The basic idea
There are several ground rules which govern the composition of these Geographical Preludes. The most fundamental one is that each is based on a sketch, or other musical idea, which was put on paper by the composer in the location for which it is named. The nature of these sketches is discussed on page sixteen. Once the original object (the piece of paper) has been generated or identified the composition of the prelude can take place in any location. For the most part this has meant 440 Chamberlain Road in Middletown, Connecticut, my home and where I do the bulk of my composition. However, if a prelude-in-progress is with me on a trip, or in my office at Wesleyan, I am free to work on it if an idea strikes. The connection with the place is therefore specific and vivid, but each prelude has unfolded artistically at its own pace, in due course, wherever it seemed appropriate.
In spite of these geographical connections, however, it is not the case that these pieces attempt musical portraits of particular locations. Of course this happens sometimes, but my intention is not to “paint a picture” but to tap a deeper vein of inspiration. As a friend who advises about Feng Shui puts it, “Every place has its own energy.” One consequence of this method is the resulting diversity of the product. Even in my output, which is unusually eclectic, these preludes represent an exceptional range of styles and musical procedures.
I had originally intended only to write thirty-six of these pieces, but the method has proved to be so provocative that I have sketches for about twenty more and anticipate additions to this volume. Indeed, I intend to continue to compose a Geographical Prelude now and then for the rest of my life.
There are many composers who have written preludes. My preludes are profoundly influenced by those preludes I have played — especially those of Bach, Chopin, Debussy and my friend Bill Duckworth. It will be immediately obvious that some of them are “activated harmonizations,” for example, in the style of the first prelude in the Well-Tempered Clavier, and there are similar specific ties to Duckworth and Debussy. Aesthetically, however, I feel they owe the most to Chopin. They are frequently open-ended, provocative, even ambiguous, and can actually be used to introduce longer works (that is, they are really preludes). For example, once I played three of them to introduce the Chopin Barcarolle, and the Dutch pianist Marcel Worms has introduced entire concerts with the Fairfield Prelude.
As a further constraint I have decided there can only be three preludes generated from any one location. So there might eventually be a “Champaign Prelude No. 3” but there will never be a “Tuscaloosa Prelude No. 4.” Finally, my Geographical Preludes can only be related to places in the United States.