a descending major third from F# to D accomplished with a falling major second, an ascending major second, then a falling major third (labeled "B") on the second half of the beat. Closer to the mark than Adams' observations, I think, would be to interpret the opening scale passage of Shostakovich's fugue subject as two concatenated presentations of the rhythmically augmented "A" portion of Bach's head motif (Figure 4).

A look at the rest of Bach's subject reveals the "tail" of his subject to be a series of three dotted eighth and sixteenth note rhythmic figures common to French overtures, of which this fugue is one. This dotted eighth note and sixteenth figure could, in the 18th century, be interpreted as tripled eighths grouped in combinations of a quarter and eighth, a rhythmic figure easily notated in 6/8 meter. In the tail of his subject, Shostakovich states this quarter and eighth combination three times starting on the downbeat of m. 2 and extending through to the end of the first beat of m. 3. Bach's tail also crosses over one measure to finish in the next, and the rising minor seconds occurring on the last beat of both tails - F# to G (Bach) and B to C (Shostakovich) - further binds them together.

Our examination of Shostakovich's Op. 34 no. 21 showed how complete he could be in his re-workings of elements from a Bach fugue and prelude to fashion a new piece of his own. The Russian's work with the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier's D major fugue subject has been impressive but not, as yet, as thorough as it could be, for no account has been made of the second half of Bach's head motif which we labeled "B" in Example 5a. Shostakovich used the first half of Bach's head motif and all of his tail to create the "A" and "B" sub-motifs of the Op. 87 no. 3 fugue's head (see Example 5b). At best, the two F#'s on on beats 4 and 5 of m. 1 and the very loud rest inserted between them have the effect of a hole needing very much to be filled.

A couple of questions arise here: 1.) Why would a composer as obviously skilled in motivic development as Shostakovich do this, and; 2.) are there figures in the Op. 87 no. 3 fugue that look even remotely similar to the second part of Bach's head motif?

The right hand's material, starting on the last half of beat five in m. 7 and extending through to the end of beat one in m. 9 is closest to it (Example 6). The ascending and descending major second figures in the right hand on beats five and six of m. 7 comprise both inverted and straightforward statements of the first part of the second half of Bach's head and are used, in sequence-like fashion, through m. 8. Combining the last three sixteenths of m. 8 and the F# on beat one of m. 9 results in a figure similar to the second half of Bach's head motif: the intervallic directions are the same, but Shostakovich's third is minor instead of major. F-sharp, the pitch used to complete Shostakovich's references to the second half of Bach's head motif, is also the topmost note of the scale passage in Shostakovich's first bar and also the note on which Bach himself starts the second part of his head motif.

Figure 5 shows the proposed process. Starting by excising the "B" part of Bach's head out its original context, Shostakovich then augments its rhythm to create four sixteenth notes (motif B aug. A concatenated sequence of two Baug's is then generated with a statement of B aug on E natural and hanging it on appropriate pitches of the D major scale. Transposing this whole sequence of notes up a fourth yields the pitches played by the right hand from the last half of beat five in m. 7 to the end of beat one, m. 9. Assigning a suitable rhythm completes the passage in question.

Shostakovich is certainly intense in his development of a fragment of Bach's head motif. This can possibly be explained because D major fugue from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier has no countersubject. The last half of Shostakovich's countersubject is made up of just these motivic re-workings of Bach's head's B motif, and they are set against a neutral part of Shostakovich's subject, one that does not have a basis in the Bach model, for added emphasis.

Use of the D major fugue of the Well-Tempered Clavier's first book as a model presents a challenge to any composer because of the absence a countersubject. Whether or not to use one in the "resultant" work must first be addressed and, if the decision to incorporate one into the new fugue is made, the issue of whether or not to base the countersubject on the Bach model must be considered carefully, as well as how to do that. Deriving the countersubject-to-be from the middle part of the D major fugue's subject is a way to do this.

The two parts of Case study no. 2 demonstrates how remarkably economical a composer Shostakovich could be. In the Op. 34 no. 21 prelude he layered and juxtaposed elements from the B minor prelude and fugue from the first book of the The Well-Tempered Clavier to generate ideas for the start a new piece. With the Op. 87 no. 3 fugue, Bachian source materials were used derive a subject and then these very same materials were used again to find a way to help fulfill what had by the 1950's become one of "the textbook requirements" for a fugal exposition, i.e., the presence of a countersubject, something that does not appear in the model composition (11) .


