Opera & Operetta

Intro Italian Opera French Opera German Opera English Opera Slavic Opera Operetta
Classical Music Glossary


The two big scenic genres of classical music - opera and ballet - needs no exhaustive presentation. Operatic and ballet music is almost always highly dramatic, sometimes pompous, composed and designed as it is to highlight what is happening on the stage. Below we present the operas and operettas, to find the ballets see the Ballet & Stage Music page. There you'll also find the cross-genre 'opera-ballet'.


Opera’s origins are typically traced to the dramas of ancient Greece, though the Egyptians had been performing the 'Heb-Sed' (Feast of the Tail) for 2,000 years previously. The Heb-Sed evolved into passion plays in which the Egyptians acted out stories from Egypt’s glorious past set to music and singing. Then in the Medieval era and with Christianity came lithurgical Easter and Christmas plays, which were performed to music. Such are usually regarded the true precursors to opera. The most famous of these pre-operatic church dramas is the 'Quem Queritis' (Whom do you seek?) play about a group of women who go to Christ’s tomb to anoint his body. As these plays evolved, they became more theatrical and less religious.

The very first attempt at opera is the Renaissance composer Jacopo Peri's Dafne. But the manuscript is lost. The earliest surviving opera, also by Peri, is Euridice which was performed in Florence in 1600. Opera quickly spread from Florence to Rome, Venice, and all other major cities in Italy. It should be noted though that these early attempts has little in common with what we today associate with opera. The music was secondary to the story in Jacopo Peri's operas, and as such they're far from the mark.

The prize for being the first genuine opera - still regularly performed - goes to the early Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi and his L'Orfeo. The first public opera house, San Cassiano, opened in Venice in 1637 where Monteverdi, 'the father of opera', shifted the emphasis from a more dialogue-based opera to a more musical opera.

However, early Italian operas were more or less unsophisticated blends of comedy and tragedy that jarred some educated sensibilities. This circumstance sparked the first reform movement of opera, creating 'opera seria' (serious opera). Along came the French in the middle Baroque and created their version of this, the noble and elevated opera sub-genre 'tragédie en musique'.

Many operas of the Baroque incorporated dance, especially the French ones, some to an extent where it became a genre in its own right; 'opera-ballet'. It would take until the late Baroque period and Handel, working outside the mainstream genres in order to suite his London audience, for opera to reach a form we're more accustomed to today. In those days French and Italian style opera were two very different things. Handel drew upon Italian opera, which to this day is the dominant style of the operatic genre.

The Classical period saw a rebirth of opera. During the previous middle and late Baroque periods opera in general and Italian opera in particular had deteriorated to a venue for singers, with endless solos piled on each other. The opera was devoid of the dramatic, good for the careers of the castrato singers but disastrous for the art of opera as such. Along came Christoph Willibald Gluck with a manifesto for the reformation of opera. To achieve genuine 'music theater' the libretto must be carefully selected and given a stronger position. Hence the roles must be played better, the recitative legion, the singers must stop improvising and so on.

Mozart, in many ways Gluck's successor, combined a superb sense of drama, harmony and melody to write a series of successful operas, some of which was in the sub-genre 'opera buffa', the comic sibling of opera seria. Mozart also established the German-language music drama 'singspiel' as an operatic genre with operas such as The Magic Flute. Opera history is not seldom divided into pre-Mozart and post-Mozart.

The Romantic period's emphasis on emotions proved to be the perfect breeding ground for opera: Neither before nor since has there been so much opera about. The Italian opera flourished in the beginning of the 19th century, not only as in 'sung in Italian' but also as in 'made in Italy'. These were the days of the great Italian opera composers: Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, and Verdi. Puccini is usually regarded as a Post Romantic composer.

The Romantic period is also the era of German opera beyond the 'singspiel' precursor. German opera had its birth with Weber and his Der Freischütz. More important though in this respect is the man and the operas that peaked the whole genre and has yet to be surpassed: Richard Wagner and his awesome music dramas in which everything in the arts is put together in a total artwork consisting of poetry, drama, music, singing and extraordinary stage design.

Last but not least the Russian and Czech entry of the opera stage, and of course the ever present French. There's opera everywhere in the Romantic period. The art of opera in the following Post Romantic transition is dominated by the heritage of Wagner. Debussy's Pelléas et Melisande mimics Wagner in that the orchestra plays a leading role and that there are no real arias, only recitative. Richard Strauss also accepted Wagnerian ideas but took them in slightly new directions, pushing the envelope of tonality.

In Italy they had their own trend though: The sentimental yet realistic melodrama of 'verismo' (realism), as composed by Mascagni, Leoncavallo and the great master Puccini. And in Central Europe the Czech gentleman Janácek, said to have been influenced by Puccini, received international attention for his highly qualitative Post Romantic operas.

One indicator that you might be listening to Modern period opera, or operetta, is the use of English. There was of course English-language opera before this period (Blow, Purcell, Arne, Gay) but the 20th century finally meant its breakthrough. The big name here is Benjamin Britten, the Briton with a true passion for opera. He founded The English Opera Group and the Aldeburgh Festival, an annual arts festival focusing on classical music. His fellow countrymen Vaughan Williams and Tippett added to the British picture, and in America composers such as Barber, Menotti and Gershwin did their part, the latter with his jazz styled opera Porgy and Bess.

The beginnings of operatic modernism was not English though, this must be attributed to Schoenberg and Berg. Composers influenced by their atonal style include Britten and Shostakovich. Then there's the individualists Bartók and Stravinsky, of course.


Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, especially in English-language works, to the musicals. Most musicologists acknowledge that the credit for creating the operetta form should go to the Romantic period singer, conductor, librettist, and composer Hervé. After him came the French master of the genre, Offenbach, who's operettas gave the genre an enormous vogue in the middle Romantic period.

The German operetta broke the opera mould via Johann Strauss the younger. His third operetta, Die Fledermaus, became the most performed operetta in the world, and possibly still is. The Viennese operetta tradition he started was carried on by composers such as Franz von Suppé and Franz Lehár. Meanwhile in England the composing duo Gilbert and Sullivan solidified the format there. Their works, such as H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado, continue to enjoy popularity throughout the English-speaking world.

After World War I the Germans entered this scene. Berlin operetta often had its own style, including elements of jazz and other syncopated dance rhythms, also sometimes including aspects of burlesque, revue, farce, or cabaret. Kurt Weill took the Berlin operetta style and used it in his operas, operettas, and musicals. And in America composers like Scott Joplin and Leonard Bernstein insisted that their works were operas, but most consider them operettas and rightfully so.

Italian Opera


A "tragedia lirica" in two acts. Bellini's best-known opera, a paradigm of Romantic operas. The final act of this work is often noted for the originality of its orchestration.
Casta Diva
From Act I: The very famous Casta Diva aria.


Lucia di Lammermoor
This is a 'dramma tragico' in three acts. Donizetti's most famous tragic opera. Lucia's so called 'Mad Scene', sung at a concert.
Chi mi frena in tal momento?
At the end of Act II, the sextet 'Chi mi frena in tal momento?'.
Spargi d'amaro pianto
Following the mad scene of Act III comes the aria 'Spargi d'amaro pianto'.
Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali
Closing Act III and thus ending the opera, Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali.


Orfeo ed Euridice / Orphée et Euridice
1762 & 1774. Wq 30 & Wq 41.
An 'azione teatrale' opera in three acts. Gluck's most popular opera. The first work in which the composer tried to reform the excesses of Italian opera seria. Available in two versions: The original Orfeo ed Euridice with Italian libretto from 1762 and the Orphée et Euridice with French libretto from 1774. A dance part from the opera, 'Dance of the Blessed Spirits' has become very popular.
Danza degli spiriti beati / Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Ballet: Andante No 1 ('Dance of the Blessed Spirits') from Act II.
Che farò senza Euridice?
From Act III, the aria 'Che farò senza Euridice?'.


L'Orfeo / Orhpeus
1607. SV 318.
Five acts. Also called 'L'Orfeo, favola in musica' or 'La favole d'Orfeo' because 'favola' was the contemporary term for the operas by Peri and Monteverdi.

This work is revolutionary in two ways: First of all it's the first genuine opera, widely regarded as the first operatic masterwork, passing out of earlier opera's experimental stage. Secondly, in the third act Orfeo moves beyond the recitatives, singing alone and about himself: 'Orfeo son io' (I am Orfeo) in the aria 'Possente spirto'. This is by musical scholars considered the birth of the opera aria.
Possene spirto
Not the greatest aria ever, admittedly. But the first.
L'incoronazione di Poppea
1642-43. SV 308.
'The Coronation of Poppea' was Monteverdi's last opera, composed for a Venetian audience, often performed today. Its Venetian context helps to explain the complete absence of the moralizing tone often associated with opera of this time. It's based on the life of the Roman emperor Nero.
Pur ti miro, Pur ti godo
From Act III, the closing scene of the opera, the duet 'Pur ti miro'.


Le nozze de Figaro / The Marriage of Figaro
1786. K 492.
Opera buffa in four acts. Complete name is 'Le nozze di Figaro, ossia la folle giornata' (The Marriage of Figaro, or The Day of Madness). This opera is the first of the famous series of Mozart operas set to libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte.
Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso
Closing Act I, Figaro's aria 'Non più andrai'.
Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro al mio duolo
Opening Act II, the Countess' cavatina 'Porgi, amor'.
Voi che sapete che cosa è amor
Act II, scene 4: Cherubino's canzano 'Voi che sapete'.
Dove sono i bei momenti
Act III, scene 11: The Countess' lament aria 'Dove sono'.
Che soave zeffiretto 'Letter Duet'
Act III, scene 13: The duet 'Che soave zeffiretto', also known as the Sull'Aria.
Don Giovanni
1787. K 527.
Opera buffa in two acts. Complete name is 'Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni' (The Rake Punished, or Don Giovanni). The Italian libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte was billed, like many of its time, as 'dramma giocoso', a term that denotes a mixing of serious and comic action. Mozart entered the work into his catalogue as an opera buffa. Although sometimes classified as comic, it blends comedy, melodrama and supernatural elements. The main character of the opera, the womanizer Don Giovanni, was an actual person. According to his boasts, he seduced 1001 Spanish, 640 Italian, 231 German, 100 French, and 91 Turkish women.
Madamina, il catalogo è questo 'Catalogue Aria'
From Act I, the aria 'Madamina, il catalogo è questo'.
Là ci darem la mano
From Act I, the duet 'Là ci darem la mano'.
Fin ch'han dal vino 'Champagne Aria'
From Act I, the aria 'Fin ch'han dal vino '.
Deh vieni alla finestra 'Serenade'
From Act II, the canzonetta 'Deh vieni alla finestra'.
Così fan tutte
1789. K 588.
Opera buffa in two acts. Complete name is 'Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti' (Thus Do They All, or The School For Lovers). The third and last of the operas that Mozart set to libretti by Da Ponte, Così fan tutte was scarcely performed throughout the 19th century, as the plot was considered to be immoral.
Soave sia il vento
Act I, scene 6: The trio 'Soave sia il vento'.
Un'aura amorosa del nostro tesoro
Act I, scene 12: the aria 'Un'aura amorosa'.


