Prelude

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The very first preludes were lute compositions of the Renaissance era. They were free improvisations and served as brief introductions to larger pieces of music or particular larger and more complex movements; lutenists also used them to test the instrument or the acoustics of the room before performing. 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 1710s. 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....
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