Case Study No. 3: Thematic Fusion/Variation. Preludes and Fugues in E minor/Major: Well-Tempered Clavier, Books 1 and 2; Op. 34, no. 4; Op. 87, no.'s 4 and 9.

Case study no. 3 contains the most eloquent arguments for the necessity of seeing the Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues in the context of not only The Well-Tempered Clavier but also Shostakovich's own Op. 34 Preludes. They show very convincingly the compositional procedures employed in the Op. 87 piano works to be variations, extensions, and amplifications of ideas first derived from Bach and subsequently developed in the Op. 34 Preludes, conjuring up the most vivid images to this point of Shostakovich, in the early 1950's, "picking up [creatively] right where he left off" some twenty years earlier. In terms of being able to consider Shostakovich's use of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier as a model in two of his own extended works for solo keyboard, the evidence furnished by the fugues Op. 87 no.'s 4 and 9 and the Op. 34 no. 4 prelude cannot be surpassed. The opportunity they provide for thinking interpretively about and notating through possible steps in the Russian master's creative process is likewise second to none.

The Op. 87's E-tonic fugues (see Examples 7a and b) are the most frequently discussed by scholars and critics with respect to Shostakovich's modeling on Bach. When discussing Shostakovich's fugue Op. 87 no. 9, Adams notes:[...]       

striking similarities to Bach's only two-voice effort {in either volume of the The Well-Tempered Clavier (shown in Example 7c)]. First, the meters are the same, 3/4. Second, the subject employed in Bach's fugue rises from a tonic triad arpeggio to tonic where it then descends chromatically to dominant with tonic interspersed between each new chromatic pitch. Shostakovich's subject expands diatonically from tonic to dominant in an inversional manner [with respect] to Bach's. Third, both tonics are the same, e. Bach uses e minor while Shostakovich employs E major.12

Thomas discusses similarities between the Op. 87 no. 9 fugue and the e minor fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 and also notes a resemblance between the E major fugue from Book 2 (Example 7d) with the F# major fugue of Op. 87 (Example 7e). Other similarities exist, however. One particularly noteworthy one is between the E major fugue of Book 2 from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and the Op. 87, no. 4 fugue.


Comparing the head motifs of both fugues reveals that Shostakovich could have derived his from Bach's by performing three transformations, one rhythmic, one intervallic, and one modal. Rhythmically, Shostakovich's head motif - h q q - is a diminution of Bach's (w h h ). The intervals in Bach's head motif - a major second up followed by minor third up - are retrograded by Shostakovich (an ascending minor third followed by a rising major second). Shostakovich also inverts mode, from major to minor (these processes are illustrated in Figure 6).


The use of modal inversion as a "compositional/variational" device here creates a link between the Op. 87 fugues having E as a keynote. This is the only time Shostakovich pairs major and minor mode fugues in his Op. 87 with the same tonic by basing them on models from The Well-Tempered Clavier and inverting their modes. But while the head of the Op. 87 no. 4 fugue is clearly derived from that of Bach's E major fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier's second book, the order of entries does not match up nearly as nicely; a much better match is found between Shostakovich's own E minor prelude Op. 34, no. 4 (Example 8).

The head motifs of Shostakovich's Op. 34 no. 4 prelude and Op. 87 no. 4 fugue are striking in their parallels to each other. The first three pitches are exactly the same in both, with changes in meter and rhythm being the only difference between them. But what is truly fascinating is that the head motif of the Op. 34 no. 4 prelude can, like that of the Op. 84 no. 4 fugue, be derived from the head motif of the E major fugue from book two of The Well-Tempered Clavier in a few easy steps (notated below in Figure 7). Steps one and two involve rhythm: halving the values of Bach's head motif takes us from w h h  to h q q; adding a dot to the second "new duration" and subtracting the same amount from the third yields Shostakovich's rhythm (h q. e ) without difficulty. Modal inversion, from E major to minor, takes place in the third step. After a new time signature (5/4) is assigned and a quarter rest is placed on the first beat of the resultant's first measure, we are finished. Thus we see that in both his Op. 34 and Op. 87, Shostakovich could have used three slight deviations of the same Bach model to partly derive "original" fugal subjects, and in both cases modal inversion was one of the ways in which these deviations were achieved. This is not the first time Shostakovich replaces a Bachian time signature with 5/4; this practice was encountered during our considerations of the Op. 34 no. 21 prelude in B flat major.

