Karim Al-Zand: Music: Pattern Preludes

Pattern Preludes (books 1–4)

24 preludes for piano

“Pattern“ pieces abound in the piano literature, pieces constrained by a single idea through which a composer expresses a narrowly focused thought. Patterning is especially well-suited to preludes, which are by convention short, concise and introductory. imageThe patterns in the first book of six preludes are often rhythmic or textural ostinati, most of which are immediately identifiable: a repeated-note motive in no. 2; asynchronous cascades between the hands in no. 4; and a gesture bouncing between interlocked hands in no. 6. In addition, three of the pieces give a nod to other famous preludes in the piano repertoire. No. 1 is a gloss on what is likely the most famous prelude ever written, Bach’s Prelude in C major from the Well Tempered Clavier, Book I. Within an innocent arpeggio, Bach skillfully intertwines several rhythmic patterns, something exploited in my paraphrase. No. 3 takes its cue from Chopin’s Op. 28/4, which every student of harmony knows (and which a professor of mine once called the epitome of ‘creeping chromaticism’). No. 5 is a retirement gift dedicated to my high school music teacher, whose lessons were inspirational preludes to my own study of music. In mood and phrasing it echoes some well-known Debussy preludes. Pattern Preludes, book 1 was written for Calogero Di Liberto.

[Program Note for Book 2]
“Pattern Prelude” is a title I have been using for an ongoing series of short piano pieces, works which are characterized by a single, consistent surface texture which prevails from beginning to end. In Pattern Preludes, Book 2, the elements of musical patterning are present—interlocked syncopations in no. 1, superimposed meters in no. 6—but the focus is also on patterns in the physical and visual sense. No. 2 has one hand playing only white keys, the other only black keys (they exchange roles mid-way through); the small gesture of no. 3 is gradually multiplied, expanding outward; in no. 4 the hands play symmetrically around the instrument’s central axis; no. 5 features closely packed eight-note chords locked in tandem motion.

[Program Note for Book 3]
Pattern Preludes, Book 3 arose out of a commission from the Renée B. Fisher Competition for Young Pianists, a request for a piece tailored to their middle school division. The work is thus intended for an “intermediate pianist” and, though not overtly pedagogical, the set presents one musical element most conspicuously: rhythmic patterning. The six preludes explore both regular and irregular patterns through a range of odd time signatures and metric subdivisions. They alternate slow and fast tempos and are grouped in pairs, set in meters of five (nos. 1 & 2), seven (nos. 3 & 4) and nine (nos. 5 & 6) beats.
In addition to the rhythmic elements, no. 4 (solfeggio) is my own gloss on a well-known, intermediate level piano work by C. P. E. Bach; and no. 5 (lullaby) was written for my 2-year old son.

[Program Note for Book 4]
The musical gestures and textures used in Pattern Preludes, Book 4 continue to explore themes of physical balance, visual symmetry, repetition and compositional concision. Prelude no. 2 places a melody between two inwardly leaping arpeggios; nos. 3 & 5 make use of persistent chromatic ostinati; and nos. 4 & 6 use metric shifts to create irregular rhythmic momentum. In addition, the left hand plays alone in no. 1, the right hand alone in no. 4. Two of the preludes are elegies: no. 1 was written in memory of Sergiu Luca, a wonderful and generous musical colleague, and prelude no. 3 is dedicated to Ethan Frederick Greene, a young composer and former student of mine who passed away in 2015, very much before his time.


iTunes 1 2 & 3
amazon 1 2 & 3


11 minutes/8 minutes/8 minutes/11 minutes (38 minutes total)


Book 1
1. Moderato; smoothly (after Bach)
2. As quickly as possible, chirring
3. Slowly; delicately thrumming (after Chopin)
4. Very swiftly; restless, agitated
5. Slowly; lyrically (after Debussy)
6. Quickly; vibrant, full of life

Book 2
1. Moderately; wistful
2. Extremely quickly; manic, mechanical (figure-ground)
3. Slowly; delicate, fragile (ripple effect)
4. Quickly; raucous, boisterous (mirror game)
5. Slowly; calm, placid (parallel play)
6. Very Quickly; massive, unrelenting

Book 3
1. Moderately; tranquil, serene
2. Very Quickly; fidgety, nervous
3. Moderately; flowing
4. Very Quickly; nimble, playful (solfeggio)
5. Slowly, with rubato; delicate, innocently (lullaby)
6. Very Quickly; spirited, bouncing

Book 4
1. Unhurried; lyrically, legato (for the left hand)
2. Speedily; with a swiftly loping gait
3. Slowly; lyrically roaming, melancholic
4. Quickly; scherzando, skittish (for the right hand)
5. Steadily; grand, processional
6. Extremely Fast; furious, turbulent

Book 1
October 5, 2005, Duncan Recital Hall, Houston TX
Calogero Di Liberto, piano

Book 2
November 20, 2009, Duncan Recital Hall, Houston TX
Brian Connelly, piano

Book 3
November 20, 2009, Duncan Recital Hall Houston TX
Brian Connelly, piano

Book 1, Prelude 1
Book 1, Prelude 2
Book 1, Prelude 6
Book 2, Prelude 2
Book 2, Prelude 6
Book 3, Prelude 4
Book 3, Prelude 6

Book 1, Prelude 1
Book 1, Prelude 2
Book 1, Prelude 6
Book 2, Prelude 2
Book 2, Prelude 6
Book 3, Prelude 4
Book 3, Prelude 6