Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major, Op. 87 - Dmitri Shostakovich

The Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major, Op. 87 by Dmitri Shostakovich stands as a testament to the composer's brilliant synthesis of classical form and contemporary technique. Part of a much larger collection, this piece encapsulates the essence of Shostakovich's style, embracing both the complexity of fugue and the clarity of the prelude. Written during a fraught period of Soviet history, this work not only withstands the rigors of technical scrutiny but also resonates with the emotional undertones of its era.

The Genesis and Revelation of Op. 87

Inspired by Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Shostakovich began writing his collection of 24 preludes and fugues after a trip to Leipzig where he served as a judge in a piano competition. The complete Op. 87 was composed between 1950 and 1951, a period marked by oppressive artistic censorship in the Soviet Union. The first in the collection, the Prelude and Fugue in C Major was premiered by the composer himself, and later by pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva, to whom the entire opus is dedicated.

The collection was released at a time when Shostakovich's music was undergoing a brief period of official acceptance, allowing the pieces to gain immediate attention among the Soviet artistic community. Despite somewhat mixed reviews by critics, the work's introspective nature and technical prowess soon earned it a special place in the piano repertoire.

Deconstruction and Theoretical Analysis

Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue No. 1 begins with a brightly optimistic prelude in which a lyrical melody unfolds over a flowing accompaniment. Structurally, it harkens back to the baroque tradition, yet through a distinctly modern harmonic lens. The key of C Major serves as a foundation for exploration, with harmonic progressions hinting at the composer's penchant for bitonality and unconventional resolution.

The fugue that follows is a three-voice structure built upon a stately subject, leading to intricate countersubject interplay. A close examination reveals Shostakovich's use of a variety of contrapuntal devices, including inversion, augmentation, and stretto, showcasing his deep understanding of the formal and technical aspects of fugue-writing.

Unveiling Its Enduring Popularity

Part of the enduring appeal of Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue No. 1 lies in its timeless blend of simplicity and complexity. The appeal to pianists lies in its idiomatic writing for the instrument, providing both a technical challenge and an expressive canvas. Furthermore, its accessibility to audiences, irrespective of their familiarity with classical forms, has played a significant role in its sustained popularity.

The piece's immersion within not only the classical community but also the spheres of education and performance further cements its legacy. As a work of profound depth that can be returned to time and again, it evokes new interpretations and insights with each performance.


Dmitri Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in C Major remains a pinnacle of piano literature that bridges the gap between baroque homage and modern innovation. Its scholarly relevance and robust emotional core solidify its standing as a piece that is as intellectually rewarding as it is emotionally poignant.

As the opening chapter of Op. 87, it invites both performers and listeners into the expansive world of Shostakovich's preludes and fugues, offering a gateway to the rich dialogue between past and present, a dialogue that continues to captivate pianists and music enthusiasts alike.

Publication date: 10. 02. 2024