Prelude (music)

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A prelude (German : Präludium or Vorspiel; Latin : praeludium; French : prélude; Italian : preludio) is a short piece of music, the form of which may vary from piece to piece. [1] [2] While, during the Baroque era, for example, it may have served as an introduction to succeeding movements of a work that were usually longer and more complex, it may also have been a stand-alone piece of work during the Romantic era. It generally features a small number of rhythmic and melodic motifs that recur through the piece. Stylistically, the prelude is improvisatory in nature. The term may also refer to an overture, particularly to those seen in an opera or an oratorio.



The first preludes to be notated were organ pieces that were played to introduce church music, the earliest surviving examples being five brief praeambula in the Ileborgh Tablature of 1448. [3] These were closely followed by freely composed preludes in an extemporary style for the lute and other Renaissance string instruments, which were originally used for warming up the fingers and checking the instrument's tuning and sound quality, as in a group of pieces by Joan Ambrosio Dalza published in 1508 under the heading tastar de corde (in Italian, literally, "testing of the strings"). [3] [4]

Keyboard preludes started appearing in the 17th century in France: unmeasured preludes, in which the duration of each note is left to the performer, were used as introductory movements in harpsichord suites. Louis Couperin (c.1626–1661) was the first composer to embrace the genre, and harpsichord preludes were used until the first half of the 18th century by numerous composers including Jean-Henri d'Anglebert (1629–1691), Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre (1665–1729), François Couperin (1668–1733) and Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764), whose very first printed piece (1706) was in this form. The last unmeasured preludes for harpsichord date from the 1720s.

The development of the prelude in 17th century Germany led to a sectional form similar to keyboard toccatas by Johann Jakob Froberger or Girolamo Frescobaldi. Preludes by northern German composers such as Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637–1707) and Nikolaus Bruhns (c.1665–1697) combined sections of free improvised passages with parts in strict contrapuntal writing (usually brief fugues). Outside Germany, Abraham van den Kerckhoven (c.1618–c.1701), one of the most important Dutch composers of the period, used this model for some of his preludes. Southern and central German composers did not follow the sectional model and their preludes remained improvisational in character with little or no strict counterpoint.

During the second half of the 17th century, German composers started pairing preludes (or sometimes toccatas) with fugues in the same key; Johann Pachelbel (c.1653–1706) was one of the first to do so, although Johann Sebastian Bach's (1685–1750) "prelude and fugue" pieces are much more numerous and well-known today. Bach's organ preludes are quite diverse, drawing on both southern and northern German influences. Most of Bach's preludes were written in the theme and variation form, using the same theme motif with imitation, inversion, modulation, or retrogression of the theme as well as other techniques involved in this baroque form.

Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer was one of the first German composers to bring the late 17th-century French style to German harpsichord music, replacing the standard French ouverture with an unmeasured prelude. Fischer's Ariadne musica is a cycle of keyboard music which consists of pairs of preludes and fugues; the preludes are quite varied and do not conform to any particular model. Ariadne musica served as a precursor to Johann Sebastian Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier , two books of 24 "prelude and fugue" pairs each. Bach's preludes were also varied, some akin to Baroque dances, others being two- and three-part contrapuntal works not unlike his inventions and sinfonias. Bach also composed preludes to introduce each of his English Suites.

The Well-Tempered Clavier influenced many composers in the coming centuries, some of whom wrote preludes in sets of 12 or 24, sometimes with the intention of utilizing all 24 major and minor keys as Bach had done. Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849) wrote a set of 24 preludes, Op. 28, often composed in a simple ternary form, which liberated the prelude from its original introductory purpose and allowed it to serve as an independent concert piece. While other pianist-composers, including Muzio Clementi, Johann Nepomuk Hummel and Ignaz Moscheles, had previously published collections of preludes for the benefit of pianists unskilled at improvisatory preluding, Chopin's set renewed the genre. [5]

Chopin's set served as a model for other collections of 24 or 25 piano preludes in the major and minor keys, [3] including those by Charles-Valentin Alkan (Op. 31 for piano or organ), Ferruccio Busoni (Op. 37, BV 181), César Cui (Op. 64), Stephen Heller (Op. 81), and Alexander Scriabin (Op. 11). Claude Debussy (1862–1918) wrote two books of impressionistic piano preludes which, unusually in this genre, carry descriptive titles. [3] Chopin's conception of the prelude as an unattached character piece expressing a mood rather than a specific musical programme extended into the 20th century with works by composers such as George Antheil, George Gershwin, Alberto Ginastera, Dmitry Kabalevsky, Bohuslav Martinů, Olivier Messiaen, Sergei Rachmaninoff (who also completed an entire set), Giacinto Scelsi and Karol Szymanowski. [3]

Preludes were also incorporated by some 20th-century composers into Baroque-inspired suites: such "attached" preludes include Maurice Ravel's Le tombeau de Couperin (1914/17) and Arnold Schoenberg's Suite for piano, Op. 25 (1921/23), both of which begin with an introductory prelude (Schoenberg's choral introduction to the Genesis Suite is a rare case of an attached prelude written in the 20th century without any neo-baroque intent [3] ). As well as a series of unattached piano preludes (Op. 2), Dmitri Shostakovich composed a set of 24 Preludes and Fugues in the tradition of Bach's The Well Tempered Clavier.