La Bohème
Opera in four acts, packed with 'hits'. Debussy is alleged to have said, as a result of La Bohème, that no one had detailed Paris at that time better than Puccini. La bohème has become part of the standard Italian opera repertory and is one of the most frequently performed operas worldwide. Puccini's fellow countryman Leoncavallo also wrote an opera named La Bohème, staged shortly after Puccini's.
Che gelida manina
From Act I, Rodolfo's aria: Che gelida manina.
Si, mi chiamano Mimi
From Act I, Mimi's aria: Si, mi chiamano Mimi.
O soave fanciulla
From Act I, Rodolfo's and Mimi's very popular duet O soave fanciulla.
Quando m’en vo
From Act II, Musetta's Waltz: Quando m’en vo.
Donde lieta uscì al tuo grido
From Act III: Mimi's aria 'Donde lieta uscì'.
Madama Butterfly
A 'verismo' opera in three acts, originally two. The first performance of Puccini's now very popular Madama Butterfly was a total disaster, one of opera’s all-time worst flops, due in large part to the late completion and inadequate time for rehearsals. After a quick revision, which included splitting the second act into two, it re-premiered and the success was a fact. The story is basically about an ethnically mixed relationship (an American officer and a Japanese Geisha) that ends badly indeed. It's not the only work of classical music on the subject, all with dire results: Meyerbeer's opera L' Africaine concerns the marriage of a European man to an African woman, Delibes' equally famous Lakmé is about an English sailor and an Indian priestess, and Lehár's The Land of Smiles links a Chinese prince to a Viennese socialite.
Un bel dì vedremo
From Act II: The famous aria 'Un bel dì vedremo'.
Coro a bocca chiusa 'Humming chorus'
Closing Act II: The Humming Chorus 'Coro a bocca chiusa'. (Madame Butterfly waits for the ship of her beloved Pinkerton to come. But only her death comes.)
A 'verismo' opera in three acts, complete name 'Il canto del pastore (Tosca)'. Tosca is the most Wagnerian of Puccini's operas, with its frequent use of leitmotif.
Dammi i colori ... Recondita armonia
From Act I: Dammi i colori...Recondita armonia.
Tre sbirri, una carrozza
Closing Act I: Tre sbirri, una carrozza ... (The 'Te Deum Scene').
Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore
From Act II, Tosca's aria: Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore.
E lucevan le stelle
From Act III: E lucevan le stelle.
Opera in three acts. Unfinished at the composers death, completed by Franco Alfano and premiered in 1926, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. The opera's story is set in China and involves Prince Calaf, who falls in love with the cold Princess Turandot. To obtain permission to marry her, a suitor has to solve three riddles; any wrong answer results in death. Calaf passes the test, but Turandot still refuses to marry him. He offers her a way out: if she is able to learn his name before dawn the next day, then at daybreak he will die. Busoni also wrote an opera with this name, Turandot, in 1917. Except for the subject choice and the Chinese setting it has little in common with Puccini's vastly more popular and successful version.
Signore ascolta!
From Act I: Signore ascolta!.
In questa reggia
From Act II: In questa reggia.
Nessun dorma
From Act III, the very famous 'Nessun dorma'.
Tu, che di gel sei cinta
From Act III: Tu, che di gel sei cinta.


Il barbiere di Siviglia / The Barber of Seville
Opera buffa in two acts. Complete name is 'Il barbiere di Siviglia, ossia L'inutile precauzione' (The Barber of Seville, or The Useless Precaution). The libretto is based on a play with the same name by Beaumarchais, the first in a trilogy he wrote named The Figaro Trilogy, pretty popular in its time. The second part of the trilogy is called The Marriage of Figaro. This is also used in an opera, by Mozart.
Ecco, ridente in cielo
From Act I, after the Overture and the Introduction: 'Ecco, ridente in cielo'.
Largo al factotum
From Act I: Figaro's cavatina 'Largo al factotum'.
Una voce poco fa
From Act I: Rosina's cavatina 'Una voce poco fa'.
La calunnia è un venticello
From Act I, the aria 'La calunnia è un venticello'.


Opera in four acts to an Italian libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario often attributed to French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, although Verdi biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz has argued that the scenario was actually written by Temistocle Solera. Aida was first performed at the Khedivial Opera House in Cairo on Christmas Eve 1871. Contrary to popular belief, the opera was not written to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, for which Verdi had been invited to write an inaugural hymn, but had declined.
Celeste Aida
From Act I, Radames' aria 'Celeste Aida'.
Ritorna vincitor!
From Act I: Aida's aria 'Ritorna vincitor!'.
Gloria all'Egitto ... Marcia trionfale ... Ballabile ... Vieni, O guerriero vindice
An excerpt from Act II: Ramfis and Chorus singing 'Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside' followed by the famous orchestral 'Marcia trionfale' (Triumphal March) and the dance scene 'Ballabile' then ending with the chorus 'Vieni, o guerriero vindice'.
O terra, addio
From Act IV, Scene 2, the aria/duet/ensemble piece 'O terra, addio'.
La Traviata
Opera in three acts. The libretto is based on La dame aux Camélias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. The opera was originally entitled Violetta, after the main character. This opera is immensely popular and a staple of the standard operatic repertoire. It's currently in first place on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.
Brindisi: Libiamo, ne' lieti calici
From Act I: Brindisi 'The Drinking Song'.
È strano! ... Sempre libera
From Act I, the arias 'È strano! Ah, fors'è lui' and 'Follie! Delirio vano è questo! Sempre libera'.
Di Provenza il mar
From Act II, the aria 'Di Provenza il mar'.
Opera in three acts based on Victor Hugo's 'Le roi s'amuse'. Its tragic story revolves around the licentious Duke of Mantua, his hunch-backed court jester Rigoletto, and Rigoletto's beautiful daughter Gilda. The opera's original title, La maledizione (The Curse), refers to the curse placed on both the Duke and Rigoletto by a courtier whose daughter had been seduced by the Duke with Rigoletto's encouragement. The curse comes to fruition when Gilda likewise falls in love with the Duke and eventually sacrifices her life to save him from the assassins hired by her father.
Questa o quella per me pari sono
From Act I, Scene 1, the aria 'Questa o quella per me pari sono'.
Caro nome
From Act I, the aria 'Caro nome'.
La Donna è mobile
From Act III, the very famous aria 'La Donna è mobile'.
Il Trovatore
'The Troubadour' is an opera in four acts. The libretto's based on the play El trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez. It was Gutiérrez's most successful play, one which Verdi scholar Julian Budden describes as 'a high flown, sprawling melodrama flamboyantly defiant of the Aristotelian unities, packed with all manner of fantastic and bizarre incident.'
Vedi! le fosche notturne 'Anvil Chorus'
Opening Act II is the 'Zigeunerchor' choral piece 'Vedi! le fosche notturne'.
Ah! sì, ben mio ... Di quella pira
Ending Act III: the aria 'Ah! sì, ben mio' followed by the duet 'Di quella pira'.
A 'commedia lirica' in three acts with a libretto based on Shakespeare's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor' and some scenes from Henry IV. Verdi wrote Falstaff, which was the last of his 28 operas, as he was approaching the age of 80. It was his third work based on a Shakespeare play, following Macbeth and Otello. The plot revolves around the thwarted, sometimes farcical, efforts of the fat knight, Sir John Falstaff, to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands' wealth. Another opera with the same name and story was composed by Salieri, as was Vaughan Williams' Sir John in Love, plus Otto Nicolai's The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Opera in four acts with libretto from Shakespeare's play. Not to be confused with the opera with the same name by Rossini.
Piangea cantando 'Willow Song'
From Act IV: Desdemona sings the Willow Song, 'Piangea cantando'. The Willow Song and the following 'Ave Maria'.
Don Carlos
Don Carlos is an Opera Grande with French libretto. If the libretto is in Italian, as in the later revision, the opera is named Don Carlo.

French Opera


Bizet's magnum opus Carmen is an avant-garde and innovative (for it's time) tragical opera in four acts described as the first realistic opera in music history; critics at the premiere were shocked by its blend of romanticism and realism. Two characters are at the center: Carmen who demands her freedom at any cost, and her lover Don José. He starts out as a respectable soldier, but obsessive love turns him into a lawbreaker, an outcast, and finally, a killer. Carmen is full of 'hits', as obvious below. The original version of Carmen mixed music with spoken dialogue. The dialogue was soon replaced by sung recitatives, which held the stage for a century. In today's opera world, both versions are heard. There's also a Broadway musical version of it named Carmen Jones, with the same music but new libretto and an all african-american cast.
From Act I, the Prelude. Its' in three small parts: 1) The bull-fighting theme, 2) Swaggering Toreador, and 3) Motive of Fate. The following opening scene takes place outside a cigarette factory in Seville. This was an actual place, which at its height employed 6000 women as cigarette makers. The building still stands today and now belongs to the University of Seville.
L'amour est un oiseau rebelle 'Habanera'
From Act I, the very famous Habanera.
Près des remparts de Séville 'Seguidilla'
From Act I, the Seguidilla.
Les tringles des sistres tintaient 'Gypsy Song'
From Act II, the Gypsy Song.
Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre 'Toreador Song'
From Act II, the very famous Toreador Song. From the 1984 opera movie.
La fleur que tu m'avais jetée 'Flower Song'
From Act II, the very famous Flower Song.
Act III Intermezzo
Opening Act III is the Entr'acte popularly known as 'Intermezzo'.
Je dis qui rien ne m'épouvante 'Michaëla's Aria'
From Act III, Michaëla's Aria (Je dis qui rien ne m'épouvante).


Pelléas et Mélisande
1893-1902. L 88.
Debussy is one of the composers to be inspired by the Nobel Prize Winner Maurice Maeterlinck's drama, very popular at the time. Schoenberg based a symphonic poem on it and Sibelius and Fauré made incidental music from it. This elusive symbolist drama is in Debussy's hands one of the most significant operas of the 20th century.
Act III, Scene 1: 'Une des tours du chateau'.


1856-59, revised 1869.
Grand opera in five acts. Of all the musical settings of the Faust legend, Gounod's has been the most popular with audiences, especially in the Victorian era. Its popularity and critical reputation have declined somewhat since around 1950 though. A full production, with its large chorus and elaborate sets and costumes, is an expensive undertaking, particularly if the Act V ballet is included. However, Faust was so popular in the United States that in New York the opera season began with a performance of it every year for several decades in the late nineteenth century, a fact to which Edith Wharton makes great reference in her novel The Age of Innocence. But it did not start out a success: It wasn’t selling tickets, so the producer gave away tickets for the first three performances to people out of town and declared the performances were sold out. Wondering what all the fuss was about, the public began buying tickets, and Faust became a hit.
Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir! 'Jewel Aria'
From Act II, Marguerite's Jewel Aria (Ah! Je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir!) This aria is used as a running gag in the Tintin series of comic strips. Tintin and his sidekick, Captain Haddock, often encounter a bombastic opera singer called Bianca Castafiore. Her trademark is the jewel song, which she always sings at high volume.
Salut! demeure chaste et pure
From Act III: Faust's cavatina 'Salut! demeure chaste et pure'. Leading up to it is 'Quel trouble inconnu me pénètre!', as in the video.
Déposons les armes 'Soldiers' Chorus'
From Act IV: A choral part of the opera known as The Soldier's Chorus.


Manon is an opéra comique in 5 acts, dedicated to a Madame Carvalho. Manon is Massenet's most popular and enduring opera and, having 'quickly conquered the world's stages', it has maintained an important place in the repertory since its creation. It is the quintessential example of the charm and vitality of the music and culture of the Parisian 'La Belle Époque'. The story is based on the 1731 novel L’histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost and should not be confused with Manon Lescaut, an 1893 opera by Puccini based on the same novel.
En fermant les yeux
From Act II, the aria 'En fermant les yeux je vois là-bas'.
Je marche ... Obéissons 'Gavotte Scene'
From Act III, the arias 'Je marche sur tous chemins' and 'Obéissons quand leur viox appelle'.


Don Carlos
Don Carlos is an Opera Grande with French libretto. If the libretto is in Italian, as in the later revision, the opera is named Don Carlo.

German Opera


1805-1814. Opus 72.
Beethoven's one and only opera, in two acts with German libretto. It was originally named Leonore (in 1805) but found after two revisions (1806 & 1814) its final version and ditto name: Fidelio. This opera was inspired by the composer's passion for political liberty. It's known as a "rescue opera": It tells how Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named Fidelio, rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.
O welche Lust, In freier Luft 'Prisoners' Chorus'
This "Chor der Gefangenen" chorus piece initiates the finale part of Act I.


Die Zauberflöte / The Magic Flute
1791. K 620.
A 'singspeil' in two acts. A work that has been described as 'the apotheosis of the Singspiel', Die Zauberflöte was denigrated during the 19th century as confused and lacking in definition. Today it's one the most produced, performed and recorded of all operas.
Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja 'Birdcatcher's Aria'
From Act I, scene 2: Papageno's aria 'Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja' (Yes, I'm the Birdcatcher).
Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön
From Act I, scene 3: Tamino's aria 'Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön'.
Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen 'Queen of the Night'
From Act II, scene 6: The super famous Queen of the Night's aria 'Der Hölle Rache'.
Papagena! ... Pa pa pa
From Act II, scene 13, part of the Finale: First Pagageno's aria 'Papagena!' and then Pagageno and Papagena together in the duet 'Pa pa pa'.

