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A prelude is a short, improvisatory piece of music. It may be considered a "preface" or refer to an overture in operas or oratorios. Although the form of a prelude may vary, it generally features rhythmic and melodic motifs throughout the piece.

In the Baroque era, preludes were used as an introduction to works that were longer and more complex. After J.S. Bach composed two books of preludes and fugues in 1742, "The Well-Tempered Clavier," preludes started to be regularly paired with fugues. In the Romantic era, preludes evolved to be introductory or stand alone works.


A fugue is a contrapuntal piece. Fugues evolved in the 18th century from earlier contrapuntal forms. They are built on a subject or theme recurring frequently in two or more voices. A fugue may develop multiple themes at the same time, called double, triple, or quadruple fugues.

A fugue usually has three main sections:

Exposition: The theme is introduced in all voices

Development: Themes are repeated, developed, and may be accompanied by episodes.

Final Entries and Coda: The subject is reintroduced in the fugue’s tonic key. A coda is a passage that bring the piece to an end.


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Below is Bach’s Fugue in G Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. Look for the beginning theme in each of the voices.


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