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Prelude No. 4 (original key E minor), Largo A sorrowful, tragic piece whose melody continually drops by a halftone to the dominant.
The Preludes are a set of 24 short pieces written for the piano, one in each key, originally published in 1839. Although the term prelude is generally used to describe an introductory piece, Chopin’s Preludes stand as self-contained units, each meant to convey a specific idea or emotion.
Chopin’s Preludes have been compared to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Preludes in the Well-Tempered Clavier. However, each of Bach’s preludes leads to a fugue in the same key, and Bach’s pieces were arranged chromatically, while Chopin’s were arranged in a circle of fifths. Chopin wrote his Preludes between 1835 and 1839, partly at Valldemossa, Majorca where the composer spent the winter of 1838/9 and where he had fled with George Sand and her children to escape the damp Paris weather.
Due to apparent lack of formal structure and brevity, the Preludes caused some consternation among critics at the time of their publication. No prelude is longer than 90 measures (Prelude No. 17) and the shortest a mere 13 measures (Prelude No. 20). Robert Schumann said, "They are sketches, beginnings of etudes, or, so to speak, ruins, individual eagle pinions, all disorder and wild confusions."Franz Liszt’s opinion, however, may have been positive � "Chopin’s Preludes are compositions of an order entirely apart." Since that time, the Preludes have become standard fare for the average pianist. Many major performers have recorded the set, beginning with Alfred Cortot in 1926.