The four preludes Op 48 (1905) were written about the time that work began on the Poem of Ecstasy
, and the harmonic language has advanced considerably – so much so that the tonal endings come as something of a surprise. The marking at the head of each prelude is colourfully suggestive: ‘Impetuously, haughtily; poetically, with delight; capriciously, breathlessly; festively’. The snatched, hopping basses and impulsive rhythms and harmonic shifts of No 1 will become familiar in the later music. ‘Con delizio’, the marking of No 2, was to be associated with the unveiling of the ‘Mystic Chord’ in the Fifth Sonata of 1907: here, as there, the mood is rapt and transcendent. The downward twisting chromaticisms of No 3 contribute to its atmosphere of ‘breathless caprice’ and to a strange, Mephistophelian mocking character to be found elsewhere: in the ‘Enigme’ Op 52 No 2, ‘Ironies’ Op 56 No 2 or the Poème Op 69 No 2. No 4 reveals a Nietzschean mood of self-assertion at its most blatant.
from notes by Simon Nicholls © 2001