R Strauss

Der Rosenkavalier
1911. Opus 59.
Comic opera in three acts, inspired by the music of Johann Strauss II.
Marie Theres'! Hab' mir's gelobt
From Act III, the finale trio 'Marie Theres'! Hab' mir's gelobt'.
1905. Opus 54.
Opera in one long act, divided into four parts. This opera about Salome and John the Baptist was so graphically violent that it was banned at the Metropolitan Opera in New York for decades. It includes incest, nudity, murder, and a dramatic scene where Salome kisses the lips of John the Baptist’s severed head.
Dance of the Seven Veils / Salome's Dance
The 'Tanz der sieben Schleier'. Salome's seductive dance stirred controversy way back when. It has reached such popularity that it often occurs alone, not seldom as ballet divertissement.
1909. Opus 58.
Tragic opera in one act.


Das Rheingold / The Rhine Gold
1854. WWV 86a.
The first of four operas in the tetralogy 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' is Das Rheingold, one in comparison with the other short opera which serves as something of an introduction to the rest. Four acts.
Einzug der Götter in Walhall / Entry of the Gods into Valhalla
Ending Act IV and hence the whole opera is the 'Einzug der Götter in Walhall'.
Die Walküre / The Valkyrie
1856. WWV 86b.
The second of four operas in the tetralogy 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'. Three acts.
Hojotoho! Heiaha! 'Walkürenritt / Ride of the Valkyries'
The 'Ride of the Valkyries' is the famous beginning of Act III. It is immensely popular in it's orchestral only version.
Wotans Abschied ... Feuerzauber / Wotan's Farewell ... Magic Fire Music
Ending Act III and hence the whole opera, 'Wotans Abschied' and then 'Feuerzauber'.
1869. WWV 86c.
The third of four operas in the tetralogy 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'. Three acts.
Waldweben / Forest Murmurs
From Act II, Siegfried ponders 'Das der mein Vater nicht ist', which includes 'Waldweben' (Forest Murmurs).
Götterdämmerung / Twilight of the Gods
1874. WWV 86d.
The fourth of four operas in the tetralogy 'Der Ring des Nibelungen'. Prologue and three acts.
Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt / Siegfried's Rhine Journey
Ending the Prologue, the orchestral 'Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt'.
Brünhilde! Heilige Braut! 'Siegfrieds death'
From Act III, 'Brünhilde! Heilige Braut!' (Siegfrieds death).
Siegfrieds Trauermarch / Siegfried's Funeral March
From Act III and following the above, the 'Orchesterzwischenspiel: Siegfrieds Trauermarch'.
Tristan und Isolde
1859. WWV 90.
Opera in three acts, inspired by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, as presented in his The World as Will and Representation, and Wagner's affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. Wagner referred to the work not as an opera, but called it a 'Handlung' (a drama, a plot or an action). Widely acknowledged as one of the peaks of the operatic repertoire, Tristan was notable for Wagner's unprecedented use of chromaticism, tonality, orchestral color and harmonic suspension.
Act I Prelude
The super famous prelude that starts the opera.
Isolde's Liebestod / Isolde's Love Death
The 'Love Death' of Isolde as she sings 'Mild und leise wie er lächelt' at the end of Act III.
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
1867. WWV 96.
'The Mastersingers of Nuremberg' is an opera in three acts. Meistersingers were groups of poets, singers and musicians that established performance guilds in German towns during the Renaissance and early Baroque.
Wagner sometimes called the introductions 'Preludes' and sometimes 'Overtures'. This is an example of the latter.
Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigem Schein 'Walter's Prize Song'
Towards the end of Act III and thus the whole opera: 'Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigem Schein', also known as the 'Prize Song'.
1882. WWV 111.
Opera in three acts. Wagner's last completed opera.
Act I Prelude
This 'vorspeil' opens the opera.
Karfreitagszauber / Good Friday Music
From Act III, 'Wie dünkt mich doch die Aue heut so schön!'.
1848. WWV 75.
Opera in three acts, referred to by Wagner as a 'Romantische Oper'. This opera is full of 'hits', one of them being the Bridal Chorus, nowadays frequently used at weddings. Two other are the Preludes to Act I and to Act III.
Act I Prelude
Lohengrin has two famous Preludes, for acts I and III. The former (this) is sometimes referred to as the opera's overture.
Einsam in trüben Tage 'Elsa's Dream'
Act I: 'Einsam in trüben Tage' a.k.a. Elsa's Dream.
Act III Prelude
Lohengrin has two famous Preludes, for Acts I and III. This is the more popular one.
Treulich geführt ziehet dahin 'Bridal Chorus and March'
From Act III, 'Treulich geführt ziehet dahin' (Bridal Chorus and March).
1845, revised 1861. WWV 70.
Opera in three acts. Full name is "Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf der Wartburg'. Available in two versions, the original version called the Dresden version and a revised version known as the Paris version, with a ballet part in the first act. Referred to by Wagner as a 'Große romantische Oper'.
The longer Overture from the Paris version of this opera.
Naht euch dem Strande 'Venusberg Music'
From Act I Scene 1, following the Overture, is the Bacchanale: Venusberg Music ('Naht euch dem Strande').
Freudig begrüßen wir die edle Halle 'Entry of the Guests'
From Act II, Scene 4, the 'Grand March' and Chorus 'Freudig begrüßen wir die edle Halle'.
Beglückt darf nun dich 'Pilgrim's Chorus'
Act III Scene 1: 'Beglückt darf nun dich, o Heimat, ich schauen' (Pilgrim's Chorus).

English Opera


Peter Grimes
1945. Opus 33.
Opera. A landmark in the history of British opera, this work marked Britten's arrival on the international music scene. From the final act, in a 1969 televised production.


Porgy and Bess
Originally conceived by George Gershwin as an 'American folk opera', Porgy and Bess premiered in New York in the fall of 1935 and featured an entire cast of classically trained African-American singers - a daring artistic choice at the time. It was initially a financial failure though, but a 1941 production that replaced the work's recitatives with spoken dialogue turned into a success. Porgy and Bess has also been staged as a musical rather than as an opera.
Introduction & Summertime
Act I, Scene 1: Introduction, and then opening Scene 2: Summertime.
It Ain't Necessarily So
Act II, Scene 2: It Ain't Necessarily So.
Bess, You Is My Woman Now
Act II, Scene 1: Bess, You Is My Woman Now.


Dido and Aeneas
1688. ZT 626.
Opera in three acts plus prologue. Often considered to be the first genuine English-language operatic masterwork. Not first performed in 1689 at a girls' school, as is commonly believed, but at Charles II's court in 1683.
Dido's Lament
Act III: The very famous Scene 7, with the recitative 'Thy hand, Belinda' and the aria 'When I am Laid in Earth', also known as Dido's Lament. (The opera then ends with Scene 8 and the chorus 'With drooping wings'.)

Slavic Opera


1894-1903, revised 1908 and 1915. JW 1:4.
Opera in three acts. Also named 'Her Stepdaughter'. This is Janácek's first great success, a naturalistic depiction of Czech peasant life.


Boris Godunov
1868-69, revised 1872-73.
Opera in four acts plus prologue, nine scenes altogether. This opera has been subject to many alterations by others, among them Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich. But these versions have fallen out of fashion, Mussorgsky's original is holding the stage now. This great historical drama shows Russia's descent into anarchy in the early 17th century.


Eugen Onegin
1878. Opus 24.
Opera in three acts with seven scenes. Tchaikovsky's operatic masterpiece. Eugene Onegin is a well-known example of lyric opera, to which Tchaikovsky added music of a dramatic nature. The story concerns a selfish hero who lives to regret his blasé rejection of a young woman's love and his careless incitement of a fatal duel with his best friend. An excerpt.
Tatiana's Letter scene
Act I, scene 2: The aria 'Puskai pogilabnu ya, no pryezhde'.
Lensky's aria
Act II, scene 2: The aria 'Kuda, kuda, kuda vi udalilis '
Opening Act III, the Polonaise (Moderato: Tempo di Polacca).



Orphée aux Enfers / Orpheus In The Underworld
Orpheus in the Underworld, is an opéra bouffe (a form of operetta), or opéra féerie in its revised version. The work, first performed in 1858, is said to be the first classical full-length operetta. Offenbach's earlier operettas were small-scale one-act works. Orpheus was not only longer, but more musically adventurous than Offenbach's earlier pieces. The operetta is an irreverent parody and scathing satire on Gluck and his Orfeo ed Euridice. It's in two acts with four scenes, two in each act.
Infernal Galop: Ce bal est original 'Can-Can'
Act II, scene 4: The very famous can-can dance.

J Strauss

Die Fledermaus / The Bat
A 'komische operette' in three acts. Perhaps the most popular of all operettas.
Mein Herr Marquis 'Adele's Laughing Song'
From Act II, the aria 'Mein Herr Marquis'. Some productions insert the 'Frühlingsstimmen' (Voices of Spring) waltz after this aria, sung by a guest soprano.
Klänge der Heimat 'Czsardas'
From Act II, Rosalinda's czsardas 'Klänge der Heimat'.

Classical Music Glossary

This glossary is divided into two parts. The alphabetical part covers the basics of classical music. The appendix covers the more arduous aspects of classical music. Some entry words appear in both.

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a capella Meaning that a chorus or song is to be performed without accompaniment of instruments. absolute music Music that is only music; an art form in itself, separated from the outer world, being non-representational. The opposite is program music. air 1) English song, sometimes spelled 'ayre', often with lute accompaniment, from the late Renaissance and early Baroque.
2) Instrumental piece or song with light character from the Baroque and Classical periods. alto 1) The two lower female voices - mezzo-soprano and contralto - as grouped together in choral music. See also soprano.
2) Description of an instrument with the same range, the second highest register. anthem Short choral piece, usually with biblical references in the text. A so called full anthem is for full choir without soloists, while a verse anthem has solo singers. antiphon A responsory by a choir or congregation, in the form of a Gregorian chant, a motet or such, to a psalm or other text in a religious service or musical work. antiphony Any call-and-response style of singing: music that is performed by two semi-independent choirs in interaction, often singing alternate musical phrases. apotheosis Apotheosis in music refers to the appearance of a theme in grand or exalted form, especially where the theme is connected in some way with historical persons or dramatic characters. aria 1) Solo song that is the central moment in operas, cantatas, passions and oratorios.
2) Instrumental piece that's singable. arietta An arietta is a short aria. arioso Similar to an aria, but between the aria and a recitative in idiom. Wagner's operas are full of this. ars antiqua Term meaning old art/technique, precursor to ars nova and referring to Medieval music between approximately 1170 and 1310, covering the period of the Notre Dame School plus the subsequent years which saw the early development of the motet. ars nova Term meaning new art/technique, successor to ars antiqua and usually referring to the groundbreaking music of Machaut, with greater complexity and more varied rhythm than any before. It usually refers to the years between 1310 and 1375. See also Trecento. atonality Music lacking identifiable tonality (key) and tonal center, such as twelve-tone music. ave maria Latin prayer to the Virgin Mary used as basis in musical settings during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, notably by Caccini. But also later, by Schubert and Gounod. aubade A morning love song (as opposed to a serenade, which is in the evening). azione sacra During the middle Baroque a one-act oratorio or sacred opera as cultivated by the Habsburg court in Vienna. In the late Baroque it became synonymous with 'oratorio' in general. sepolcro Synonymous with azione sacra, with specific reference to the passion and crucifixion of Christ.  

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bagatelle As the name suggest, a short and musically light piece. badinere Piece of music of light and pleasing character. ballad Narrative poem adapted for singing. Also a folk-song popular in Victorian England. Not to be confused with the more common and much more popular ballade. ballata An Italian poetic and musical form in use from the late 13th to the 15th century. Similar to the French virelai (but not to the ballade as the name suggests). One of the most prominent secular musical forms during the trecento. ballade 1) Medieval secular chanson based on French poetry. See also formes fixes.
2) Instrumental piece, usually with a lyrical and heroic quality. Notable composers are Chopin and Liszt. ballet Formalized performance dance that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts. It later developed into Classical ballet, a poised concert dance. There's also Neoclassical and Contemporary ballet. barcarolle Song or instrumental piece characterized by a lilting rhythm. Notable composers are Chopin, Offenbach and Mendelssohn. baritone 1) Male voice with a range between the higher tenor and the lower bass.
2) Description of an instrument with approximately the same range. barococo Description of light, easy listening style galante music from the joint of the late Baroque and early Classical periods. Composers of barococo include Torelli, Geminiani and Boccherini. Baroque Period of musical history stretching from about 1600 to about 1750, the start of classical music proper, establishing most of its genres. barzelletta A popular verse form used by frottola composers in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. The barzelletta tends to be lively and dance-like, with heavy accents on cadences. bass 1) The lowest male voice.
2) Description of an instrument with approximately the same range.
3) For instrumental music, the bottom part of a piece. bass-baritone Male singer with a range covering both the baritone and bass register. basso continuo Harmonic accompaniment appended to the bass line of the music. Used during the Baroque and usually played on a keyboard instrument plus a bass instrument such as cello, viola da gamba or bassoon. The keyboard often improvise on the music's melody/theme. Shortened 'continuo'. bel canto Style of singing with tonal beauty, clarity and pure line, common in early Romantic Italian opera.
berceuse Instrumental piece signifying a lullaby, not seldom in lilting triple time. Notable composers are Chopin and Liszt. brass Family of instruments. Basic instruments here are trumpet, trombone, tuba and French horn. There are instruments regarded as brass although not made of brass metal, due to how they are played, how the sound is made: the alphorn, serpent and cornett. And vice versa: the saxophone is a woodwind instrument. burletta 1) A comic intermezzo between the acts of an opera seria.
2) Scherzo-like instrumental music.  

