Madsen - Prelude & Fugue in C


Norwegian composer Trygve Madsen was born in 1940 and has established a reputation as one of Norway's foremost composers.

As is evident in this particular prelude and fugue, jazz always played a strong part in Madsen's musical make up. Pianists Art Tatum, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson have been amongst some of the most influential.

His style blends new with old and it is not hard to see from this particular piece his appreciation for the music of the 20th century Russian school as well as that of Bach.

Style & Tempo

The style of Madsen's music has influences from jazz, from J.S.Bach and also markedly from the music of Shostakovich.

Just as Shostakovich, when writing his 24 Preludes and Fugues (Op 87) in 1950-51, was influenced by Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, so Madsen's opus bears reference to the work of both composers.

Phrasing & Articulation

The style of prelude and fugue differs. The more sustained mood of the prelude demands use of the pedal and consideration as to length of line in relation to the harmonic flow.

The fugue needs a clear articulation in order to bring out the vitality of musical ideas.

Tone & Texture

Tone should never be 'flimsy.' By this we mean that there has to be a certain substance and consistency to the sound, even when playing at quieter levels.

Imagine perhaps an oboe playing quietly. It has a certain quality of attack and sustained sound.

If your student's playing sounds insipid and dull, it could be to do with the quality of tone being produced.

The Prelude undoubtedly has room for the quieter moments of performance, but make certain that the top line 'sings' and has a sense of meaning to the tone.


What techniques are needed to perform this piece well ?

In the prelude a consistent control of tone and balance between chordal parts and melodic line is needed. Also a firm sense of playing so that the notes in chords always do go down together.

In the fugue, there are three requirements:

1/ the capacity to understand what is happening musically.

2/ the ability to bring out different lines through more wight and emphasis, often with the same hand whilst playing another part.

3/ the ability to work through the more complex and denser textures to best manage these up to tempo.


Be creative !

Just because the opening chords in bars 1 & 2 of the prelude are written in the RH part does not mean that you have to play it this way.

By taking the middle part semibreves between the hands - as shown in this pdf - controlling the tone becomes much easier.

There are other places where this kind of arrangement works well in both the prelude and the fugue.

The most important rule regarding fingering is to choose the fingering which is most comfortable in the given situation in order to control tone consistently and easily.

Re-arranging between hands.pdf


The written out ornamentation, little as it is in the prelude, is confined to that of a lower mordent before the beat. It is melodically and motivically important.

In the fugue the mordent should always be played on the beat. Otherwise the timing will suffer.

Distinguish between upper mordents (e.g. bar 23 RH) and lower mordents (e.g. bar 30 RH).


Pedal is essential in both the prelude and fugue, but used in very different ways.

In the prelude much of the repeated note idea benefits from being 'bathed' in pedal. This treatment of the musical idea softens the reiterations and warms the many chordal textures.

It is also imperative to catch in the pedal any bass notes where it is otherwise impossible to stretch the larger LH intervals (e.g. bars 15 & 16 and bar 52).

Teaching Strategies

We all like to learn the best sounding bits first.

Temper this tendency with a longer term view which sets about getting started on the fugue at the same as the prelude.

You need not necessarily begin at the beginning of the fugue - it would be interesting to master the final few bars with their big musical climax.

This could prove a better incentive to then tackling the bars which lead up to that point.

Starting always from the beginning and working forwards can mean that one bit is always known best - often the easiest.

Practice Tips

Pass on the teaching tips as a method for your student in their own approach to practice.

Share in their enthusiasm but also bolster any flagging commitment if things get stuck by working out practical work schedules and devising smaller goals at more frequent intervals.

Alway begin with plenty of time to spare.


Negotiating more complex harmonies will certainly be a challenge in both the prelude and fugue.

Find a mixture of ways to know the harmonic landscape, using not just the sound of the harmonies, but also the chord shapes, as felt in the hand on the keyboard. Noting changes between chords by visual reminders can also be helpful.

Encourage a sense of context too. A meaningless handful of sharps or flats has no musical potency.

Final Performance

An excellent performance will have empathy with the harmonic shifts in the prelude and present a musical result with integrity and a satisfying sense of structure, whilst the playing in the fugue will have lots of clarity in the parts, good management of the tempo and textures and give a strong sense of completion to the overall performance.

A good performance will have a consistent interpretation even if there are areas which could be more polished and detailed. It may be that moments in the fugue are a bit anxious or do not feel musically compelling. However there will sufficient consistency for the audience to feel that something colourful and worthwhile has been achieved overall.

A sound performance will have rhythmic integrity and sufficient pacing, along with a sense of style. What is often lacking in less convincing performances is consistency. There may also be situations where a performance has good accuracy and rhythmic structure but lacks a great deal of musical insight or detail.

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