(Ger. Choral Vorspiel).
From the custom of playing org. preludes and interludes to the chorale grew the technique of 2 special forms of comp., one based upon a treatment of the chorale melody, often taken line by line and surrounded by other melodic parts woven together into elaborate counterpoint, and the other not reproducing the chorale intact but suggesting it to the minds of the hearers by taking its first few notes as the theme to be elaborated. For a north Ger. congregation, to whom the melodies were all known from childhood, such a piece of organ mus. had great interest and significance.
Among the composers who helped to develop this form were Sweelinck (1562–1621), Scheidt (1587–1654), Pachelbel (1653–1706), Buxtehude (1637–1707), Reinken (1623–1722), and Böhm (1661–1733). Such of Bach's forebears as were orgs. also took their part in the working out of the form, and he himself crowned the labours of all his predecessors and contemporaries.
In addition to the Chorale Preludes of Bach there are certain early works which he called Chorale Partitas, the word partita here, as with certain other composers, having not the usual sense of a suite but of an air with variations. The no. of variations corresponds to the number of the verses of the hymns, and each variation seems to be designed to re‐express the thought of the corresponding verse. Since Bach many other Ger. composers have written chorale preludes, Brahms's last comp., Op.122, being a set of 11.
To some extent the same form was cultivated in Eng. Purcell has a Voluntary on the Old Hundredth that, in its way, is on the lines of the Bach Chorale Prelude.