Silvius Leopold Weiss and the Improvised Prelude

Crawford, Tim. 2020. Silvius Leopold Weiss and the Improvised Prelude. Journal of the Lute Society fo America, 53, pp. 105-144. ISSN 0076-1524 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

The prelude, whether pre-composed or improvised, presented an opportunity for lute players of all periods to demonstrate their skill in improvisation and exploit their powers of musical expression in a very personal way. The preludes and fantasias of Silvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) demonstrate a masterful continuation of the same tradition. This article aims to show that some pre- ludes in lute manuscripts from the middle of the eighteenth century contain features that are related with attempts to emulate Weiss’s powers of improvisation. Unmeasured preludes for lute survive in larger numbers than the well-known French repertory for the harpsichord. Some are based—at least in their openings—on standard gestures; in particular, a common d-minor melodic formula can be found in at least twenty-five examples from the 1650s through to Weiss’s early years of maturity. Otherwise, a basic harmonic sequence provided a flexible structure for preludes as shown in sketches or more complete examples in many sources. After a brief discussion of some prominent features of improvised music, the article focusses on a group of manuscripts from Silesia showing that some passages within written-out preludes in these sources are extracts from other works, including by Weiss himself, suggesting that quotation may have been a step on the way to learning to compose.

Item Type:



Prelude, Fantasia, improvisation, Silvius Leopold Weiss, Johann Michael Kühnel, David Kellner

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Computing > Intelligent Sound and Music Systems



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

02 Feb 2023 17:15

Last Modified:

02 Feb 2023 17:15

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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