Alan Bullard will be known to many readers for his many contributions to popular educational series and in particular the excellent adult piano method series Pianoworks, co-written with his wife Janet, and recently reviewed here.
In addition to his educational publications, Bullard is a busy and accomplished composer of concert works, including the recently published Twelve or Thirteen Preludes for Piano Solo: Set Two (Minor Keys), a collection that follows on from the first Set (written in each major key), which was published back in early 2017 by Colne Edition, and distributed by Spartan Press.
With this new publication, Bullard joins the ranks of composers (including J.S. Bach, Heller and Chopin) to have written a Prelude in each and every one of the 24 major and minor keys. And I think they make a very solid collection, one that deserves wide currency…
Twelve or Thirteen?
In his introduction to the First Set, the composer wrote:
“About four years ago I started writing some piano preludes in odd moments between writing other things, partly to play myself, but also for others to play, of around Grade 6-8 standard. They grew into a set of twelve, one in each major key – hardly an original concept, but one which gave me an opportunity to think hard about variety within my self-imposed limit of only two pages per piece!”
Explaining that collection’s title, Bullard suggested that the Preludes can be performed separately, but if performed complete they should be played in order, optionally repeating the first prelude at the end to make a set of thirteen.
In his recording of the collection, Alan does just this, as you can hear and enjoy here:
Rather than following the circle of fifths (as Chopin and Heller did), Bullard opted to organise Set One chromatically, starting with the Prelude in C, then D flat, and so on. The return of the opening Prelude certainly adds a sense of completion to the journey which has so eloquently unfolded.
And for Set Two, he repeats the same trick for the minor keys, starting with A minor, then B flat, continuing chromatically until returning to A minor with the repeat of the first Prelude at the end:
Bullard would presumably welcome performances of all 24 Preludes, giving the player some liberty to organise them as they wish; it seems to me that each set makes its own complete statement however.
Listening and playing through each Set, I am struck that these are wonderful little pieces, elegantly combining interesting technical challenges with genuinely idiomatic piano writing, and all marinated in a thoroughly charming and whimsical musical character.
What I love most about them is their warmth, imagination, variety and good humour. Thoroughly enjoyable!
The sheet music for each of the two collections has a simple presentation, a plain gloss white cover containing in each case a 28 page publication.
Other than the title page and obligatory copyright information, the sole focus is the score, which is nicely engraved, well spaced and clear throughout.
No fingering is given, so the player must work out their own. The score is nicely detailed however, reflecting Alan’s care as a composer to give clear instructions and musical intention.
The Preludes regularly pay homage to a wide musical language, incorporating many styles of modern classical music, coupled with tinges of jazz, but always with a unique musical voice that is highly appealing.
Alan Bullard’s 24 Preludes for solo piano are a valuable addition to the pianist’s repertoire and will, I have no doubt, be enthusiastically received by Advanced players looking for inventive and approachable contemporary music. Above all they are a joy to play purely for their own delights, and will undoubtedly make attractive additions to concert programmes.
You can of course make up your own mind as you listen to Alan’s recordings above, and as for the publication it is not only without fault, but also reasonably priced at just £8.95 each Set from Spartan Music here.