Prelude and Fugue in A
Solo keyboard pieces like this prelude and fugue were not common in the Baroque period. However, some significant works for solo keyboard did exist. Bach and Buxtehude wrote significant numbers of solo keyboard works (for example, The Well-Tempered Klavier, by J.S. Bach). The piano did not exist at that time. The keyboards available to composers and musicians at that time were far less versatile. They had the organ, the harpsichord, and the clavier; but each of these instruments had limited capacity in terms of volume control. In the case of the organ, you could pull out more stops, but even then, you were talking about sharply graduated stages of volume. The organ did not have the same level of artistic expressiveness as the piano.
Around 1700, Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano. Composers became excited about the possibilities for the instrument, and the literature for solo keyboard music exploded. The “fortepiano,” (“the loud-quiet,” in Italian) was highly versatile. You could control how loudly or quietly you could play on it. Thus, the name.
In the Baroque period, prior to the classical version of the sonata form, which came to dominate two centuries of instrumental classical musical form in one way or another, a very popular formal practice was to take a form, such as a fugue, fuguetto, fantasia, toccata, passacaglia, etc., and put a prelude in front of it, to compile a nice little two-movement piece. The prelude and fugue, in particular, was a form that produced a lot of great keyboard music, mostly because of J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Klavier.
Some Notes on Prelude and Fugue in A
This piece is a prelude and fugue. It’s part of my series Preludes and Fugues, most of which are not tonal, but do have a tonal center (thus, there will be twelve of them, one for each scale degree, rather than twenty-four, which would be one for each key). This one is (it is in a minor), however, it is titled as simply in “A,” not “a minor,” in order to be in keeping with the rest of the series.
The entire piece is somewhat slow and melancholy, which I find appropriate; a minor sounds gray and melancholy to my ear. This is a Baroque style piece, but it also uses some modernist techniques.
The Prelude, while largely tonal, does drift into polytonality, and does flirt with modalism. There are some very discreet moments of dissonance, as well. It also has a certain recitative structure. As an aside, until the Romantic period, when Chopin published his groundbreaking book of 24 Preludes, it was considered improper to compose a prelude as a standalone piece; it was always a prelude to something, meaning that it was expected that another, longer piece was to follow it. Since then, however, the prelude has come to be recognized as a musical form all to itself. In keeping with the original intent of the prelude, the prelude in this piece precedes a fugue.
The fugue, in this case, is quite short. It is in three parts. Unlike its prelude, it is more or less strictly tonal.