Chopin and the Prelude

Frédéric Chopin

A black and white photograph of Chopin.
Frédéric Chopin

Born in 1810, Chopin is one of the most influential composers and pianists from the Romantic period. As a virtuoso pianist himself, Chopin wrote primarily for solo piano and revolutionised piano writing through his techniques. Originally from Poland, Chopin made a name for himself in Vienna before settling in Paris.

However, Chopin suffered from ill health during his lifetime and died in Paris at the age of just 39. He composed 24 preludes, 27 études (or studies) 21 nocturnes, four impromptus, two piano concertos and many more pieces for smaller ensembles.

Chopin transformed piano writing by exploring the full potential of the instrument. Features of his music include the use of ornamentation, the use of rubato, the complex division of beats, extensive use of the pedal and, above all, lyrical and expressive melodies.

Polish folk tunes and native dance forms influenced Chopin’s piano writing. Many of his piano solos were based on the dances waltz, bolero and tarantello, and included the Polish dances polonaise and mazurka.

Chopin wrote a set of 24 preludes for solo piano, one in every major and minor key. The preludes are short pieces of music and can be performed as a set or on their own. Prelude No.15 in D♭ major, also known as the ‘Raindrop’, is taken from this set of preludes and completed in 1839.

The Prelude

Chopin’s preludes were highly innovative. In previous musical periods, the prelude was an introduction to another movement, for example in Bach’s 48 preludes and fugues. Chopin’s 24 preludes can be performed individually or as a set.

Each prelude has different musical characteristics. The preludes also have contrasting tempos and range from lento to presto.

Many also have nicknames like the Raindrop. It is often said that this refers to the persistent repeated notes (A♭) which sound like rain falling. However, Chopin disliked descriptive titles and he did not devise this nickname.