Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun An introductory performance, event, or action preceding a more important one; a preliminary or preface.
  • noun A piece or movement that serves as an introduction to another section or composition and establishes the key, such as one that precedes a fugue, opens a suite, or precedes a church service.
  • noun A similar but independent composition for the piano.
  • noun The overture to an oratorio, opera, or act of an opera.
  • noun A short composition of the 1400s and early 1500s written in a free style, usually for keyboard.
  • intransitive verb To serve as a prelude to.
  • intransitive verb To introduce with or as if with a prelude.
  • intransitive verb To serve as a prelude or introduction.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • To preface; prepare the way for; introduce as by a prelude; foreshadow.
  • Specifically, in music, to play a prelude to; introduce by a musical prelude.
  • To serve as a prelude to; precede as a musical prelude.
  • To perform a prelude or introduction; give a preface to later action; especially, in music, to play a prelude, or introductory passage or movement, before beginning a principal composition.
  • To serve as a prelude or introduction; especially, to constitute a musical prelude.
  • noun An introductory performance; a preliminary to an action, event, or work of broader scope and higher importance; a preface; presage; foreshadowing.
  • noun In music, a prefatory or introductory piece, section, or movement, either extended and more or less independent, as in many elaborate fugues, in suites and sonatas, in oratorios and operas, or brief and strictly connected with what is to follow, as in various shorter works and at the opening of church services and before hymns. The organ prelude to a church service is often called a voluntary. Compare intrada, introduction, overture, vorspiel, etc.
  • noun Synonyms Preface, etc. (see introduction), preliminary.
  • noun See overture

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • transitive verb To introduce with a previous performance; to play or perform a prelude to.
  • transitive verb To serve as prelude to; to precede as introductory.
  • noun An introductory performance, preceding and preparing for the principal matter; a preliminary part, movement, strain, etc.; especially (Mus.), a strain introducing the theme or chief subject; a movement introductory to a fugue, yet independent; -- with recent composers often synonymous with overture.
  • intransitive verb To play an introduction or prelude; to give a prefatory performance; to serve as prelude.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun An introductory or preliminary performance or event; a preface.
  • noun music A short piece of music that acts as an introduction to a longer piece.
  • verb To introduce something, as a prelude.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • verb play as a prelude
  • noun something that serves as a preceding event or introduces what follows
  • verb serve as a prelude or opening to
  • noun music that precedes a fugue or introduces an act in an opera

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Medieval Latin praelūdium, from Latin praelūdere, to play beforehand : prae-, pre- + lūdere, to play; see leid- in Indo-European roots.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

From Middle French prelude ("singing to test a musical instrument"), from Latin preludium, from earlier Latin praeludere.

Examples

  • The move from women in tutus doing story ballets like Swan Lake to people in sweat pants running around the stage like gymnasts while a Bach prelude is played over the PA system did a great deal to marginalize the popularity of ballet.

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  • The tenuous cloud floats near the volcano's mouth, as if in prelude to an eruption.

    A Space in Time

  • The tenuous cloud floats near the volcano's mouth, as if in prelude to an eruption.

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  • She had been gone about an hour, when the sky suddenly darkened, the wind rose and the thunder rolled in prelude to the storm.

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  • This intricate web of departments and agencies, massively staffed, is technically controlled by the president, but often seems to control him, whether through Cabinet brawls of clashing egos or interagency turf wars -- a specialty in the Bush years, particularly during the first-term prelude to Iraq, when ideological differences pitted Donald Rumsfeld and his hawks at Defense against Colin Powell's diplomats at State, with Condoleezza Rice, in her small redoubt at the National Security Council, squeezed out altogether.

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  • It came as South Korea and the United States hold an annual military exercise that North Korea calls a prelude to an invasion.

    South Korea Probes Internet, GPS Disruptions

  • His first record was of the 24 preludes that Chopin published in 1839, and I thought we'd listen to a little bit of the "Raindrop" prelude, which is the most popular one.

    Chopin With A Polish Touch

  • His first record was of the 24 preludes that Chopin published in 1839, and I thought we'd listen to a little bit of the "Raindrop" prelude, which is the most popular one.

    Chopin With A Polish Touch

  • His first record was of the 24 preludes that Chopin published in 1839, and I thought we'd listen to a little bit of the "Raindrop" prelude, which is the most popular one.

    Chopin With A Polish Touch

  • Since February, the Army has had the power to patrol the streets jointly with the police, a measure that many called a prelude to martial law.

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