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Key: A major
28 bars

Bar What Happens Comment
1-2 A major tonality firmly established. There is some tonal ambiguity in bar 2 (hints at C sharp minor). The figuration is decidedly Baroque, initially employing a two-part text texture that parodies Bach’s opening of the Prelude in D major from the Well-tempered Clavier, Book II.
3 RH chordal motif, against which Shostakovich uses the opening fragment of the initial RH motif. Although the LH fragment is used chiefly to allow the music to modulate to f-sharp minor, it also calls to mind the antithetical practices of Baroque keyboard writing.
4 LH move to F sharp minor (the relative minor of A major). RH the same as bar 1, but beats 3 and 4 are reversed. A subtle way of varying the opening motif – note how the F-sharp pedal alters the tonality whilst keeping the same melodic outline.
5 RH not as close to bar 2 as bar 4 was to bar 1. Harmonic ambiguity: this material seems to have been conceived for presentation over an A major bass note (pedal), not an F# pedal. The juxtaposition of the two is interesting to the ear, a technique that is also used by other Russian composers, including Kabalevsky.
6-8 RH chordal motif, extended from beats 2-3-4 in bar 3 to 2-3-4-1 in both bars 6-7 and 7-8. The latter resolves gracefully in a downward direction. LH quaver triads and semiquaver turns, initially emphasizing E major (dominant key), through D# (bar 6), but then shifting emphasis to the dominant chord in A major.  
8-9 E major (with flattened 7th) reached. Shostakovich extends the motif by an extra bar, using pitch-peaks to increase the intensity.
10 RH takes same rhythm as bar 5, but includes chromatic harmony, momentarily touching on C major (beat 1), F major (beat 3) and, with a harmonic twist occurring with the D-flat in beat 4, taking the music to What is Shostakovich doing? The grotesque twists and turns of the harmony create a series of ambiguities throughout this bar - ideally, the D-flat (enharmonic C-sharp) could be seen to be preparing the ear for the dominant chord of D major. Could there also be a touch of b-flat minor here as well?
11 the dominant of A major (beat 1, still with the E bass). Beat 2: Strong A major emphasis, heightened by bar 12 repeating the phrase heard in bars 11, 6 and 3, rather than that of bar 7: the tonality appears to be heading for C# (3rd note of A major), not its eventual goal of B-natural (dominant note of E major).  
12 Proceeds smoothly to III (C# major), realised by E# in bar 13.  
13-22 Much greater chromaticism, and shorter, overlapping phrases (stretto). This passage is certainly more personal to Shostakovich than the Bach-inspired imitation that precedes it.
13.2 to 14 Decorated chromatic descent from G-sharp to C-sharp. Note that D-sharp is excluded.  
15 Repeating upward chromatic motif, of particular emotional import, as is the  
16-17 LH A-sharp at the start of bar 16. Chord motif subverted to produce  
17-18 ‘Shock’ chord on bar 17, beat 1. The tonality is taken where the harmonic implications of the ‘shock’ chord dictate: F major  
18 E major 7 (which initially resolves to F major) persists, strengthening the ear’s assumption that bar 19 will be one semitone higher than Shostakovich actually wrote it.  
20 ascent to…  
21 flat chord IV (21) and flat chord III, flat chord IV (22). Behaves like a parenthesis: the contrapuntal, linear interest is stilled by thud of homophony in this ‘prayer motif’ This technique is also found in string quartets 1, 4, 5, 9 and 11, so it forms a kind of personal signature.
23 Chord I  
23-end The chordal motif is simplified to form a pedal against the most direct quotation from Bach’s source material. The arpeggiated figure is treated in fragmentation to flag end of prelude. The prelude simply dies away to nothing, hence the nearly complete bar of rests at the end.

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