Some avant-garde composers have also produced unattached preludes. John Cage's brief Prelude for Meditation is written for prepared piano, while François-Bernard Mâche's Prélude (1959) and Branimir Sakač's Aleatory Prelude (1961) call on electronic resources and aleatoric techniques. [3]

Notable collections of preludes

A carillonneur plays Prelude No. 9 by Matthias Vanden Gheyn at St. Rumbold's Cathedral in Mechelen, Belgium

See also

Related Research Articles

Fugue Contrapuntal musical form based on a subject that recurs in imitation

In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. It is not to be confused with a fuguing tune, which is a style of song popularized by and mostly limited to early American music and West Gallery music. A fugue usually has three main sections: an exposition, a development and a final entry that contains the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key. Some fugues have a recapitulation.

Étude Type of instrumental musical composition

An étude or study is an instrumental musical composition, usually short, designed to provide practice material for perfecting a particular musical skill. The tradition of writing études emerged in the early 19th century with the rapidly growing popularity of the piano. Of the vast number of études from that era some are still used as teaching material, and a few, by major composers such as Frédéric Chopin, Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy, achieved a place in today's concert repertory. Études written in the 20th century include those related to traditional ones and those that require wholly unorthodox technique.

Toccata Type of virtuoso instrumental musical composition

Toccata is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard or plucked string instrument featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or otherwise virtuosic passages or sections, with or without imitative or fugal interludes, generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer's fingers. Less frequently, the name is applied to works for multiple instruments.

24 Preludes and Fugues (Shostakovich) 1951 cycle of piano preludes and fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich

The 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87 by Dmitri Shostakovich are a set of 24 musical pieces for solo piano, one in each of the major and minor keys of the chromatic scale. The cycle was composed in 1950 and 1951 while Shostakovich was in Moscow, and premiered by pianist Tatiana Nikolayeva in Leningrad in December 1952; it was published the same year. A complete performance takes approximately 2 hours and 32 minutes. It is one of several examples of music written in all major and/or minor keys.

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Elena Kuschnerova is a Russian-born classical pianist.

C minor is a minor scale based on C, consisting of the pitches C, D, E, F, G, A, and B. Its key signature consists of three flats. Its relative major is E major and its parallel major is C major.

The prelude and fugue is a musical form generally consisting of two movements in the same key for solo keyboard. In classical music, the combination of prelude and fugue is one with a long history. Many composers have written works of this kind. The use of this format is generally inspired by Johann Sebastian Bach's two books of preludes and fugues — The Well-Tempered Clavier — completed in 1722 and 1742 respectively. Bach, however, was not the first to compose such a set: Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer wrote a 20-key cycle in his 1702 work Ariadne musica.

G minor Tonality

G minor is a minor scale based on G, consisting of the pitches G, A, B, C, D, E, and F. Its key signature has two flats. Its relative major is B-flat major and its parallel major is G major.

D minor Tonality

D minor is a minor scale based on D, consisting of the pitches D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. Its key signature has one flat. Its relative major is F major and its parallel major is D major.

F-sharp minor Minor scale

F-sharp minor is a minor scale based on F, consisting of the pitches F, G, A, B, C, D, and E. Its key signature has three sharps. Its relative major is A major and its parallel major is F-sharp major.

F minor Tonality

F minor is a minor scale based on F, consisting of the pitches F, G, A, B, C, D, and E. Its key signature consists of four flats. Its relative major is A-flat major and its parallel major is F major. Its enharmonic equivalent, E-sharp minor, has eight sharps, including the double sharp F, which makes it impractical to use.

E-flat minor is a minor scale based on E, consisting of the pitches E, F, G, A, B, C, and D. Its key signature consists of six flats. Its relative key is G-flat major and its parallel key is E-flat major. Its enharmonic equivalent, D-sharp minor, contains the same number of sharps.

Preludes (Chopin) Piano works by Frédéric Chopin

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Prelude in C minor, BWV 999

The Prelude in C Minor, BWV 999, is, according to its only extant 18th-century manuscript, a composition for lute by Johann Sebastian Bach. In the manuscript, conserved as Fascicle 19 of Bach P 804 at the Berlin State Library, Johann Peter Kellner wrote the piece down in keyboard notation. The time of origin of the work is not known: possibly Bach composed it in his Köthen period, that is, between 1717 and 1723, or the early years of his ensuing Leipzig period. Kellner's copy was produced after 1727, but before Bach's death in 1750.

<i>The Well-Tempered Clavier</i> Collection of keyboard music by J.S. Bach

The Well-Tempered Clavier, BWV 846–893, is two sets of preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. In the composer's time clavier, meaning keyboard, referred to a variety of instruments, most typically the harpsichord or clavichord but not excluding the organ.

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  1. "preludes" . Retrieved 9 April 2018 via The Free Dictionary.
  2. "Prelude - music". Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Ledbetter, David; Ferguson, Howard. "Prelude". Grove Music Online . Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 22 January 2014.(subscription required)
  4. Fabris, Dinko. "Tastar de corde". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 22 January 2014.(subscription required)
  5. Taruskin, Richard (24 June 2009). "The Chopinesque Miniature". The Oxford History of Western Music: Music in the Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 333–338. ISBN   978-0-19-979602-1.
  6. Stephen Pleskun (2012). A Chronological History of Australian Composers and Their Compositions - Vol. 3. Xlibris Corporation.[ self-published source ]
  7. Rombouts, Luc (2014). Singing Bronze: A History of Carillon Music. Translated by Communicationwise. Leuven University Press. pp. 113–115. ISBN   978-90-5867-956-7.

Further reading