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cabaletta Fast end section of an aria, especially in Italian opera and usually brilliant and showy. cadenza Elaborate and decorative solo passage, played or sung and often virtuosic. In concertos it often leads to a closing of a movement, not seldom moving towards and including a cadence, with which it should not be confused. Often improvised in the Classical period, later usually written down. camerata A group of musicians and aristocrat dilettantes in Florence that played a central role in the invention of opera, at the joint of the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods. canon Music piece in which a part is followed by other parts at fixed intervals, singing or playing the same melody in succession thus overlapping each other. A well known example is Pachelbel's Canon in D. cantabile The first half of a double aria, with a cabaletta as the second half. cantata 1) Music piece intended to be sung, as opposed to a sonata, which is intended to be played on instruments.
2) A choral/vocal work, sacred or secular, with recitative and arias, duets and choruses and instrumental accompaniment, progressing in an operalike maner. It resembles the oratorio but is shorter in length. canticle A hymn or other song of praise taken from biblical texts other than the Psalms. cantus firmus Traditional music piece, not seldom a secular and popular song, serving as basic theme in some contrapuntal and polyphonic compositions, usually in masses. An early example, and possibly the most used, is L'homme armé, the armed man. canzona Instrumental composition in several sections or tempi from the late Renaissance and early Baroque, similar to the ricercar and fantasia but livelier. Influenced the fugue and was somewhat an ancestor to the sonata. Notable composers include Gabrieli and Frescobaldi. Sometimes called canzone. canzone A lyrical song or songlike/singable instrumental piece from the Classical and Romantic periods. Also used to describe a type of lyric which resembles a madrigal. canzonet, canzonetta Light secular, Italian song derived from the villanella and following the pattern of the poetic form with the same name. Very popular in the Renaissance. Resembles the more serious madrigal. capriccio, caprice 1) During the Baroque, usually a composition based on a fugue.
2) During the Romantic period a short and lively piece in free style, the most famous example being Paganini's Caprices for solo violin. carol Festive song from the Renaissance, generally religious and with a dance-like or popular character. castrato Male singer castrated before puberty, thus preserving his alto voice or giving him a male soprano or mezzo-soprano voice. Very popular in Italian opera in the Baroque and Classical periods. cavatina Short song of simple character, a simple and melodious air, as distinguished from brilliant arias or recitatives. chaconne, chacony Slow instrumental or vocal piece based on an ancient dance, with variations over a short repeated bass pattern. Related to the passacaglia. Notable composers are Purcell, Bach and Handel. chamber music Music composed for and played by a small group of musicians, usually in smaller rooms rather than auditoriums. The compositions are usually written so there's one part to each instrument. chamber orchestra Medium sized group of musicians, usually between twelve and twenty-one, but settings with up to fifty players are also known. See also ensemble, string orchestra and orchestra. chamber sonata See sonata da camera under sonata. chance music Music of the Contemporary period with unpredictable and changeable elements, not seldom in the form of controlled improvisation. Also called aleatoric and indeterminate music. Notable composers include Cage, Stockhausen, and Lutoslawski. chanson French secular song. The term is mostly used to indicate songs from the Medieval troubadour compositions, and also some polyphonic works. The version of the Romantic and Modern periods, the art song, is usually called mélodie, not chanson. chant See plainchant. choir Body of people singing in an opera, oratorio, etc. Choral music Music work or piece composed for a body of singers, i.e. a choir, accompanied or otherwise. Genres include the mass and the requiem mass, oratorios, motets, cantatas, etc. Not to be confused with chorale. chorale Simple hymn of the protestant church, often based on plainchant and sung jointly by a choir and the congregation. chorale prelude Introduction to a chorale, developed in the Baroque as an organ composition based on a chorale melody. Notable composers are Buxtehude and Bach. chorus Part of a song, a refrain or such, in which many join in and sing together. Also used as synonym for choir. Classical Period of musical history stretching from about 1750 to about 1820, lending its name to all of classical music, with music that forms the base of it. clavier Synonymous with keyboard, a Baroque term for stringed keyboard instruments - harpsichord, clavichord, pianoforte, etc. In the Romantic period the Germans used this term for 'piano'. The organ is sometimes, and incorrectly, referred to as a clavier instrument. coloratura Elaborate and ornamented style of singing, suited in particular for a high soprano voice. Common Practice A term for the era of musical history stretching from about 1600 to about 1915 and gathering the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods. The music of this three-period-era is when the techniques, ideas, and written language of classical music as we know it today were standardized and systemized. concert aria Aria composed for concert performance, often with a certain singer in mind that it's dedicated to. concertante 1) General term for all orchestral works related to the concerto, such as concertino, concerto grosso, sinfonia concertante etc.
2) Part in a music piece that calls for a solo performance. concertato Baroque term referring to a music style in which instruments and voices share a melody, usually in contrasting alternation. concertino 1) Short concerto freer in form than it's regular sibling, usually but not always in one movement.
2) The smaller group of musicians performing in a concerto grosso. The larger group is a ripieno. concertmaster The leader of an orchestra, i.e. the principal first violin. In the UK the term 'leader' is used and in Germany 'konsertmeister'. concerto Orchestral work in (usually) three movements in which a solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra. There are also double, triple and quadruple concertos with two, three of four solo instruments. concerto for orchestra A 20th century concertante form that uses more than one solo instrument, derived from the sinfonia concertante, which in turn was derived from the concerto grosso. concerto grosso Orchestral work performed by an orchestra with two groups of musicians: a smaller group of solo performers called concertino and a larger accompaniment group called ripieno, usually a string orchestra. Common during the Baroque. conductus Vocal composition for one or more voices, used during the Middle Ages. The style of singing is rhythmic and the voices sing together. Precursor to organum. consonance, consonant Combination of notes considered stable and perceived as pleasant to the ear, due to cultural expectations of what 'sounds good'. The opposite is dissonance. consort Name given to a small ensemble during the Renaissance and Baroque. A so called whole consort had instruments of the same family, usually strings, while a broken consort was mixed. Contemporary Period of musical history stretching from about 1945 to the present, overlapped until circa 1975 by the Modern period. The music of it abandons all traditions; some say it's no longer 'classical music' but rather just 'art music'. contralto The lowest of the three female voices. Very rare, present in only one percent of the female population. The contralto often does the female villains or assume trouser roles in operas. continuo Short for basso continuo. countertenor The highest male voice; men singing within the female contralto range. Many countertenors perform roles originally written for a castrato in baroque operas. cycle A collection of pieces, usually songs, intended to be performed as a group, not individually.  

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da capo aria An aria in three sections with the first repeated in an ornamented fashion in the last. Based on the ternary form and common in opera seria. dance music In general and as you already know, the music composed to accompany the physical act of dancing. However, in classical music the various forms of dance music is most often used to compose music intended to be listened to, as either separate pieces or as parts of larger works. allemande German dance, generally moderate in speed, sometimes the first movement in a Baroque suite, sometimes a prelude to such a suite. bourrée French dance found in some Baroque suits. courante French dance in triple time, used frequently as the second movement in Baroque dance suites. estampie Medieval dance form. galliard Lively dance music form, usually in triple time and very popular in the Renaissance and Baroque. galop Quick dance in duple time, very popular during the Romantic. Notable composers are Johann Strauss and Offenbach. gavotte French folk dance of Renaissance origin. Made popular in the Baroque and not seldom used in suites, between the sarabande and the gigue. german dances See länder and waltz below. gigue French dance music form based on the English 'jig', often used as the final movement in a Baroque or Classical period suite. habanera, havanaise Cuban dance form with characteristic rhythm. Notable composers are Bizet, Ravel and Debussy. jota Traditional Spanish dance form. länder Austrian dance in triple time, used in the Classical period. One of two 'german dances' and precursor to the other, the waltz. loure French dance form of the Baroque, described as a slow gigue. malagueña Spanish dance form, e.g. used in Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole. mazurka Polish dance form in triple time. Chopin wrote many mazurkas. minuet, menuet An elegant French court dance in triple time of the Baroque and Classical periods. Lully used minuets in his operas and later Bach and Handel included the minuet in their suites. musette Baroque dance with a drone bass. passepied French fast dance in two sections and triple time found in some Baroque suites. pavane Slow and processional court dance of the late Renaissance and early Baroque that reoccured during the Romantic period. Notable composers are Dowland, Fauré and Ravel. polka Bohemian dance that became one of the most popular ballroom dances in the Romantic period. polonaise Slow dance in triple time, of Polish origin. Notable composers are Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and, of course, Chopin. quadrille One of the most popular ballroom dances in the Romantic period, usually in brisk duple time. rigaudon French folk-dance usually in brisk duple time, found in Baroque dance suites. saltarello Rapid Italian dance of Medieval origin in triple time, similar to the tarantella. sarabande Slow dance of Latin American origin in triple time, generally used as the third movement in Baroque dance suites. seguidilla Fairly quick Spanish dance in triple time. siciliana, sicilienne Sicilian shepherd dance or song, in slow tempo and melancholy in mood, associated with Baroque pastoral music. tarantella Italian dance of some rapidity, from the town of Taranto (it has nothing to do with the tarantula spider). Notable composers include Chopin and Liszt. See also saltarello. waltz Austrian dance in triple time, very popular in the Romantic period. One of two 'german dances', the other being the länder. dissonance, dissonant Combination of notes considered unstable and perceived as unpleasant to the ear, due to cultural expectations of what 'sounds good'. The opposite is consonance. divertimento Light and pleasing orchestral work, closely related to the serenade. Mozart composed many divertimentos and serenades. divertissement Additional dance and/or song entertainment in a classical ballet or in an opera. Doctrine of the affections An expressive aesthetic from the Baroque, saying that music's main purpose is to arouse 'affections', e.g. love, fear, anger, etc. Various musical elements such as rhythm, keys and so on were connected to specific emotions. An additional idea was that each piece or movement should focus on one affect. duet & duo 1) A duet is a piece for two performers: Piano four hands; voice and piano; two voices; two of any instrument.
2) A duo is a piece for two performers: On two pianos; any instrument and piano; any instrument and basso continuo. dynamics Variations in loudness and softness in a music piece.  

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Early music The era of musical history before the Baroque, in our cicerone stretching from about 1100 to about 1600 and gathering the Medieval and Renaissance periods. elegy, elegie Vocal or instrumental piece that is a lament in mourning of the dead. ensemble 1) Small group of musicians and/or singers. See also chamber orchestra.
2) An ensemble piece in an opera is a set for three or more singers. entr'acte Short and not seldom a comic music piece played between acts of a play or opera, designed to bridge a gap. See also interlude and intermezzo. entrée 1) The opening number in a suite of dances, e.g. a ballet suite; typically a short number which serves as an introduction for the whole suite.
2) Entrée can also mean a number in which the lead character(s) of a ballet make their initial appearance on stage.
3) An older French term for an act in a ballet. etude Also called study, this is a short piece intended to improve or display the performers technical ability. Chopin and Liszt added complexity turning it beyond 'study' music. Chopin, Debussy and Scriabin also wrote etudes for orchestral performances. expressionism Art genre that emphasized an eruptive immediacy of expressive feeling, often based on the psychology of the unconscious. Applied to the music of Mahler, Scriabin, et al, and the early works of Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  

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falsetto 1) Unnaturally high male voice.
2) Vocal phonation that enables the singer to sing notes beyond the vocal range of the normal or modal voice. fantasy, fantasia, fantaisie 1) In the Renaissance and Baroque a relatively free form genre, usually contrapuntal.
2) From the Classical period and onward a much freer genre than the above, often highly expressive and usually for solo piano or orchestra. finale Movement or passage that concludes a musical composition. fioritura A flowery, embellished vocal line found in many arias from nineteenth-century opera. follia One of the oldest remembered European musical themes, a standard chord progression that usually features a standard or 'stock' melody line, a slow sarabande. Many composers of the Baroque period used the follia in their compositions, plus later ones such as Beethoven, Liszt, and Rachmaninov. french overture See overture. frottola Italian, secular song from the mid-Renaissance period, described as the most important and widespread predecessor to the madrigal. fugue Complex polyphonic composition based on themes in imitation by (usually) two to four parts, then undergoing contrapuntal development. Popular in the Baroque but also used later. Bach and Beethoven are notable in this genre. exposition In a fugue an exposition are parts entering one by one, the exposition ending when all have entered.  

