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prelude (prāˈlo͞od), musical composition of no universal style, usually for the keyboard. It was originally used to precede a ceremony and later a second, often larger piece. Early preludes represent the first example of idiomatic keyboard music. During the baroque period the prelude formed the first movement of suites and fugues. The most widely known preludes, those written for the piano by Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy and Aleksandr Scriabin, are independent works with no introductory function.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an instrumental musical piece, usually a solo. Originally a prelude was a short introduction to any piece and was played by a lute, a stringed-keyboard instrument, or an organ. Especially in its early form, it is characterized by an improvisational style, free development, figurate treatment of the material, and the application from beginning to end of a single manner of execution, which makes it close to the genre of the étude. Preludes have often been designated by other names, including a praeambula, intrada, recercari, and fantasia.

In the 18th century composers wrote preludes as independent pieces, chiefly for stringed-keyboard instruments. At the same time, above all in the work of J. S. Bach, the prelude was combined with the fugue, becoming a standard short cyclic form. Bach also established the large cyclic form that combines preludes and fugues and embraces all the major and minor keys, for example, the first and second volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Similar forms were created later, for example, Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues for piano. In addition, a cyclic form consisting only of preludes, also in all keys, was developed by such composers as F. Chopin, A. N. Scriabin, C. Debussy, and D. B. Kabalevskii.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a. a piece of music that precedes a fugue, or forms the first movement of a suite, or an introduction to an act in an opera, etc.
b. (esp for piano) a self-contained piece of music
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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