Chorale prelude

In music, a chorale prelude or chorale setting is a short liturgical composition for organ using a chorale tune as its basis. It was a predominant style of the German Baroque era and reached its culmination in the works of J.S. Bach, who wrote 46 (with a 47th unfinished) examples of the form in his Orgelbüchlein, along with multiple other works of the type in other collections.

This form was very used in Germany during the Baroque period, with variants:

harmonized chorale: vertical writing (in chords) with some contrapuntal writing elements (horizontal)…
chorale fugue: with subject, counter-subject, stretto, entertainment… (as in a fugue)
figurative chorale: with important counterpoint elements in imitation
choral decorated: with grace notes, passing notes, it is more melodic…
varied chorale: choral fantasy, mix with other forms…
These different versions were particularly illustrated by Johann Sebastian Bach’s many chorale preludes, including the forty-six of the Orgelbüchlein.

The liturgical function of a chorale prelude in the Baroque period is debated. One possibility is that they were used to introduce the hymn about to be sung by the congregation, usually in a Protestant, and originally in a Lutheran, church.

Chorale preludes are typically polyphonic settings, with a chorale tune, plainly audible and often ornamented, used as cantus firmus. Accompanying motifs are usually derived from contrapuntal manipulations of the chorale melody.

Notable composers of chorale preludes during the Baroque period include Dieterich Buxtehude, Johann Pachelbel and Johann Sebastian Bach. Examples also exist from the late 19th century, including works by Johannes Brahms and Max Reger.

Although this style of composition has typically been a polyphonic work, the melody is well audible, as in homophonic chants. From time to time there is an Obbligato above or below the melody.

The Form
Invariably the chorale prelude presents itself in the strophic form, as in the chorale — its extended version — but in a very brief presentation. Being its form represented by a simple “A A” or even a longer, canonical “A”, with variations between voices in which only the original theme of the choir is presented, in this second case the form is theme and variation, in which Bach uses the mirrored, inverted, retrograde theme, transposing the intervals into imitations of the original theme, etc. The Form can also be free, as in the Baroque it was custom to improvise on the continuous bass.

Baroque period
Among the old masters who wrote chorale preludes is Samuel Scheidt. His Tabulatura Nova [scores], containing several such works, was published in 1624. Sweelinck is also typical of the early Baroque period.

Chorale preludes also appear in the works of Dieterich Buxtehude and Georg Böhm. Over 40 chorale preludes by Buxtehude have survived to this day.

Johann Pachelbel’s compositions are another example of the form, with many of his chorale preludes elaborating upon Protestant chorale melodies.

The best-known composer of chorale preludes is Johann Sebastian Bach. His earliest extant compositions, works for organ which he possibly wrote before his fifteenth birthday, include the chorale preludes BWV 700, 724, 1091, 1094, 1097, 1112, 1113 and 1119.

In Bach’s early Orgelbüchlein (1708-1717), the chorale melody is usually in the upper part and the accompanying lower parts, while being highly elaborate in their harmonic and contrapuntal detail, the beginnings and endings of phrases generally coincide with those of the chorale. An example is “Jesu, meine Freude”, where the chorale melody in the upper part is supported by a closely woven and harmonically subtle counterpoint in three parts:

Peter Williams (1972, p. 27) says of the Orgelbüchlein: “Each approach to Bach’s organ chorales – their beauty, their ‘symbolism’, their mastery- is rewarding.” Williams continues (1972, p29) “One of the most remarkable features of most of the settings is that the accompaniment and the motifs from which it is composed are newly invented and are not related thematically to the melody.”

By contrast, in the prelude on Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 645) from the set of six Schübler Chorales, taken from earlier cantata movements, the accompaniment is a free-flowing obbligato which both derives from the chorale melody, yet seems to float independently over it. “The achieving of a melody independent of the cantus firmus, though in principle it is familiar in obbligato arias, is here unusually complete.” Julian Mincham (2010) sees an asymmetry here that is possibly rooted in the chorale itself “with its slightly puzzling mixture of different phrase lengths”:

Two melodic ideas from the chorale, labelled (a) and (b) above are embedded in the obbligato line:

Mincham says that while “theme and chorale are not designed to begin and end together… [they] fit together perfectly. Get to know the chorale and ritornello melodies well and the apparently effortless ways in which they inter-relate will become obvious. The important point is that they seem not to fit; but they do.”

Prelude Coral of Buxtehude
Chorale Prelude (and Magnificats) 177-224

BuxWV 177 – Ach Gott und Herr
BuxWV 178 – Ach Herr, mich armen Sünder
BuxWV 179 – Auf meinen lieben Gott
BuxWV 180 – Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam
BuxWV 181 – Danket dem Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich
BuxWV 182 – Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich
BuxWV 183 – Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt
BuxWV 184 – Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott
BuxWV 185 – Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort
BuxWV 186 – Es ist das Heil uns kommen her
BuxWV 187 – Es spricht der Unweisen Mund wohl
BuxWV 188 – Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
BuxWV 189 – Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
BuxWV 190 – Gott der Vater wohn uns bei
BuxWV 191 – Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn
BuxWV 192 – Herr Christ, der einig Gottes Sohn
BuxWV 193 – Herr Jesu Christ, ich weiß gar wohl
BuxWV 194 – Ich dank dir, lieber Herre
BuxWV 195 – Ich dank dir schon durch deinen Sohn
BuxWV 196 – Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
BuxWV 197 – In dulci jubilo
BuxWV 198 – Jesus Christus, unser Heiland
BuxWV 199 – Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
BuxWV 200 – Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott
BuxWV 201 – Kommt her zu mir, spricht Gottes Sohn
BuxWV 202 – Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich
(BuxWV 203 – Magnificat Primi Toni)
(BuxWV 204 – Magnificat Primi Toni)
(BuxWV 205 – Magnificat Noni Toni)
BuxWV 206 – Mensch, willt du leben seliglich
BuxWV 207 – Nimm von uns, Herr
BuxWV 208 – Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist
BuxWV 209 – Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist
BuxWV 210 – Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g’mein
BuxWV 211 – Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
BuxWV 212 – Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren
BuxWV 213 – Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren
BuxWV 214 – Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren
BuxWV 215 – Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren
BuxWV 216 – The Lux beata, Trinitas
BuxWV 217 – Puer natus in Bethlehem
(BuxWV 218 – Te Deum laudamus)
BuxWV 219 – Vater unser in Himmelreich
BuxWV 220 – Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
BuxWV 221 – Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
BuxWV 222 – War Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit
BuxWV 223 – Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
BuxWV 224 – Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ

