Analysis of D-flat Major Fugue from Shostakovich’s “24 Preludes and Fugues,” Op. 87

This video will discuss Shostakovich’s D-flat major fugue from his “24 Preludes and Fugues,” Opus 87, one of the most.


This video will discuss Shostakovich’s D-flat major fugue from his “24 Preludes and Fugues,” Opus 87, one of the most spectacular fugues in the set. A little-known fact about Shostakovich is that he performed the entire Well-Tempered Clavier of Bach when he was only 11 years old. More than 30 years later, he composed this set as an obvious homage to the great master. The four-voice fugue begins with this frantic subject, and its paired countersubject. Notice the diverging wedge-like contour of the subject, both at the beginning and at the end. This is reminiscent of Bach’s famous A-minor organ fugue, BWV 548, nicknamed “The Wedge” due to the similar contour of its subject. Although the Shostakovich subject begins with D-flat, and the answers follow convention by beginning a perfect fifth higher on A-flat, the beginning of this fugue is only nominally in D-flat major and is quasi-tonal at best. This is partly because the subject uses eleven of the twelve chromatic semi-tones. But notice that the same is true of the Bach subject, yet it manages to sound like it’s still in E minor. Shostakovich’s D-flat major fugue frequently weaves in material from the prelude. The first example of this is in the middle portion of the subject itself derived from this seemingly unimportant moment of the prelude. The subject and countersubject enter many times before this stunning simultaneous entry of the subject and its augmentation (played twice as slowly). The first two augmented entries are truncated to the length of the original subject But the third augmented entry is a complete statement, first paired with the original and then with an additional truncated augmented entry that continues on as this non-augmented fragment. Now listen to the fugue up to this point. After these spectacularly complicated augmented entries, Shostakovich humorously recalls the simple thirds that opened the prelude. Notice, how puerile and overtly tonal the opening of the prelude sounds with these thirds accompanying a theme that many have compared to the tune of “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.” Notice also the comical ending of the prelude with wrong notes interspersed between bombastic D-flat major V-I cadences. These thirds in the fugue momentarily recapture the simplicity of the prelude, but this is immediately shattered by close strettos of the subject. The first stretto is at the distance of a single measure. This is interrupted again by the bombastic cadence and thirds from the prelude before a second stretto begins, this time at the distance of two measures. The remainder of the fugue is peppered with the silly cadences from the prelude leading to an even more augmented fragment (this time three times slower) appearing simultaneously with the non-augmented subject and countersubject, that is answered by the remainder of the subject in a different voice, no longer augmented. The fugue ends with the extended wedge portion of the subject with a similar wedge-like widening of the chords above followed by the overtly D-flat major ending. Now listen to the entire fugue without interruption.

50 thoughts on “Analysis of D-flat Major Fugue from Shostakovich’s “24 Preludes and Fugues,” Op. 87”

  1. Wow that was amazing!
    As I said in another video I would like you to analyze the 3rd mov of the 7° string quartet of Shostakovich which has a lot of counterpoint. I also would like to see in the channel something by Hindemith, who, in my opinion, is the greatest counterpoint master of the last century

  2. I'm currently learning the A Major Prelude and Fugue from the same set. If I get ahold of a copy of this one, I may try and convince my teacher to let me learn this as well.

  3. Hi Richard, great video as always. You present information in a very clear manner. If I could make a suggestion, I which you could make another Mahler video. I was watching your " the most beautiful passages in each Mahler´s symphonies" and i saw you focused mainly in the slower parts. Although I enjoyed the video, I wish you could talk more about the "bombastic" parts haha. One more thing, I sent you a private message about a month ago, I wonder if you saw it.

  4. Hey richard, I think there was a video that you had that was uploaded but is now gone. It’s an lecture on bach and how music can be intelligent without needing emotion. There were three individuals in the video, a female music expert, an old man who is the host of the channel and a young guy. The music expert mainly talks most of the time about bachs fugues and how it is constantly evolving.

    If wondering if you know what im talking about. And if you do, can you please me to where i can find it and watch it again.

  5. Hey Richard, love your videos, and I think I finally found someone as obsessed with Mahler as I am! I'm wondering what you studied in university? It's cool if you don't want to share, I'm just curious

  6. This has to be one of the greatest youtube channels ever! I instantly subscribed after watching the video about three examples of Haydn's rhythmic displacements. These videos are a gift to humanity. Keep it up!

    Greetings from a German jazz pianist 😉

  7. Nice job on the analysis, but you missed a significant structural detail. The low G octave (the longest note in the piece) in the left hand of measure 255 is the note that missing from original subject.

  8. W in the serious F? How does someone, even a genius, come up with something like this? There is more music in this short space, both technically & aesthetically, than the Universe can handle!

  9. Last night went to a performance of the 24 by A. Melnikov. Very pulled in by the music. Now eager for some education on them, which I am glad to see you providing!

  10. Haha, and so, silly (brutal) tonality shall prevail!! (a theme prevalent in several of Schostakovich's works) The connection to the e minor organ fugue is intriguing, of which Shostakovich's fugue is a kind of deconstruction.

  11. I don't even understand why he uses various time signatures as they don't have any audible effects on the music… 😀

  12. Very nice analysis! But I think there is so much more to say about this piece for example that it has for sure 2 countersubjects perhaps even 3 but that's arguable. Also what is really cool is that this "3rd countersubject" if it really is one (the soprano part line in the exposition during the entry of the bass) is partially retrograded in the chords from bar 244 onwards. Also the importance of this very long G in the bass towards the end. This G is really and special moment since it is the only pitch left out from the subject (when played in Db) the construction of this piece is so amazing… One could talk at least an hour about all these fantastic details of this piece! 🙂

  13. Wow. Ill listen to Shos with new ears now. Not familiar with these works. Tour de force. Thank you so much for our efforts, Richard.

  14. Hi, i love your vids!! but i am too ignorant to understand the nature of fugue. I know the basics but im very bad at defining the different structures of the fugue. Can you recommend some books to initiate in conterpoint, pliss?

  15. The original subject reminds me very much of the fifth piece from Stanchinsky's 12 Sketches, op. 1. The same composer's Five Preludes in the form of a Canon might be good material for a video as well.

  16. I like how free Shotakovich is with this counterpoint – some subject entries are octave or even chordal passages yet clear – not to mention the thirds and cadences.

  17. Goodness what a crazy and genius work! One of the members of our clarinet quartet arranged this, and we worked on it quite a bit. It was extremely challenging, and exhilarating when we got it right.

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