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galant style See style galante. gesamtkunstwerk German term for a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so. Wagner's Ring Cycle is a gesamtkunstwerk. A contemporary translation of this concept is 'multimedia art'. glee Vocal composition written for three or more solo parts, usually without instrumental accompaniment. glissando Musical effect meaning to slide from one note to the other, e.g. achieved by sliding a finger across the keys of a piano or string of a harp. gregorian chant See plainchant.  

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harmony Harmony is one of three core elements of music, the other two being melody and rhythm. It's the combination of melodies and chords, composed according to the principles of tonality and coordinated in such a way the music's considered harmonic and pleasing. Said combination of melodies and chords can be done in either a simultaneous (vertical) fashion, or in sequence (horizontal). Regarding the latter, see counterpoint. humoresque, humoreske An indicator of a works character meaning 'humor' used in titles of works by, for example, Schumann and Dvorák. hymn Song or ode in praise of God, an entity or a hero. The earliest known devotional music.  

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impressionism Art genre having elements of vagueness and imprecision coupled with a perceived excess of attention to color. Impressionist music is achieved through new chord combinations, ambiguous tonality, extended harmonies, use of exotic modes and scales, parallel motions, and extra-musically, evocative titles. Notable composers include Debussy, Ravel, Albéniz, Respighi, Falla, Dukas, and Delius. impromptu Short instrumental piece designed to convey the impression of improvisation. incidental music Music, usually orchestral and not seldom with choral/vocal parts, composed for use in a play, etc. insertion aria An aria sung in an opera for which it was not composed. Common in the 19th century to accommodate singer's individual vocal strengths and ranges and to augment their roles. Instrumental music One of three superordinate genres of classical music, the other two being the Operatic and Vocal genres. Instrumental music is divided into Orchestral and Chamber and Solo Instrumental music, with certain compositions for chamber ensembles, such as the chamber concerto, being an intermediate sub-genre. instrumentation See orchestration. interlude 1) Short music piece played between acts of a play or opera, designed to bridge a gap. See also entr'acte.
2) Short music piece played between two instrumental works at a concert, or between two parts of a work. intermedio, intermezzo 1) Theatrical spectacle with music and dance performed between acts of a play at Renaissance courts. Regarded a precursor to opera.
2) In the late Baroque and Classical periods, a comic operatic interlude played between acts of an opera seria.
3) In the Romantic period an instrumental piece, either a movement in larger works or an independent piece. invention Contrapuntal composition for keyboard in two or more parts, as in Bach's Inventionen & Sinfonien. italian overture See overture.  

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kapellmeister 1) Means 'chapel master' and originally the musician in charge at a court, later meaning the director of a choir or ensemble.
2) More recently meaning the chief conductor at an opera house or of an orchestra.
kapellmeistermusik A pejorative implication, suggesting that the music of certain Romantic composers are correct but uninspired. key The tonal disposition of a piece or work, gravitating around one of the twelve major or twelve minor scales of tonal music: If the named key is C major the composition will use notes close to the C major scale; the first movement of a larger work is usually in the named key, while other movements may explore other keys, to achieve contrast. keyboards Family of instruments. The basic instruments in this family are various pianos, organs and harpsichords. There's also the clavichord, celesta and many more. In some of our sources this group is included in the strings family. See also clavier. konzertstück German for concertino.  

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lament, lamento Baroque musical piece in mourning of the dead. Notable composers are Monteverdi and Purcell. lamentations Plainchant or polyphonic setting of the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah, notably by Tallis, Byrd and Couperin. lauda, laude Sacred polyphonic song from the Renaissance. lay, lai Medieval French verse form for songs. leitmotif Leading theme throughout a work, a musical tag usually associated with a character, but also with an idea, event or situation. Wagner used it in many of his operas. libretto The text to be sung in an opera or another dramatic vocal work, such as an oratorio. lied 1) Traditional German song that during the Renaissance grew polyphonic and was regarded a genuine genre.
2) German art song from the Romantic period and onwards, accompanied by piano, sometimes but seldom by orchestra.  

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mad scene The enactment of insanity in an opera or play. The vocal writing is often exciting and highly demanding, requiring immense skill. Frequent during the bel canto era. madrigal Secular choral/vocal music traditionally sung a capella. It's a polyphonic composition, commonly with three to six parts. Popular during the Renaissance and early Baroque. Monteverdi added basso continuo accompaniment, thus introducing the so called concerted madrigal. madrigale spirituale Madrigal with sacred text, of the late Renaissance and early Baroque. Much less common than the original, secular madrigal. madrigal comedy Entertainment music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque, with groups of madrigals combined to tell a story/plot. One of the origins of opera. magnificat Biblical hymn of Virgin Mary found in both plainchant (monophonic) and polyphonic settings. major One of the two groups of keys of the tonal modes, the other one is minor. Major is viewed as the 'brighter' of the two. See also tonality. march A piece of music with a strong regular 'marching' rhythm. masque Courtly spectacle with music, song, dance, poetry etc. Popular in England during the Renaissance and Baroque. mass, missa The main choral worship service of the Catholic church, including the movements (prayers) Kyrie eleison, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Benedictus and Agnus Dei. The Latin word for mass is missa, and is used for Medieval and Renaissance masses. These are often named by the material from which they derived or are inspired by, as in Missa Adieu mes amours, Missa Ave Regina and Missa Papae Marcelli. cyclic mass Renaissance mass in which the prayers share a common musical theme, usually a so called cantus firmus. paraphrase mass Renaissance mass using very elaborate setting of cantus firmus as its basis. parody mass Renaissance setting of the mass in which parts of the music is based on pre-existing pieces of music, such as fragments of motets. The term parody is based on a misreading, a better name would be 'imitation mass'. missa brevis Short mass, usually with only the first two prayers, the Kyrie and Gloria. kyrie The 1st prayer of a setting of an ordinary Mass, not seldom named Kyrie eleison. gloria The 2nd prayer of an ordinary mass, a celebratory passage praising God the Father and Christ. credo The 3rd prayer of an ordinary mass, a setting of the Nicene Creed, and the longest text of a sung mass. sanctus and benedictus The 4th prayer of an ordinary mass. The Sanctus is a doxology praising the Trinity, and the Benedictus is a continuation of the Sanctus. agnus dei The 5th prayer of an ordinary mass, a setting of the 'Lamb of God' litany and including the Dona nobis pacem. Medieval Period of musical history stretching from about year 500 - on this website from around 1100 - to about 1400. The music of this period is solely vocal and usually without instrumental accompaniment. medley Often used in overtures, a composition that uses passages from the composition in its entirety. mélodie French art-song of the Romantic and Modern periods, counterpart to the German lied. melody A musically meaningful sequence of tones. One of the three core elements in music, the other two being harmony and rhythm. mezzo-soprano Female voice with a range between the higher soprano and lower contralto, often abbreviated 'mezzo'. The mezzo-soprano often does the secondary role in operas, the heroin role usually sung by a soprano. minimalism, minimal music Music style in which a basic theme is repeated over and over, creating a mesmeric ambience. Notable composer include the Americans Philip Glass, Steve Reich and John Adams. minor One of the two groups of keys of the tonal modes, the other one is major. Minor is viewed as the 'darker' of the two. See also tonality. minuet, menuet See dance music. miserere The first word in some psalms with the same name, the texts of which are used in polyphonic settings by, notably, Josquin des Prez and Allegri. Modern Period of musical history, stretching from about 1910 to about 1975, overlapped from circa 1945 by the current Contemporary period. The music is avant-garde, due to its break with traditional forms of composition. See also post romantic. motet Medieval polyphonic composition in several parts, usually sung a capella but found in many different forms as it developed in consecutive periods, from a multi-vocal genre into a choral music one. It's regarded the sacred counterpart to the madrigal. motet-chanson Renaissance music form in three parts with a tenor singing a sacred Latin text and two higher voices singing a French secular text, usually commenting on the Latin text. movement More or less independent part of a large orchestral work. The name of a movement usually refers to it's tempo and mood.  

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neoclassical Music style in which a Modern or Contemporary period composer returns to and gets inspired by music forms of the Baroque and Classical periods, as a protest of romantic music's lushness. neoromantic Music style in which a Modern or Contemporary period composer returns to and gets inspired by the music form of the Romantic period. nocturne Work suggesting a mood resembling the calm of the night, often lyrical. Notable composers are Chopin and Field. nonet 1) Composition for nine instruments.
2) Body of nine musicians performing such a composition.  