It is worth noting that the tail end of Op. 34 no. 4's theme resembles the middle part of Bach's E minor fugue subject from book two of The Well-Tempered Clavier (Example 9). Measures 2-4 of Shostakovich's prelude are similar to mm. 2-3 of the subject used in the Well-Tempered Clavier in that both contain a C sustained for at least two beats and an arpeggiated E minor triad (starting on the fifth and descending down to the root). Simple variation devices once again allow us to move from the Bach to the Shostakovich easily. First switch the order of appearance so that the C is sounded and sustained before the triad is traversed. Then break up the sustained C with inserted offbeat G's on beats 1-2 of m. 3. The descending minor triad can then follow on the last three beats of m. 3 thereby producing a varied reversal of Bach's m. 2 with respect to rhythmic motifs.

In the Op. 34 E minor prelude, parts of two Bach models were fused together to create a single theme. When composing his Op. 87 E major and minor fugues, Shostakovich again uses more then one model work from the Well-Tempered Clavier and masterfully recalls and then re-applies many of the same creative manipulations that he used in the 1930's again in the 1950's. If we do not have the Op. 34 Preludes in mind along with The Well-Tempered Clavier when looking at Shostakovich's Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues, then we would not have noticed this progression, and our appreciation of Shostakovich's ingenuity would have suffered because of it.



The comparison of Shostakovich's Op. 34 no.'s 20 and 13 preludes which introduced this paper's case studies revealed commonalities between those two works and the C minor fugue from The Well-Tempered Clavier's first book, that being a reference to the subject in which the head motif's rhythm is maintained and new pitches are selected through the use of simple transformative devices such as transposition, inversion, and intervallic contraction/expansion. During the course of this paper's three case studies it was shown that two other preludes from Shostakovich's Op. 34, no.'s 4 and 21 to be precise, also have links to The Well-Tempered Clavier. C, F#, E, and B flat, the keynotes of the four Op. 34 preludes that are based on The Well-Tempered Clavier, form a symmetrical chord of two tritones a major third a part from one another. This is another strong indication that Shostakovich's intentions in the Op. 34 were far more subtle than merely producing twenty-four completely unrelated pieces.

Exactly the same kind of subtlety in compositional thinking is found in the Preludes and Fugues Shostakovich composed for Tatayana Nikolayeva, wherein several ideas from the Op. 34 Preludes are revisited. In order to appreciate adequately Shostakovich's talents at "revisive composition," the Op. 34 preludes must be seen as a kind of center point between Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and the Op. 87 Preludes and Fugues. Our considerations of the the Op. 34 E minor prelude shows how necessary foreknowledge of this compositional progression is if we are to understand fully and appreciate the degree of ingenuity with which Shostakovich could work with Bachian source material to compose music of his own. We saw in case study no. 3 Shostakovich repeating in the early 1950's many of the same simple, basic compositional techniques he used in the early 1930's. In both the Op. 34 E minor prelude and Op. 87 E minor fugue, elements from two fugues from The Well-Tempered Clavier were fused together to create a theme that retained important aspects of its models and at the same time transcended them.

The other case studies examined in this paper mirror this. Case study no. 2 considered a pair of instances in which substantial amounts of source material were appropriated and used by Shostakovich to create passages of "new music" that were likewise significant in both size and function. In "case study 2a," parts of a Well-Tempered Clavier prelude/fugue pair were modally inverted, given a new time signature, rearranged, and juxtaposed to fashion the beginnings of the Op. 34 no. 21 prelude in B major. "Case study 2b" showed how parts of a Bach fugue subject could be taken out of their original context - I refer to the middle part (motif B, Example 5a) of the D major fugue subject from book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier - and used to create not only the subject for the Op. 87 fugue in G, but also a countersubject, something that the Bach original lacked.

Case study no. 1 showed how Shostakovich twice worked with the opening chord from The Well-Tempered Clavier book one's famous C Major prelude and examined his re-workings of it in his Opp. 34 and 87 no.'s 1 preludes. In the 1930's, a fragment of the original chord was excised, transposed, and re-arpeggiated to start the Op. 34 no. 1 prelude. In the 1950's Shostakovich used, en bloc, the entire Bach chord in its original octave register , and ingeniously chose to employ the sarabande's characteristic rhythm to give the chord rhythmic vitality as well as strengthen its ties to the music of the eighteenth century in general without making specific allusions to Bach. This use of a general baroque rhythmic device, i.e., the sarabande's characteristic rhythm in the Op. 87 no. 1 prelude, is similar to the way in which Shostakovich used the possibility of interpreting dotted eighths and sixteenth notes as quarter and eighth note triplets in French overtures to generate the tail of his Op. 87 G major fugue.

