GCSE Music Area of Study 1 - Chopin: Piano Prelude

Edexcel GCSE Music Area of Study 1: Western Classical Music 1600-1899

  • Created by: Mel
  • Created on: 02-05-12 12:23

The Romantic era (c. 1800-1900)

Writers, artists and composers at this time were portraying feelings and nature in their work. They wanted to show contrasts - like love and hate, happiness and grief, life and death. As well as being inspired by the natural world, they were fascinated by supernatural ideas. 

Romantic composers: Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Chopin

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Frédéric Chopin (1810-49)

  • Born in Zelazowa Wola, near Warsaw, Poland to a Polish mother and French father 
  • Musical talents were recognized from an early age and he was playing piano concertos at the age of eight 
  • Attended the Warsaw Conservatoire of Music to study as a performer and composer 
  • In 1832 he travelled to Paris and became a sought-after teacher and performer 
  • His music reflects his love of his homeland of Poland in its use of Polish folk melodies and dance rhythms (such as the mazurka and polonaise) 
  • Suffered poor health and became desperately ill with tuberculosis 
  • In 1838, he moved to Majorca in attempt to improve his condition however the local inhabitants feared they would catch the disease and he was forced to seek exile in an isolated and derelict monastery in Valldemossa 
  • He composed the 'Raindrop' Prelude and completed the set of 24 preludes as well as the famous C♯ minor Scherzo 
  • A year later he had sadly split up from his lover and died at home in Paris on 17 October 1840
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Features of the Romantic Style of Music

  • emphasis on expressing a wide range of feelings and emotions in music 
  • melody lines becoming longer and far more developed 
  • more freedom for the composer in the use of form and structure of the music 
  • use of extended vocabulary of chords to create 7ths, 9ths, 11ths. The dominant 13th was the epitome of the Romantic chord. Other romantic chords included the diminished 7th, augmented 6th chord, neapolitan chord, etc. 
  • harmony is often chromatic and discordant to portray strong emotions such as grief and anguish 
  • inclusion of strong and varied dynamic contrasts (pppp-ffff) 
  • links to other art forms (art and literature) through the medium of program music
  • increased level of technical demand in the music and the related rise of the virtuoso composer (a person who has mastered the skills and techniques of their art form
  • rise of Nationalism (e.g. Chopin's use of polish folk melodies and dance rhythms in his piano music) 
  • significant expansion of the orchestra with enlarged sections and new instruments
  • development of the piano
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Development of the Piano

  • Orchestra grew much bigger during the romantic period 
  • Extra instruments were added to all sections, especially woodwind and percussion 
  • Brass instruments were able to play more notes as they had valves 
  • These changes meant that composers could write music with a larger range of texture, timbre and dynamics
  • The piano was reshaped and enlarged to create a greater sound, the number of notes increased in both treble and bass registers to seven octaves, giving a greater pitch range for musical expression 
  • Felt replaced leather on the hammers, producing a more rounded and fuller tone on the piano
  • Piano strings were longer, stronger and under increased tensions than previously 
  • Body frame of the piano was constructed of metal (as opposed to wood) to cope with the increased string tensions 
  • The sustaining and soft pedals were developed
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Chopin's Pianistic Style

Chopin was a fitting example of the Romantic artist - he was lonely, aloof and withdrawn - a talented but tragic figure, dying as he did at a relatively young age of 39. Chopin's legacy is found in the development of playing techniques to support the all-important melody line, including such typical features as: 

  • delicacy of long lyrical melodic lines with graceful ornamentation
  • spreading arpeggios 
  • simple, broken chord accompaniments with subtle pedaling effects 
  • discrete use of romantic tempo rubato in the music 
  • passages of rapid articulation and virtuosic display 
  • a range of touch and tone quality and a control of dynamics of volume
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Background to The Preludes (Op. 28)

The Preludes was written between 1835 and 1838 and published in 1839. At the time of publication, the works were criticized for a lack of recognizable structure and for their brevity. The shortest prelude is only 13 bars long, while the longest runs to only 90. The 'Raindrop' Prelude is one of the longest at 89 bars, and it has a clear ternary ABA structure with a contrasting B section in C♯ minor. 

A prelude is a brief 'opening' piece that sets a particular mood and is linked to a following fugue in the same key. However, the 24 Chopin pieces are all stand-alone preludes, each in a different key. Each prelude is meant to depict a specific idea or emotion. Although all the preludes, nocturne and etudes had romantic titles in early editions, these were not actually given by the composer.

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Chopin: Piano Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op.

The 'Raindrop' Prelude was written during Chopin's period of recuperation at the deserted monastery in Valldemossa, Majorca. The piece was written during a storm and the title relates to the dripping of raindrops from the roof of the monastery. In the piece, these are represented by: 

  • the continuously repeating A♭ s in section A, which is the dominant note of D♭ major 
  • the continuously repeating G♯s, the dominant note of C♯ minor (enharmonically the same note as A♭) in the middle section B. 

These repeated pedal notes pervade the work, but do not detract from the beauty of the melodic line.

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Chopin: Piano Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op.

  • Piece begins with a lyrical melody in the right hand decorated with ornaments 
  • Main tune is characterized by the falling motif F-D♭-A♭which sounds like a falling raindrop - falling motif was used in Renaissance times to represent sadness, melancholy and grief, sighing figure 
  • The melody features dotted rhythms and chromaticism 
  • Melody goes through B♭ minor, then back to D♭ major for the last few bars of the section where you can hear the opening melody again 
  • In section B, the melody moves to the bass, it has a narrower range and is made up of longer notes 
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Chopin: Piano Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op.

  • Stark contrasts between section A and B 
  • Clear structure - Ternary form (ABA) 
  • Three sections are quite unbalanced, over half the piece is section B (Romantic composers were free in the use of form and structure) 

Section A (bars 1-27) 

  • D♭ major 
  • Sostenuto (sustained), piano (soft) 
  • Right hand has the melody in regular four-bar phrases 
  • Simple left-hand quaver accompaniment incorporating repeated A♭s 
  • Homophonic texture 
  • Pedal markings - legato cantabile 
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Chopin: Piano Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op.

Section B (bars 28-75) 

  • Length and dramatic central section 
  • Melodic interest in the left hand with relentless G♯s in the right hand - ponderous, dark and stormy
  • Texture homophonic 
  • Fuller and robust sound with chords 
  • Range of notes increased with use of octaves 
  • Starts with sotto voce (in an undertone or whisper), builds to ff and bright sound E major at bar 40, falls away by bar 43, builds up again 
  • Sense of romantic passion an storm are found in this section 
  • C♯ minor

Reprise of Section A (bars 76-81) and Codetta (bars 81-89) 

  • Short restatement of opening section 
  • Music comes to an unexpected halt, two-bar monophonic melody phrase leads to six-bar chordal passage to bring to a quiet conclusion
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Chopin: Piano Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op.


  • Chromaticism used to add color and variation to the piece 
  • Discordant, helps convey strong emotions such as grief and anguish 


  • Wide range of dynamics (pp to ff) but no sudden contrasts - help add shape to the music 


  • Time signature 4/4 
  • Sostenuto (sustained)
  • Rubato used - allows performer to be freer and less restricted 
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Chopin: Piano Prelude No. 15 in D flat major, Op.


  • Complex rhythms used 
  • Repeated quavers are a unifying rhythmic feature throughout the piece 


  • Homophonic 
  • Monophonic texture at the end
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Sophie kendall


really good- don't suppose you could add colour



Very clear and exact!

Samuel Richardson


Excellent detail on the context in which this piece was composed is included in these cards, as well as some great analysis of the music. 

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