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obbligato Instrumental part of a work that stands out in the music and hence cannot be omitted, especially when a solo instrument adds an accompanying melody in some Baroque vocal forms. octet 1) Composition for eight instruments.
2) Body of eight musicians performing such a composition. oeuvre The entirety of works by a particular composer. opera Dramatic stage music, performed by acting singers. Often with elaborate stage designs. Opera began in the Renaissance as an attempt to recreate the ancient Greek drama. In the Baroque this found the musical form usually associated with the genre. See also libretto, aria, recitative, chorus and oratorio. afterpiece 18th/early 19th century short opera or pantomime performed after a full-length play. azione teatrale, azione scenica Small-scale one-act opera, or musical play. Early form of chamber opera. Notable composers include Gluck, Haydn and Mozart. ballad opera English stage entertainment, often short and highly satirical. Considered a precursor to the German singspiel. The first ballad opera is The Beggar's Opera of 1728, and one of the later, The Threepenny Opera of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, is actually a 1928 rewrite of the former. bel canto opera Early Romantic period operas with the bel canto style of singing. Championed by Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. burletta A brief and comic Italian or English opera. Also known as burla or burlettina. chamber opera Opera written to be performed with a chamber orchestra rather than a full orchestra. drame lyrique 1) French term used by, for example, Gluck and Chabrier, to describe their operas.
2) Term to describe late Romantic opera that developed out of opéra comique, influenced by Massenet et al, pointing towards the later verismo opera. dramma giocoso An 18th century sub-genre of opera buffa, marked by the addition of serious, even tragic roles and situations to the comic ones. Notable composers include Haydn, Mozart, Salieri, Rossini and Donizetti. dramma per musica Literally meaning ''drama for music', i.e. a libretto, however this term is mainly used as a synonym for opera seria. fait historique A sub-genre of opéra comique based on French history, especially popular during the French revolution. farsa, farsetta A form of one-act opera associated with Venice in the late Classical and early Romantic periods. Rossini composed many farsas. favola in musica The earliest form of opera, with reference to the operas by Peri and Monteverdi. grand opéra French development of the opera genre with historic/epic stories, spectacular stage design, big choruses, ballet parts etc. Often in five acts. literaturoper, literature opera An opera with music composed for a pre-existing text, as opposed to an opera with a libretto written specifically for the work. märchenoper, märchenspiel A genre of 19th century opera usually with a supernatural, fairy-tale theme. Similar to zauberoper. Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel is the best known example. melodramma General Italian term for opera. musikdrama Term associated with the later operas of Wagner. Frequently used by post-Wagnerian composers such as Strauss and d'Albert. opéra à sauvetage Alternative French term for rescue opera, featuring the rescue of a main character. opera ballo 19th-century Italian grand opéra. Composers include Gomes, Verdi and Ponchielli. opera buffa Major genre of Italian comic opera popular during the late Baroque and Classical periods, derived from the operatic intermezzo. The opposite is opera seria. Notable composers are Pergolesi, Rossini, Mozart, Donizetti and many more. opéra bouffe Romantic French opera or opérette of a farcical and satirical nature, derived from opera buffa and conceived by Offenbach. opéra comique French opera associated with the Paris theatre Opéra-Comique, often with spoken dialogue and not necessarily comic, the most famous in this genre actually being a tragedy: Bizet's Carmen. opéra lyrique French opera, less grandiose than grand opéra, more like opéra comique but with sung dialogue. Rameau called this 'comédie lyrique'. opera seria Serious Italian opera, the dominating operatic genre of the late Baroque and Classical periods. Has a formal and elaborate structure and often uses mythological themes. The opposite is opera buffa. Notable composers are Scarlatti, Hasse, Vivaldi, Handel, Gluck and Mozart. pastoral, pastorale Early Italian or French opera with pastoral topic. radio opera Operatic works written specifically for the medium of radio. Toye's operetta The Red Pen from 1925 is considered the first. regietheater A not always complimentary term to describe a director-led, modern opera that's staged so that the creator's original, specific intentions are changed, e.g. Carmen set in a car pound. rescue opera Transitional genre between opéra comique and grand opera, featuring the rescue of a main character. One example is Beethoven's Fidelio. romantische oper German opera genre, often with spoken dialogue, derived from French opéra comique and dealing with 'German' themes of nature, the supernatural, folklore etc. Weber's Der Freischütz is considered the first of this genre. sainete, sainetillo Spanish genre of comic opera in the smaller format, similar to the Italian intermezzo; performed together with larger works. Popular in Madrid in the Classical period. During the Romantic period, the sainete was synonymous with género chico. semi-opera Term coined to describe some English dramatic works - with singing, speaking and dancing roles - from the Baroque, e.g. Purcell's King Arthur and The Fairy Queen. serenata Short Italian opera performed at courts for celebrations, similar to the azione teatrale. singspiel German language opera with spoken dialogue instead of recitatives, generally comic or romantic. Especially popular during the Classical period. Developed into rescue opera and romantische oper. The best known example is Mozart's The Magic Flute. Kurt Weill called it songspiel, in an effort to update the concept. television opera An opera composed specifically for the medium of television. Britten's Owen Wingrave is one example. tragédie en musique, tragédie lyrique French merger of opera and ballet - but not an opera-ballet - from the middle and late Baroque, often with mythical themes. Usually in five acts, sometimes with a prologue. Short arias contrast with dialogue in recitative, with choral sections and dancing. Composers include Lully, Marais and Rameau. verismo opera Italian opera movement/genre associated with Italian post-romanticism, with highly realistic stories/plots. Two famous examples are Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini's Tosca. opera-ballet French merger of opera and ballet from the late Baroque and Classical periods, with more dancing than the predecessor tragédie en musique. Composers include Rameau and Destouches. acte de ballet French term for an opera-ballet with of a single entrée (act). Rameau is known for his acte de ballets. ballet héroïque A type of opéra-ballet featuring the heroic and exotic, of the late Baroque and early Classical period. pastorale héroïque Type of ballet héroïque, i.e. an opéra-ballet that typically drew on classical themes associated with pastoral poetry. Composers include Lully and Rameau. Operatic music One of three superordinate genres of classical music, the other two being the Instrumental and Vocal genres. Operatic music is divided into Opera & Operetta plus Ballet music, with the opera-ballet as an intermediate genre. operetta, opérette A musically and thematically light sibling to opera, of the Romantic period and onwards, often with partially spoken dialogue. It derived from the French opéra bouffe and is a precursor to the modern musical. Notable composers are Offenbach, Hervé, Sullivan, Johann Strauss, Suppé, Lehár, and Bernstein. opérette bouffe Subgenre of the French opérette of the Romantic period, often with partially spoken dialogue. Notable composers include Offenbach, Hervé and Messager. opérette vaudeville Subgenre of the French opérette. savoy opera English term for operetta comprising the works of Gilbert & Sullivan and other operatic works that were performed at the Opera Comique and then the Savoy Theatre in London. saynète French for sainete. Description used for a particular style of opérette in the Romantic period. opus Method of identifying a musical work. Works are given an opus number, usually following the order of publication. Abbreviated Op and Opp, the latter being plural. oratorio Musical setting of Baroque origin, with a usually religious text. With solo voices, chorus and orchestra. Similar to opera but with more emphasis on the choral parts and performed as a concert, not as a stage drama. orchestra With reference to the so called symphony orchestra or philharmonic orchestra, this is a body of musicians in size of about a hundred players, generally comprising four main groups: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. A fifth group, keyboards are present ad lib; the exact size and layout of an orchestra varies with the requirements of the composition. See also ensemble, chamber orchestra and string orchestra. orchestral music Music composed for an orchestra. There are many sub-genres, especially the symphony and concertante genres, plus suites, overtures, symphonic poems, waltzes and so on. orchestration The arrangement and scoring of an orchestral composition; the disposition of music among instruments. Which particular instrument that is chosen to play a certain part of an orchestral composition is of course vital to how a work is perceived. Orchestration - or 'instrumentation' if it's a smaller ensemble - is thus second in importance only to composing with regards to the art of creating music. In the Renaissance instrumentation was ad hoc, then in the Baroque composers began to specify who should play what, thus achieving the desired 'color' in their music.
organum Medieval form of polyphony in which the lower voice sung the basic plainchant and the other voices moved freely above it. See also conductus. ornaments Added notes used to embellish the principal melodic tone, to make the music fancier. overture Orchestral composition being the prelude to an opera, oratorio and sometimes incidental music. The term was also used in the Baroque as a synonym for dance suite, especially by Bach and Telemann. concert overture Orchestral composition in one movement without reference to operas and such, in other words a free-standing overture. French overture The so called French overture were used during the Baroque by Lully, Bach, Handel et al in various compositions and were based on the fugue, i.e. in two parts. Italian overture A composition in three parts/movements used as overture in Italian opera and oratorios of the Baroque. Also called sinfonia and as such regarded the precursor to the symphony genre.  

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part Music written for a specific instrument or voice, or groups thereof; a part is one of the melody lines of a piece of music. Note though that this term is also used as a synonym for section or movement, for the former in one-movement instrumental music and for the latter in operatic and vocal music. part-song Song with several parts for several voices, usually sung a capella. partita Originally a name for a single music piece, Baroque composer and among them Bach used it as a synonym for suite. passacaglia Instrumental piece based on a slow Spanish dance, with repeated variations. Related to the chaconne. passion Oratorio based on one of the Gospels of the suffering of Christ. Developed from Medieval 'passion plays' using plainchant into elaborate Baroque settings with solo voices, chorus and orchestra. The genre culminated with Bach. pasticcio 1) An adaptation of an existing work that is loose, unauthorized, or inauthentic.
2) A single work by a number of different composers. pastoral, pastorale A piece of music that offers a pastoral atmosphere. percussion Family of instruments. The setting of the percussions varies heavily according to composer's needs. Examples of instruments to choose from are timpani/kettledrums and other drums, cymbals, triangle, tambourine, glockenspeil, xylophone, vibraphone, chimes, marimba and so on. The percussionist in an orchestra also plays wind instruments such as whistles and sirens. perfect pitch The ability of a person to determine the pitch of and identify a single note, in relation to the notes that surrounds it, e.g. in a chord. This is the intuitive artistic understanding of 'color' in music. See also relative pitch. performance practise Performing music in the way the composer intended. Includes making copies of early instruments and the study of methods of playing these. perpetuum mobile 1) Music played at rapid tempo and repeatedly, often an indefinite number of times.
2) As a genre often performed as virtuoso encores, in some cases increasing the tempo along the repeats. Popular by the end of the 19th century. pizzicato Playing a bowed instrument, such as a violin, by plucking the strings with the fingers. plainchant, plainsong Medieval liturgical monophony, i.e. piece sung a capella in a single melody line (part) either by one voice or a choir. The best known plainchant genre is Gregorian chant. Post romantic A transitional phase overlapping the joint between the late Romantic and early Modern periods, stretching from 1890 to 1935, including composers such as Puccini, Mahler, Sibelius, and Strauss, but defined even more by the French impressionists Debussy and Ravel. The music of this phase is essentially impressionistic and/or expressionistic, and can be described as expanded tonality. postlude Section played as the end of a piece. The opposite is prelude. prelude 1) Piece of music used as an introduction to another work, such as a suite or fugue. See also overture.
2) Short composition, usually for piano. prima donna Term for the leading female singer in an opera company, the woman to whom the prime roles usually are given. Prix de Rome French scholarship for arts, architecture and music students, awarded between 1663 and 1968. Notable composers receiving it are Halévy, Berlioz, Gounod, Bizet, Massenet, Debussy, Charpentier, Boulanger, Ibert and Dutilleux. program music Music conveying outer sources of inspiration such as events, art, people, ideas, drama etc. The examples are many, with opera and ballet as the more obvious, along with symphonic poems, many overtures, suites and songs, and some symphonies. The opposite is absolute music.  

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quartet 1) Music for four parts, e.g. string quartet.
2) Body of four musicians or singers. quodlibet Light composition quoting a combination of popular tunes. quintet 1) Music for five parts, e.g. piano quintet.
2) Body of five musicians or singers.  

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recitative The parts in an opera or oratorio that is sung between arias or choruses, adopting the pattern of speech and expressing the dramatic dialogue. recitativo accompagnato Recitative that employs the orchestra as an accompanying body. As a result, it is less improvisational and declamatory than its precursor recitativo secco, and more song-like. recitativo secco This 'dry recitative' is sung with a free rhythm dictated by the accents of the words. Accompaniment, usually by continuo, is simple and chordal. relative pitch The ability of a person to determine how pitches relate to one another, to identify chords and intuitively understand which should or could precede or follow. In short, this is to understand the 'language' of music. See also perfect pitch. Renaissance Period of musical history stretching from about 1400 to about 1600, with mostly vocal music, not seldom with instrumental accompaniment. This period saw the birth of instrumental music, plus the predecessors of opera and ballet. requiem Musical setting of a mass for the repose of the dead. Notable composers are Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, Brahms, Fauré and Britten. responsory The most general definition of a responsory is any psalm, canticle, or other sacred musical work sung responsorial, that is, with a cantor or small group singing verses while the whole choir or congregation respond with a refrain. rhapsody, rhapsodie Music work fairly free in form, not seldom in two movements, a slow followed by a fast. Equally often with a national connotation, e.g. Dvorák's Slavonic Rhapsodies. rhythm Organization of notes in relation to time. Notes are grouped in measures and the rhythm is based on the number of beats (notes) in a measure added with the duration of those beats, creating perceived 'rhythm'. Rhythm is one of three core elements of music, the other two being harmony and melody. ricercare 1) Instrumental composition of the late Renaissance and early Baroque, usually referring to a contrapuntal early kind of fugue.
2) A homophonic piece resembling a toccata. ripieno 1) Baroque concerto without a solo instrument, thus reminiscent of a symphony.
2) The larger group of musicians performing in a concerto grosso. The smaller group is a concertino.
3) The main body of musicians in any Baroque orchestra. ritornello Recurrent section or phrase used during the Baroque, punctuating arias in operatic works or used in solo concertos, notably by Vivaldi. rococo A late Baroque art style, in the world of music better known as style galante. romance Intended to express a sentiment, a romance is often light and pleasing and in this respect similar to the serenade and the divertimento. Romantic Period of musical history stretching from about 1810 to about 1915, a development of the previous period but with 'program music', not 'absolute music'. See also post romantic. rondeau 1) French verse form, used in poetry and in chansons during the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Notable composers include Machaut and Dufay. See formes fixes.
2) In the Baroque the label 'rondeau' or 'en rendeau' was applied to dance movements in simple refrain form, by such composers as Lully and Couperin. rondo Instrumental music in which a basic theme is repeated and alternated with contrasting themes. Used in the last movement of sonatas, symphonies and concertos during the Classical and Romantic periods.  

