Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

George P. Sanders


A study of the prelude, the oldest form of idiomatic music for keyboard instruments, offers insight into the heart of piano music. This thesis, a survey of the genre, traces the evolution of the prelude from its roots in the organ improvisations of the fifteenth century to the present century. Although the paper deals exclusively with piano preludes in the chapters after "Preludes of J. S. Bach," the chapters devoted to the organ and harpsichord preludes reveal crucial information necessary to enlightened appreciation of the development of the genre.

Originally a purely functional piece, the prelude allowed the performer to limber his fingers or to evaluate the intonation of his instrument. Identified as unattached preludes, these pieces were antecedents to any other pice of the same key.

By the time of the Baroque Period (1600), preludes were usually paired with fugues or used as preliminary suite movements; thus they have been described as attached preludes.

It was Chopin who was responsible for the development of the independent prelude, a character piece.

This thesis discusses each of these three types of preludes; several musical examples are included. The appendix lists selected preludes for piano, and the bibliography provides additional information on the subject.

Included in

Musicology Commons