Posted on Jun 9, 2016

Photo by Patrick Drury

Photo by Patrick Drury

Prelude # 7 from

12 Preludes for

Solo Guitar

by Ken Hatfield


Prelude # 7 is one of the shortest of the 12 Preludes in this collection. It is also one of the pieces that feels most like a prelude (but in ways that differ from Preludes # 1 and   # 3, two others that we have already addressed which also feel like traditional preludes). Despite its less than traditional harmonic content, it successfully feels like it sets up something. In other words, it creates a sense of anticipation. It does so by using chordal structures which are diatonic to non-traditional tonalities to create a sense of mystery. Several of these tonalities commonly occur in non-western traditions like flamenco, gypsy and klezmer musical styles. Others have origins that are a bit more modern. For more information about the scales I’ll reference below, please check out Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, Vincent Persichetti’s Twentieth-Century Harmony, George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, and my own Jazz and The Classical Guitar: Theory and Application.

Link to Prelude # 7 on SoundCloud here:

Prelude # 7 begins with four harmonic structures (resembling chords) that all come from a mode of a b harmonic minor scale. Since this mode is built on the fifth degree, I call it HM5 (i.e., harmonic minor from the 5th degree). Since the fifth degree of b harmonic minor is F#, I designate this scale as: f#HM5. But this scale is in such common usage that it is often referred to as the Dominant Seven Flat Nine Scale, because if you build a diatonic chord on the fifth degree of any harmonic minor scale, and extend its structure up to the ninth, the result will be a dominant seventh chord with a b9.

The chords in the first three bars of Prelude # 7 occur over a pedal. This pedal is actually the tonic of the prelude, and in keeping with the six sharp key signature, it is an F#. The results are: (bar 1) = F#(add 4) . . . meaning both the Major 3rd and the natural 4 are sounded in this “chord”; (bar 2) = e–6/F# (or an inversion of c#Ø7/F#); (bar 3) = a repeat of the F#(add 4) from bar 1. Then the pedal ends as we go to: an e–6 (which is in part why I consider the chord in bar 2 to be an e–6). All four of these chords can be easily created diatonically in f#HM5.

The next five bars move through a series of “chords” from several different but closely related tonalities, in essence following a descending bass line (b Aeolian) for bars 5 through 7. The chords are: B∆b6 (coming from B Harmonic MAJOR), followed by a–6 (using both the Major 6th and the flat 7th, idiomatic of a Dorian) in bar 6, moving to G∆7  (again sounding both the F# and the open G natural, this time functioning respectively as Major 7 and the octave of the root of the G chord) in bar 7. The next bar (bar 8) visits a secondary dominant chord (V of the V that is actually our tonic . . . so far) yielding: c#Ø11, to c#Ø/G, converting to C#7+ becoming C#7b5 (these last two with the root implied, but not played, and voiced over the b7 in the bottom voice). This leads to a series of diatonic ascending thirds over an F# pedal taken straight from f#HM5, which could not be more emblematic of this tonality!

Now instead of cadencing to b minor as bar 9 seems to suggest, we go to the relative Major of b minor: D Major (actually D6, which is in fact an inversion of b–7) for another series of chords built upon a descending bass line, this time following a chromatic scale downward to get us to the flat six chord (also the Neapolitan of our tonic) that sets up a II V (over a V of V, i.e., C# pedal) via its substitute dominant 7 chord (sub V of V of I) function. The chords in these nine bars are: D6, C#+7, C∆7(add 6), B7b13, eØ/A#, D9/A, E9/G#, G∆7, to C# sus4 to C#7(b9).

The next nine bars (bars 19 through 27) are a repeat of the first nine with bar 27 differing from bar 9. Bar 27 uses two lines moving contrapuntally in contrary motion to cadence to b Melodic minor.

This leads us to the final nine bars, which are essentially a vamp that should feel like running out of fuel. The harmonic structures I created here are chords of sorts, but I hear them as being representatives of the specific tonalities they originated in, so I’ll describe/analyze them accordingly: (bar 28) = b Melodic minor; (bar 29) = C Whole tone; (bar 30) = repeat of bar 28; (bar 31) = a Melodic minor. The next four bars repeat the previous four bars with a rallentando and a fermata.

Consider the relationship between the last chord: a–6 (with its 6th degree being F# and its possible interpretation as an inversion of f#Ø7) and the first chord: F#∆(add 4) by comparing their respective tonalities (f#MM6 or a Melodic minor and f#HM5). When doing so, investigate how many common tones they share, and you’ll get some insight into how this whole prelude works.