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sacred music Music performed or composed for religious use or through religious influence. The opposite is secular music. scherzo Light, independent music piece or movement (scherzo and trio) similar to the minuet however much quicker and less fancy. Chopin expanded the form considerably. schools The so called schools are musical ideals and/or style traits around which certain groups of composers gather. Most schools are named, and some even invented, posthumously by musicologists. Below you find the major ones, in chronological order. Note that 'Ars antiqua' and 'Ars nova', by some regarded as schools, are missing here. Notre Dame School This term refers to the group of composers, predominantly Léonin and Pérotin, working at or near the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris from about 1160 to 1250, notable for the use of conductus, the development of organum and, more importantly, polyphony. Burgundian School The 'first generation' (1420-1450) of the Franco-Flemish School, including the composers Dufay, Binchois, Busnois and Dunstaple. Burgundian composers favored secular forms, especially the chanson. Franco-Flemish school Also known as the Netherlandish School it refers, somewhat imprecisely, to the composers of mainly polyphonic music in the Netherlandish States from 1420-1615. The composers include, but are not limited to: Dufay, Binchois, Busnois, Dunstaple, Ockeghem, Agricola, Obrecht, Josquin, Gombert, Rore, Willaert, Clemens non Papa and Lasso. Roman school A group of Italian composers of conservative church music - smooth, clear, polyphony - during the 16th and 17th centuries. By far the most famous composer of the Roman School is Palestrina. Other 'members' include, but are not limited to, Victoria, Allegri (both of them) and Carissimi. Venetian school The body and work of composers working in Venice from about 1550 to around 1610. The Venetian polychoral style is essential here. Another major factor was printing. In the early 16th century, Venice, prosperous and stable, had become an important center of music publishing. Famous composers of this school are Willaert, Gabrieli (both of them), Rore and Monteverdi. Neapolitan school A group of composers from Naples, best known of whom is Alessandro Scarlatti, that influenced Italian opera considerably. Pergolesi was also part of this group/school. Bologna school Group of composers - Cazzati, Perti, Vitali, Torelli and Corelli - active in Bologna in the mid-late 17th century. The school is associated particularly with the rise of the instrumental concerto and sonata. Old German School Formulated as an opposite to the New German School, this one describes the late Baroque and the music of Bach and Handel. First Viennese School A name mostly used to refer to three composers of the Classical period in late-18th-century Vienna: Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, with Schubert occasionally added to the list. New German School German classical music of the early Romantic period. Not an actual group of composers, more an attempt to unite composers such as Wagner, Liszt and Berlioz under a common German ideal based on Beethoven's musical heritage. The Five, The Mighty Handful A circle of composers who met in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the mid 1800s: Mily Balakirev (the leader), César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. The group had the aim of producing a specifically Russian kind of art music. In a sense, they were a Russian branch of the Romantic Nationalist movement. Also referred to as The New Russian School. Second New England School Also known as the New England Classicists, sometimes specifically the Boston Six, pivotal in the development of an American classical idiom that stands apart from its European ancestors. The six are Paine, Foote, Chadwick, Beach, MacDowell and Parker. American five A school that gathered the composers Ives, Becker, Riegger, Cowell and Ruggles. It was known for its modernist and often dissonant compositions which broke away from European compositional styles to create a distinctly American style. Les Six A group of French composers - Auric, Durey, Honegger, Milhaud, Poulenc, Tailleferre - joined by their wish to distance themselves from the musical style of Wagner and the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel. Second Viennese School A group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates. Their musical aim was initially characterized by post romantic expanded tonality and later, following Schoenberg's own evolution; atonality. Later still it included Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique. The most famous 'members' include Berg, Webern, Eisler, Skalkottas and Cage, plus that Zemlinsky is also sometimes included. Darmstadt School The 'Darmstadt School' describes the uncompromisingly serial music written by composers such as Nono, Boulez, Maderna, Stockhausen, Berio, Cage, Kagel, et al, from the early 1950s to the early 1960s. Manchester School Also known as 'New Music Manchester', principally identified with the composers Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies and Goehr, together with the pianist John Ogdon and the conductor and trumpeter Elgar Howarth. secular music Non-religious music. Secular means being separate from religion. The opposite is sacred music. septet 1) Music for seven parts.
2) Body of seven musicians or singers. serenade, serenata Light and pleasing orchestral work similar to the divertimento, originally intended to be performed outdoors and directed to a certain individual. Mozart composed many popular serenades. serialism & total serialism Serialism is an extension of twelve-tone music, or rather the twelve-tone composing technique. Both are based on atonalism, using all twelve notes of the chromatic scale in a composition without repeating any note and without having anyone dominating the music. The difference it that serialism extend the technique to include also aspects such as rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, while twelve-tone focuses mainly on pitch. sextet 1) Music for six parts.
2) Body of six musicians or singers. sinfonia 1) Italian composition in three movements used as overture in Baroque opera and oratorios, thus referred to as 'Italian overture'. This is the precursor to the modern symphony (Haydn added a fourth movement and the sonata form to it).
2) Instrumental composition in one movement used in France and Germany during the Baroque. sinfonia concertante A concertante that uses two or more solo instruments, a developed concerto grosso that was common during the Classical period. sinfonietta 1) Short orchestral work in symphonic form. Janácek's Sinfonietta is perhaps the most famous example.
2) Sometimes used as a fancier name for orchestra. Solo Instrumental music Music performed by one instrumentalist (musician). The main genre is piano music, with the piano sonata as the dominating sub-genre, but included is also solo music for other instruments, plus the piano duet and duo. Solo Vocal music Music performed by one singer, with instrumental accompaniment, in which the vocal performance provides the main focus of the piece. Genres include the art song, the aria, etc. sonata 1) Music piece intended to be played on instruments, as opposed to a cantata that's intended to be sung.
2) A chamber or solo instrumental composition in several, usually four contrasted but related movements, with some of them using the sonata form. This particular sonata genre was invented in the Classical period. sonata da camera Secular Baroque sonata also called 'chamber sonata', in essence a dance suite. sonata da chiesa Sacred Baroque church sonata in four movement. sonatina Small sonata, simpler in structure (without the middle development section) hence shorter than the regular sonata. song cycle Sequence of art songs on a single theme, intended to be performed as a whole. soprano 1) The highest of the three female voices, the other two are mezzo-soprano and contralto. Soprano is also the highest choral music voice, where mezzo-soprano and contralto are grouped together as 'alto' voices. The soprano often does the leading, heroine role in operas.
2) Description of an instrument with the same range, the highest register. soubrette Stock operatic figure, usually a sharp-witted maid such as Mozart's Susanna or Zerbinetta, often but not necessarily a soprano. spatial music Music that moves or appears to move through space, e.g. Gabrieli's antiphonal brass music, or contemporary electronic music shifting between speakers. stabat mater Medieval Latin hymn to Mary at the cross, set to music by many composers. The name is abbreviated from Stabat Mater Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Mother Stood. Stage music An additional 'genre' comprising music for the stage other than opera and ballet, such as incidental music. ständchen German for serenade, however used mostly to describe vocal music pieces. stile antico, prima practica Meaning 'ancient style' and 'first practice', both these terms refer to a style of composition with controlled dissonance, avoiding overtly instrumental textures and lavish ornamentation, to imitate the compositional style of e.g. Palestrina. See also stile moderno, seconda practica. stile moderno, seconda practica Meaning 'modern style' and 'second practice', both terms refers to a style of composition which encouraged more freedom from the rigorous limitations of dissonances and counterpoint characteristic of the stile antico/prima practica. Claudio Monteverdi and Giulio Caccini promoted this style, which also marks the starting point of basso continuo. string orchestra Orchestra with instruments primarily of the string family, with piano, harp and percussion ad lib. The size varies considerably, between a dozen instruments and up to almost a hundred (Schoenberg's Gurrelieder calls for eighty-four players). See also ensemble, chamber orchestra and orchestra. string quartet 1) The most cultivated chamber music genre. For four parts, i.e. two violins, viola and cello.
2) Body of four musicians playing these instruments. strings The instruments in the string family are basically those of the bow played viol family, i.e. violin, viola, cello and double bass. There are also stricken or plucked string instruments such as harp, guitar, mandolin, etc, plus older instruments like the lute, viola da gamba and violone. study See etude. style galante French music of the Rococo art period, ca 1720-1770, characterized by simplicity, immediacy of appeal, and elegance, within a homophonic structure. In Germany known as empfindsamer stil. Notable composers in France are Couperin and Rameau, plus in Germany CPE Bach and JC Bach. See also barococo. suite 1) Instrumental work from the Baroque and Classical period with stylized dance movements (usually the allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue), known as a dance suite.
2) Instrumental work in several movements known as an orchestral suite, often but not always based on extracts from an opera, ballet or incidental music. Especially popular during the Romantic period. symphonic poem Orchestral program music composition, usually in one movement and often influenced by a certain poem. Also called 'tone poem', in German 'tondichtung', a term preferred by Richard Strauss, a master of the genre. symphony Orchestral composition, based on the Italian sinfonia of the Baroque. Usually in four movements with the same structure as a sonata. Perfected by Haydn and Mozart in the Classical period, developed by Beethoven, Brahms and Bruckner, that included the program music element, and expanded by Mahler, Shostakovich et al, with a varied number of movements and unconventional orchestration an so on. choral symphony Symphony with choral parts. There are also symphonies with parts for vocal soloists.  

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tafelmusik Baroque music used to entertain at banquets, usually a varied set including a suite, a quartet, a concerto etc, as in the most famous example, Telemann's Musique de Table. Te deum Early Latin hymn of praise/thanksgiving, short for Te Deum Laudamus (Thee, O God, we praise). Notable settings by Handel, Haydn, Berlioz and Bruckner. tenor 1) The second highest male voice, in range between the higher countertenor and the lower baritone. The tenor often does the main male character, the hero, in operas.
2) Description of an instrument with approximately the same range. heldentenor Meaning 'heroic tenor' and referring to a tenor with voice suited for grand opera and the music-dramas of Wagner. theme A synonym to tune or melody, which is of fundamental importance to a piece of music. theme and variations An instrumental work with an initial theme followed by a number of variations, as in Bach's Goldberg Variations or in Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the latter borrowing its theme from a work by another composer, quite common in this genre. tiento Spanish genre of the Renaissance, usually with reference to organ music. toccata Instrumental piece of Renaissance origin, designed to display the virtuoso proficiency of the performer, usually for keyboard and featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered sections. tombeau Genre title used for pieces in tribute of predecessors or contemporaries. Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin is a well-known example. tonadilla Spanish 18th century miniature satirical genre that developed out of the sainete. Performed in between longer works. tonality The use of a number of keys, one of which is dominant, to compose harmonic music, with reference to consonance and dissonance. Tonality is the organization principle of conventional classical music. The opposite is atonality. tone poem See symphonic poem. transcription Composition in an arrangement for other instrument(s) than it was originally written for. trouser role Male character in opera that's performed and sung by a woman, e.g. Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro or Octavian in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Also known as pants role and breeches role. treble 1) The highest voice in choral music; the voice of young people, aged eight to sixteen.
2) Description of an instrument with approximately the same range. trecento The Italian parallel to the French Ars Nova and referring to the 1300s, thus ending the Medieval period. Based on conductus, this Italian polyphonic era's most famous composer is Landini. trio 1) Music for three parts.
2) Body of three musicians or singers. trio sonata The dominant chamber music genre of the Baroque. In three parts, usually played by four musicians; on two treble instruments, usually violins, with one part each, plus basso continuo with cello and keyboards for the lower part. Bach's Trio Sonatas for organ are performed by one musician. A good one. twelve-tone, twelve-note Music not composed in keys, instead using the chromatic scale, i.e. all twelve notes (naturals, sharps, flats) in an octave and without any note dominating the music. This is the simplest form of serialism. See also atonality.  

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variations See theme and variations. vespers Liturgical evening prayer service set to music by many composers, notably Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Mozart and Rachmaninov. villanella Light secular, Italian song of satirical and comic nature, from the early Renaissance. It influenced the later canzonetta, and from there also the madrigal. virelai A form of Medieval French verse used often in poetry and music. Notable composers include Machaut and Dufay. See formes fixes. virtuoso Music performer with remarkable technical skills. Vocal music One of three superordinate genres of classical music, the other two being the Instrumental and Operatic genres. Vocal music is divided into Choral music and Solo Vocal music, with the part-song, the madrigal, etc, as intermediate genres between the two. vocalize Singing without words, i.e. using only vowels. volksmärchen Alternative name for märchenoper.  

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waltz See dance music. woodwinds Family of instruments. Basic instruments here are oboe, clarinet, bassoon, English horn and various flutes, including recorder and piccolo. Not all woodwinds are made of wood, e.g. the modern flute and the saxophone is of metal. The dividing line between woodwinds and brass deals with how the instruments are played, how the sound is made. zarzuela Spanish dramatic genre of Baroque origin, similar to opera. This form includes both singing and spoken dialogue, also dance. Local traditions of this genre are found in Cuba and the Philippines. Composers include Hidalgo and Barbieri. genero chico A type of zarzuela, differing from zarzuela grande by its brevity and popular appeal. See also sainete. zwischenspiel German for intermezzo or entr'acte.  