Bach Prelude
The choral preludes of the Orgelbüchlein “Little Book of Organ” (in Portuguese ) occur in the festivities of the liturgical year

BWV 599 – Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
BWV 600 – Gott, durch deine Güte (or Gottes Sohn ist kommen)
BWV 601 – Herr Christ, der einge Gottes-Sohn (or Herr Gott, nun sei gepreiset)
BWV 602 – Lob sei dem allmächtigen Gott

BWV 603 – Puer natus in Bethlehem
BWV 604 – Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
BWV 605 – Der Tag, der ist so freudenreich
BWV 606 – Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her
BWV 607 – Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schar
BWV 608 – In dulci jubilo
BWV 609 – Lobt Gott, ihr Christen, allzugleich
BWV 610 – Jesu, meine Freude
BWV 611 – Christum wir sollen loben schon
BWV 612 – Wir Christenleut

New Year
BWV 613 – Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen
BWV 614 – Das alte Jahre vergangen ist
BWV 615 – In dir ist Freude

Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
BWV 616 – Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
BWV 617 – Herr Gott, nun schleuß den Himmel auf

BWV 618 – The Lamm Gottes, unschuldig
BWV 619 – Christe, du Lamm Gottes
BWV 620 – Christus, der uns selig macht
BWV 621 – Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund
BWV 622 – The Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß
BWV 623 – Wir danken dir, Herr Jesu Christ
BWV 624 – Hilf, Gott, daß mir’s gelinge
The Traurigkeit, the Herzeleid (fragment)
BWV 625 – Christ lag in Todesbanden
BWV 626 – Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod überwand
BWV 627 – Christ ist erstanden
BWV 628 – Erstanden ist der heilge Christ
BWV 629 – Erschienen ist der herrliche Tag
BWV 630 – Heut triumphieret Gottes Sohn
BWV 631 – Komm, Gott Schöpfer, Heiliger Geist
BWV 632 – Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu uns wend
BWV 634 – Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier
BWV 633 – Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier (distinctius)

Preludes based on the Hymns of Catechism
BWV 635 – Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot
BWV 636 – Vater unser im Himmelreich
BWV 637 – Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt
BWV 638 – Es ist das Heil uns kommen her
BWV 639 – Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ
BWV 640 – In dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr
BWV 641 – Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein
BWV 642 – Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten
BWV 643 – Alle Menschen müssen sterben
BWV 644 – Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig

Besides Bach, the Age Baroque also had special importance of Pachelbel with his choral preludes who contributed much to establish the tunes choir of Protestantism in Northern Germany.

Romantic period and twentieth century
There are several examples of 19th- and 20th-century chorale preludes, such as the Eleven Chorale Preludes by Johannes Brahms, César Franck, Max Reger’s and Samuel Barber’s. Works such as these continue to be produced nowadays such as Helmut Walcha’s four volumes and the seven volumes of Flor Peeters.

Johannes Brahms Prelude
Op. 122, Eleven Corals Preludes for Organ (1896)

No. 1 Mein Jesu, der du mich
No. 2 Herzliebster Jesu, was hast du verbrochen
No. 3 O Welt, ich muss dich lassen
No. 4 Herzlich tut mich erfreuen
No. 5 Schmücke dich, o Liebe Seele
No. 6 The wie selig seid ihr doch, ihr Frommen
No. 7 The Gott, du frommer Gott
No. 8 Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen
No. 9 Herzlich tut mich verlangen
No. 10 Herzlich tut mich verlangen (second version)
No. 11 O Welt, ich muss dich lassen (second version)

Max Reger
Reger composed, among others, 52 chorale preludes, Op. 67, Chorale Preludes for Organ, Op. 79b (1900–04) and 30 small chorale preludes, Op. 135a (1914).

Coral Prelude to Organ, op. 79b (1900-1904)

No. 1 ‘Ach Gott, verlaß mich nicht
No. 2 ‘Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott
No. 3 ‘Herr, nun selbst den Wagen halt’
No. 4 ‘Morgenglanz der Ewigkeit
No. 5 ‘Mit Fried und Freud fahr ich dahin’
No. 6 ‘We weiss, wie nahe mir mein Ende’
No. 7 ‘Auferstehn, ja auferstehn wirst Du’
No. 8 ‘Christ ist erstanden von dem Tod’
No. 9 ‘Christus, Der ist mein Leben’
No. 10 ‘Mit Fried und Freud fahr ich dahin’
No. 11 ‘Nun danket alle Gott’
No. 12 ‘Herr, nun selbst den Wagen halt
No. 13 ‘Warum solit ich mich gramen’

In Addition to Max Reger’s Opus 79b, he also composed 30 Small Corals Preludes, op. 135a (1914)

Source from Wikipedia