When I listen to Bach, Handel or Vivaldi (especially Baroque composers) every single note seems to fit there perfectly I mean pretty consonant to their location.

As I was trying to learn tonal harmony and counterpoint (I am a beginner as you can see) I've seen Shostakovich's Prelude and Fugue in C (see here) Especially between the seconds 24-30 some notes played in the chords disturb my ear.

I cant seem to find the perfection in Bach's Prelude and Fugues. I don't mean Shostakovich is bad, I appreciate his works, just that piece sounds strange to me. What does make Shostakovich to select such dissonant notes freely? What makes a dissonant note dissolve?

  • 1
    I think the answer already posted is a good one. I would just add that—as a person who loves practically everything Shostakovich wrote—the preludes and fugues would be nowhere near the top of my list of pieces to recommend to someone interested in checking out his music. I recommend listening to the fifth symphony (the Bernstein/NYPhil recording is great) and the eighth string quartet (I like the Julliard quartet's version, but whatever). These are intensely exciting pieces that incorporate Shostakovichian dissonance into a less cerebral context. May 7, 2015 at 10:24
  • @PatMuchmore Thank you. I have heard fame of his symphonies. Actually they are pretty good. What I wonder here is why does he use such dissonances in especially 24-30. In Bach's prelude and fugues every chord seems to fit right into my ear. I do not question Shostakovich's skill of composing, it is obvious he is a genius.
    – user20273
    May 7, 2015 at 11:21

3 Answers 3


It sounds like you are starting to study harmony and music theory, though. As you progress, things will start to make more sense to you.

What makes Shostakovich select such dissonant notes freely?

One way of looking at this: composers in a certain period or style eventually start to chafe with the rules of their period, and start to push the envelope.

What's happening in seconds 24-30 -- it sounds to me like he's modulating in a way that your ear isn't used to. Modulating means changing key.

It might be worthwhile to wait a bit -- maybe Shostakovich will appeal to you more, and be more understandable to your ear, a bit in the future. You have to sort of relive a big chunk of music history. Give yourself time.

  • This last paragraph. Listen a lot to music you don't understand (play it, if you can!) and it will become more and more clear what is going on and why.
    – 11684
    May 7, 2015 at 13:21
  • The last paragraph applied to me years ago when I first got into classical music. I remember listening to Rachmaninov's piano concerto no 2, and I did not like it at all. Obviously now that I have a much more mature (read: exposed) ear, I love that piece.
    – lobi
    May 7, 2015 at 19:32
  • Maybe it would be good to pose a separate question where you ask for people's recommendations for materials to use in studying harmony and music theory. I'm starting to get the impression you are doing self-study. I wouldn't attempt to answer that question -- I barely survived my music theory classes in music school! - - - Anyway, I think that in your listening, you should retrace the steps of music history. If Bach makes sense to your ear, great -- progress to the classical period. When you feel that things make sense to you there, (to be cont.) May 7, 2015 at 23:23
  • then make sure you're okay with the late classical period e.g. Beethoven. Then have some fun with the romantics. Okay, none of that is going to be really challenging for you. When you get into the late romantics, you'll need to spend some time -- maybe several years. Find out what you like, what you don't like. THEN you can start exploring the 20th century, including Shostakovich! May 7, 2015 at 23:25
  • @aparente001 I was doing some researchs and I've find something about atonal music. People say that bend your ears for atonal music etc.. Is this example from Shostakovich's prelude atonal? It says C minor yes, but it sounds like what people describe atonal music comes to ear, to me.
    – user20273
    May 15, 2015 at 16:28

Well, this is one of the earliest preludes and fugues of Shostakovich, and actually a quite conservative piece compared to other later ones.

For example, try this one: a link

For 20th-century composers, prelude and fugue is just a genre. Although the old-school traditions put many limits to polyphonic composition, with the development of music, most of these rules are not obeyed anymore. However, you can still hear the basic elements of fugue in these pieces (subject, countersubject, exposition, stretto, etc.).

For your specific question, why did Shostakovich use dissonance here? Probably because he wants to express a more complex feeling. From my perspective, I think these dissonant harmonies are really colorful, adding more depth to this prelude.

Note that Shostakovich did not use dissonance deliberately. He chose to use consonance or dissonance based on his need or what he wanted to express. Actually, there are some preludes and fugues that sound really harmony in this cycle, for example: a link

I think if you cannot bear the dissonance in Shostakovich's music, put it aside temporarily. Listen to Debussy and Ravel's works and gradually get familiar with dissonant harmony. Then go back to Shostakovich and hopefully you can enjoy the beauty in his preludes and fugues.


Do you want to hear dissonance? Listen to the first movement of this:

Listen to how Bach gets the two recorders to play E flat and D natural at the same time. It really hurts your ears. And of course this is exactly what he wanted.

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