Given that the prelude started life during the Renaissance as the improvised opening to a work, it seems particularly fitting that Kapustin should have tackled the genre. His 24 Preludes in Jazz Style
(1988) are clearly influenced by Chopin, both in their key scheme, which exactly follows Chopin’s model, and in their brevity: the 24 preludes of, say, Rachmaninov or Debussy are about twice as long as Kapustin’s or Chopin’s set. He uses the format to present us with a great variety of jazz styles: there is blues (11), ballad (5, 9), jazz waltz (18), swing (17, 19), a hint of jazz funk (7, 12) and even an affectionate allusion to Paul Desmond’s ‘Take Five’ (13). The influence of jazz is further felt in numbers 11, 13, 15, 18 and 23, in which Kapustin follows the jazz practice of stating a melody and then improvising a new melody over the underlying chord structure, or rather in this case, writing down such an improvisation. This may seem an odd thing to do—what is the value in notating ‘improvised’ music, thus purging it of any true spontaneity? In fact, this is conundrum that has strong historical roots: classical performance was long a mixture of the predetermined and the improvised, a balance which over the centuries has tilted in favour of the predetermined. For example, with the emergence of the notated concerto cadenza we see composers reducing the soloist’s need to improvise, making it safer for all concerned but also thereby taking the edge off the excitement of the moment: when it comes down to it, nothing else can quite create the combination of fear, concentration and exhilaration that the uncertainty of improvisation engenders. So it seems to me that in such cases notated improvisation is a necessary evil, in that it shows the style that the composer intends, but takes away from the feeling of spontaneity that is also intended. The ideal solution would be to become so familiar with the composer’s idiom that one could dispense with the written notes in these passages (whether it be Mozart or Kapustin) and make it up on the spot. As to whether or not I actually improvise in the relevant places on this disc … well that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?
from notes by Steven Osborne © 2000