Speculative thinking such as this about the selected pieces from Shostakovich's Opp. 34 and 87 and their relationship to The Well-Tempered Clavier denigrates neither German nor Russian master. Rather it increases our appreciation of the subtlety of Shostakovich's thinking to see his use of very basic compositional devices in such extraordinary ways. We sense how much incredible power simple transformations such as these, strokes of genius, really, have to create new compositions that sound in many instances nothing like the works on which they were based. Perhaps most important of all we can better appreciate the amazing fertility in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The evidence presented in this paper shows it had - and, I contend, still has - to stimulate new acts of creativity nearly three centuries after the great man's death.




Adams, R. "Dmitri Shostakovich and the fugues of op. 87: Bach bicentennial tribute." MM dissertation, North Texas State University, 1981.

Aster, S. "An analytical study of selected preludes from Shostakovich's 24 Preludes for Piano Op. 34." Ed. D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1975.

Blokker, R. and Dearling, R. The Music of Dmitri Shostakovich: the Symphonies. Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1979.

Dlugokecka-Galinska, E. "Zalozenia tonalne 24 Preluiow i Fugi Op. 87 Dymitra Szostakowicza,"Muzyka 17 (1972) 1: 30-58.

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Mason, C. "Some New Music - Mainly for Piano," The Musical Times 97 (6 August 1956): 421-422.

Norris, C. Review of Op. 87 recording Music and Musicians 24 (May 1976): 32-33.

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Review of Shostakovich's Op. 34 recording Stereoplay no. 11 (Nov. 1991): 217.

Review of Dolzhyansky, A. 24 Prelyudii i Fugi D. Shostakovicha. Sovetskaya Muzyka 30 (July 1966): 136-138.

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Review of Op. 87 recording Audio 76 (Nov. 1992): 112. Review of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues Op. 87. Musical Opinion 79 (December 1955): 155.

Schwarz, B. "Dmitry Shostakovich," The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians ed. by Stanley Sadie17 (Washington, D. C.: MacMillan, 1980), 264-275.

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Richard Taruskin, "Shostakovich's Bach: a pill to purge Stalinism,"  The New York Times 17 October 1993, sec. 2, 31.


1. I am grateful to Prof. David Patterson of the University of Illinois' musicology faculty for the assistance he lent me during my work on this article. His interest in and enthusiasm for this project facilitated greatly its research and writing.

2. According to Dover Editions, Shostakovich composed his Five Preludes in 1920-1921, and the Op. 34 Preludes for Piano in 1932-1933.

3. Taruskin, R. "Shostakovich's Bach: a pill to purge Stalinism," The New York Times 17 October 1993, sec. 2, 31.

4. Taruskin, "Shostakovich's Bach."

5. Music and Letters 37 (July 1956): 310.

6. Taruskin, "Shostakovich's Bach."

7. R. "The Preludes and Fugues, opus 87 of Dmitri Shostakovich." Ph. D. dissertation, Indiana University, 1979.

8. "Dmitri Shostakovich and the fugues of op. 87: a Bach bicentennial tribute" (MM dissertation, North Texas State University, 1981), ii.

9. Leonard, R. A. A History of Russian Music. New York: MacMillan, 1957; Aster, S. "An analytical study of selected preludes from Shostakovich's 24 Preludes for Piano Op. 34." Ed. D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1975; Lee, T. "Tonal perspectives in the selected piano preludes of Shostakovich (op. 34, nos. 1, 3, 6, 14, and 24): an analytical study." MA thesis, University of North Texas, 1994.

10. R. Adams, "Dmitri Shostakovich and the fugues of op. 87: a Bach bicentennial tribute." (MM dissertation, North Texas State University, 1981), 41.

11. Note should also be made here of the striking rhythmic similarities between the subject of the Bb minor fugue from the first book of The Well-Tempered Clavier and the subject of the second book's fugue in the same key. Indeed, after looking at the two themes it can with good reason be suspected that a reworking of the subject of first book's fugue generated the one used in Book 2. It is tempting to speculate that observation of this similarity might well have inspired Shostakovich to compose his Op. 34 no. 21 prelude in the manner that he did.

12.  Adams, 88.