Unmeasured preludes (the origin of the preludes)

An example of unmeasured preludes for lute by Nicolas Bouvier (1638)

The Prelude:

The prelude is a style that is somewhat personal, flexible, and improvisatory. The rationale behind such a conception traces back to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, when very early (notated) preludes appeared and were being developed.

According to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, the noticeable qualities of the prelude are idiomatic virtuosity, rhythmic freedom, and loose thematic construction. The tiento, toccata, ricercar, fantasia, arpeggiata, tastata, and entrada are all virtually identical in style and function to the prelude.

The very early examples of the preludes are thought to be freely composed small improvisatory pieces for organ, lute, and other Renaissance string instruments, and used as an introduction to the main works or a warming up.

 

Unmeasured preludes:

In the 17th century, French lutenists and harpsichordists developed the unmeasured prelude. An unmeasured prelude is a prelude with neither time signature nor bar lines and often has very few note-value indications. Because of this, rhythmic interpretation is mostly left to the performer, resulting in the music being highly improvisatory.

An example of unmeasured preludes for lute by Nicolas Bouvier (1638)
An example of unmeasured preludes for lute by Nicolas Bouvier (1638)

 

An example of Louis Couperin's unique notation for unmeasured preludes
An example of Louis Couperin's unique notation for unmeasured preludes

 

Two samples of unmeasured prelude and fantasy outside France:

An excerpt from Prelude from Sonata No.3 in G minor by a German composer Silvius Leopold Weiss (tablature )
An excerpt from Prelude from Sonata No.3 in G minor by a German composer Silvius Leopold Weiss (tablature )

 

An excerpt from Prelude from Sonata No.3 in G minor by a German composer Silvius Leopold Weiss (modern notation)
An excerpt from Prelude from Sonata No.3 in G minor by a German composer Silvius Leopold Weiss (modern notation)

 

An exerpt of Fantasia in C minor by Silvius Leopold Weiss (tablature)
An exerpt of Fantasia in C minor by Silvius Leopold Weiss (tablature)

 

Fantasia in E by Silvius Leopold Weiss
Fantasia in E by Silvius Leopold Weiss