MUS 311 Counterpoint
R. Forms Based on the Chorale, Chapter 18
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Chorale prelude--originated as an organ
composition designed to be performed during the church service
before or after the singing of the chorale. Today the term is
used in a general sense to refer to works that elaborate on a
chorale, excluding straightforward harmonizations of chorale
Most chorale preludes make use of four voices; some
use three; few use five, six, or only two voices.
Principle Elements Relating to Chorale Preludes:
The chorale melody is based on a cantus firmus
(c.f.). In original form, c.f. were written in long-note
values (1/2 notes or longer), and the preludes sometimes retain this
- The fermata was used to mark the last note of each phrase in the
original form of the chorale tunes, although they may not have been
held. In chorale preludes, fermatas are often omitted.
When they are included, they are not held; the motion
continues in strict time.
- Motivic material (from c.f.) is usually derived from the
beginning, and generally involves shorter time values and much
greater rhythmic interest.
- Other material (not derived from c.f.) sometimes accompanies
either or both of the above (#3, #4).
Chorale Prelude Types
- Type 1: Embellished harmonization. The chorale
melody is harmonized in four voices that are plentifully decorated
with: passing tones, neighboring tones, suspensions, or other
nonharmonic or harmonic tones.
- Generally, the c.f. receives less embellishment than the other
- This type is not drastically different than the basic unadorned
- Type 2: Ornamented cantus firmus. The chorale
melody (usually top voice) is ornamented, often quite elaborately,
while accompanying parts remain relatively simple. Sometimes
notes of the original c.f. are shifted in the process of
- Type 3: Motivic accompaniment. C.f. is stated,
usually in top voice, while accompanied by motivic material in all
- Type 4: Canonic. The c.f., or motivic material,
or both, are treated canonically.
- Type 5: Material derived from C.F. The c.f. in
its original form does not appear, but the motivic material used is
derived from some portion of it, usually the first line, or from
several different portions in turn. The approach is generally
imitative and sectional.
Types 1-5 are usually of relatively small proportions. Types
6-8 are generally more extended, with occasional gaps--sometimes of
considerable length--between phrases of the c.f.
- Type 6: Phrases of the c.f. superimposed periodically on
imitative material that is essentially the same throughout.
- There is an opening section involving imitation in successive
entrances, usually based on material derived from the first phrase
of the c.f. (vorimitation). Vorimitation--"imitation
- This portion may suggest the beginning of an invention or fugue if
I-V entrances are involved.
- Against continuation of this material, the first phrase of the
c.f. appears in longer values. This voice then drops out while
the original material continues.
- The second phrase of the c.f. is introduced until the entire
chorale melody has been heard.
- Type 7: Phrases of the c.f. superimposed periodically on
imitative material that changes for each phrase.
- A new motive (or subject) is introduced in the vorimitation
preceding each phrase of the chorale--the motive being derived from
the phrase that follows.
- The imitative entrances may be made at any interval.
- Type 8: Ritornelle with chorale (ritornello = return).
In this type, there is an opening section (preceding the first
phrase of the c.f.) that is constructed in period design,
rather than imitatively as with types 6 & 7. This type has
the quality of a theme.
All chorale preludes do not fall into these eight types. Some have
elements of two or more types.
Use of the Chorale Melody in Various Voices
- The c.f. is most often placed in the top voice in chorale
preludes, but it may appear in any voice throughout the composition.
- Each phrase is finished by the voice that started it.
- Baroque chorale variations generally use the complete c.f. as the
basis for each variation.
- The term partita originally meant
"variation." Therefore, many sets of chorale
variations of the 17th and 18th centuries are titled
- These are extremely free works, sometimes based on only a portion
of the c.f.-- sections not so sharply defined.
- This term is applied to any fugue with a chorale basis.
- Usually the subject is derived from the first phrase of a chorale
melody; sometimes two or more phrases are used in turn.
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