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a prima vista See sight-reading. accent An emphasis on a note. ad lib Short for ad libitum, meaning 'at one's pleasure', this usually refers to the free choice to use a chorus or certain instruments in a composition, as opposed to obbligato. alberti bass Steadily moving accompaniment figure outlining a chord. Often played by the left hand in piano music of the Classical period. arpeggio Sounding of notes in a chord in succession, rather than simultaneously. atonality Music lacking identifiable tonality (key) and tonal center, such as twelve-tone music. bar See meter.
binary form An ancestor of the three-section sonata form, the binary ditto has two sections. The first usually modulates from the keynote to a related key, while the second does it in reverse. Most binary form compositions use one basic melodic theme, but some uses two. bitonality See polytonality. cadence A melodic or harmonic figure, usually two chords, providing a punctuation at the end of a musical phrase, similar to how a comma or period ends a literate unit. Cadences are 'open' or 'closed' depending on the degree of finality. Not to be confused with cadenza. chord Simultaneously sounding group of notes of different pitch. In a so called broken chord the notes are played one after the other. chromatic scale A scale moving along in half steps (semitones), using all twelve notes of an octave. Notable composers include Wagner and Schoenberg. See also diatonic scale. church modes See mode. clef Symbol in notation that fixes the pitch of the notes and their names, according to their position on the stave. There are three clef symbols, the G-clef, C-clef and F-clef. These can be placed on nine different positions on the stave, although only four are used regularly: the treble clef, the bass clef, the alto clef and the tenor clef. coda Final part of a piece, intended to round it off in a satisfying manner. See also conclusion. conclusion A section that ends a piece or movement, not seldom a coda. See also recapitulation under sonata form. counterpoint, contrapuntal A composing technique with music combining two or more melodies that are harmonically interdependent (polyphonic) but independent in rhythm, forming specific harmonies. Notable composers include Palestrina and Bach. countermelody A subordinate melody of a work, to be played in counterpoint to the lead melody. Often heard in a texture consisting of a melody plus accompaniment. cyclic form Formula for composition involving a musical theme that occurs in two or more movements or parts, as a unifying component for the whole work. Not seldom used in symphonies. diatonic scale Either of the two scales (major and minor) of conventional classical music. The diatonic scale is defined as a seven note scale comprising five whole steps and two half steps for each octave, in which the half steps are separated by at least two whole steps. See also chromatic scale. discant, descant 1) A style of organum that either includes a plainchant tenor part, or is used without a plainchant basis in conductus, in either case with a 'note against note' upper voice, moving in contrary motion to the lower. It's not a musical form, rather a technique.
2) By extension of the above it became the name of a part that is added above the tenor, and later as the name of the highest part in a polyphonic setting, the equivalent of 'cantus', 'superius', and 'soprano'.
3) The name of the highest register of instruments such as recorders, cornets, viols, and organ stops. dodecaphony See twelve-tone. drone A harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. duple time Music piece with a rhythm of two beats per measure. dynamics Variations in loudness and softness in a music piece. crescendo Dynamic indication for the music to grow louder. decrescendo Dynamic indication for the music to grow loud, but less so than a crescendo. diminuendo Dynamic indication for the music to become softer. forte & fortissimo Dynamic indication for the music to become loud or very loud, respectively. mezzo-forte Dynamic indication for the music to become medium-loud. mezzo-piano Dynamic indication for the music to become medium-soft. piano & pianissimo Dynamic indication for the music to become soft or very soft, respectively. sempre Additional dynamic indication meaning 'always', e.g. sempre piano, always soft. enharmonic intervals Two notes that occupy the same position in notations and differ only by name, e.g. C sharp and D flat. fach The Fach system is a method of classifying opera singers, according to the range, weight, and color of their voices. Fach makes it easier to cast roles in opera productions. flat 1) Musical sound that is half a step (semitone) lower in pitch than the regular tone. See also sharp.
2) Symbol in notations (♭) placed before a note to indicate flat, or in the key signature to indicate a flat tonic. formes fixes Three 14th and 15th century French poetic forms and chansons: the ballade, rondeau, and virelai. All consisted of a complex pattern of repetition of verses and a refrain with musical content in two main sections. Forms from other countries and periods are also referred to as formes fixes. These include the Italian 14th century madrigal and later ballata and barzelletta, plus the German bar form. fugato A fugue-like section that may appear in non-fugal works, especially Classical period symphonies. hocket A rhythmic linear technique using the alternation of notes, pitches, or chords. In medieval practice of hocket, a single melody is shared between two (or more) voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests. homophony 1) Music form in which two ore more parts move together in unison harmony, thus creating chords.
2) Music form in which a dominant part does the melody and other parts add supportive harmony. The opposite is polyphony. See also monophony. imitation A repetition of a theme or phrase in a different pitch or key, usually contrapuntal and mainly used in canons and fugues. Not to be confused with variation. interval The difference/distance in pitch between two notes. Intervals are named after their types, such as semitone, whole tone, major or minor third, an so on. They are also classified with regards to consonance and dissonance. intonation Exactness of a pitch, or lack of it, when playing or singing. introduction Section which opens a piece or movement, establishing melody, harmony and rhythm, i.e. the theme. See also exposition under sonata form. inversion Turning a melody line 'upside down' thus creating a mirrored version. key The tonal disposition of a piece or work, gravitating around one of the twelve major or twelve minor scales of tonal music: If the named key is C major the composition will use notes close to the C major scale; the first movement of a larger work is usually in the named key, while other movements may explore other keys, to achieve contrast. keynote The first note of a scale, giving the scale its name, e.g. A major. See also tonic. key signature In notations, the sharps and flats placed after the clef, or the absence of them, to indicate the dominant key. parallel key The major and minor scales that have the same keynote, albeit different modes, for example A minor and A major. relative key The major and minor scales that have the same key signatures but a different keynote, for example A minor and C major. Relative keys are closely related keys, i.e. sharing many common traits with an original key, thus useful in modulations to achieve harmony. legato Musical notes that are played or sung smoothly and connected, with no intervening silence. The opposite is staccato. slur Symbol in notations indicating that the notes it embraces are to be played legato. leitmotif Leading theme throughout a work, a musical tag usually associated with a character, but also with an idea, event or situation. Wagner used it in many of his operas. ligature Symbol in notations representing two or more notes performed in a single gesture, and on a single syllable. Used in Early Music. major One of the two groups of keys of the tonal modes, the other one is minor. Major is viewed as the 'brighter' of the two. See also tonality. major scale Diatonic scale of seven notes, i.e. five whole steps (intervals of a tone) and two half steps (intervals of a semitone). measure See meter. messa di voce Musical technique that involves a gradual crescendo and diminuendo while sustaining a single pitch. Mostly used by singers. metamorphosis Music theme changing it's shape; the transformation of thematic elements in a composition. meter, metre The regular succession/pattern of pulses (beats) in music, i.e. measured rhythm. Some genres have characteristic meters, such as the three-beat meter of the waltz. bar, measure The smallest metrical unit in notations, marked by vertical lines, i.e. a measure of time. Called bar in Europe and measure in America. beat The regular rhythmic pattern in music. A single group of beats form a so called measure, or bar, in notations. time signature A numeric symbol in notations determining the number of beats to a measure. minor One of the two groups of keys of the tonal modes, the other one is major. Minor is viewed as the 'darker' of the two. See also tonality. minor scale A variation of the dominant major scale. This variation offers nine notes, as compared to the major's seven. There are three kinds of minor scales, the natural minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor, whereas the major scale come in one version only. minuet and trio Following the so called trio form, this has the aristocratic dance minuet in its two outer sections, with a 'trio' in the middle. The minuet and trio is used as the third movement in most if not all Classical symphonies. In symphonies of the Romantic period the minuet was replaced by the heavier scherzo, hence becoming 'scherzo and trio'. See also compound ternary form under ternary form. mode & modality Complex music concept that generally refers to a type of scale, coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviors: Mode involves pitches and scales, octave range, melodic organization, placement of cadences and emotional character of a piece. There are many modes, the Major and Minor of Western tonality dominating classical music. Other modes, including the so called church modes, are: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. modulation To shift to another key. monody In general synonymous with monophony, however and more specifically the style of early Baroque vocal music as defined by Monteverdi; see stile moderno. monophony Music having one melody line (part) thus without harmonic accompaniment. Significant of the Medieval plainchant. The opposite is polyphony. See also homophony. motif, motive (and figure) Music's shortest element, carrying the basic musical idea, i.e. having a recognizable thematic character. Somewhat synonymous with 'figure' (also called music's shortest element) the difference between the two described as motif being the content and figure being the form. The further development of a motif leads to a phrase. A famous motif is the opening da-da-da-dum of Beethoven's 5th symphony. natural Note that is a whole tone, never a semitone such as sharp or flat. neotonality Inclusive term referring to music of the mid-twentieth century in which traditional tonality is replaced or combined with one or more nontraditional tonal conceptions, e.g. features of atonality. It's usually associated with the neoclassicism of Stravinsky, Les Six, and Hindemith. However, neotonality is a broader concept than that, encompassing most composers of the 1930s and 40s. notations System for writing down music, using a stave with specific symbols for different notes and/or chords, also including many other symbols such as the clef. There are also written tempo, dynamics, and mood indications. See tempo for the tempo indications, dynamics for dynamic indications, and below for mood and other indications. agitato Mood indication to play agitated, with implied quickness. cantabile Mood indication to play in singing style i.e. lyrical and flowing, e.g. andante cantabile. con brio Mood indication meaning 'with vigor and spirit, vivacity, fire or energy' and used together with tempo indications, e.g. allegro con brio, fast with brilliance and fire. energico Mood indication to play more energetically. espressivo Mood indication to play expressively. giocoso Mood indication to play cheerful, e.g. allegro giocoso, fast and cheerful. grandioso Mood indication to play in a grand fashion. grazioso Mood indication to play gracefully. maestoso Mood indication that a piece is to be played majestic, at a solemn, slow speed. mesto Mood indication to play sad and mournful, e.g. adagio mesto, slow and sad. molto Mood indication meaning 'much, very' and found in combinations with tempo indications, such as molto allegro, very quick, or molto piano, very soft. poco Mood indication meaning little and used together with tempo indications, e.g. poco adagio, little slow. scherzando Mood indication to play joyfully. sostenuto Mood indication with a direction to play smoothly with sustained tempo, e.g. andante sostenuto. da capo Indication in notations meaning that a specific piece or part of piece is to be played or sung again. fermata Indication in notations that a note should be sustained for longer than its note value would indicate. senza Indication in notations meaning 'without', e.g. senza interruzione, without interruption. tutti Indication in notations suggesting a passage for the entire ensemble or orchestra, i.e. without a soloist. note 1) Single music sound with specific pitch and duration. (In America and Germany tone is synonymous with note, but not in the UK.)
2) A symbol for the former in notations and scores. note value In music notation, a note value indicates the relative duration of a note. octave The interval of eighth whole notes/tones. The first note has a pitch frequency double to that of the eighth. A regular octave is C to C, but from D to D is also an octave, or from a half-note such as C sharp to C sharp (see tonic). Different octaves have different pitches but the same notes: If a note is an 'atom' then the octave is a 'molecule'. Differently pitched versions of the octave are always that same molecule, however 'vibrating' with higher or lower intensity. ornaments Added notes used to embellish the principal melodic tone, to make the music more appealing. grace notes A rapid note, or notes, that precede a principal note in a melody, creating an ornamental effect. tremolo Quick repetition of the same note or the rapid alternation between two notes. trill Rapid alternation between notes that are a half tone or whole tone apart. ostinato Short repeated pattern of a rhythm or melody, around which a part of or the whole piece is centered. Most often in the bass. ground bass A bass line repeated over and over. passage See section. period Group of at least and usually two contrasting or complementary phrases; the two are called antecedent and consequent. Shorter periods can be combined into longer ones. Compared to language the phrase is a clause and the period a sentence, either a short one or a longer and more complex. phrase A recognizable and fundamental musical unit generally marked of by a strong cadence and/or brief pause. The phrase is built up by repetition and variation of motifs, forming part of a period and thus contributing to the melody of a piece. A phrase is roughly equivalent to the amount one can sing in a breathe. phrasing Imprecise term referring to the expressive shaping of music, the art of timing in music, taking into account rhythm etc. a piacere Means 'at pleasure' and indicates that a piece can be played with any tempo and rhythm, at the discretion of the performer.
rubato An indication referring to expressive and rhythmic freedom, at the discretion of a soloist or conductor. pitch The specific auditory quality of a sound/tone/note, measured by frequency. The pitch determines the position of the note in the octave. polychord The combination of two or more chords being superimposed, i.e. played at the same time and thus creating the polychord. polyrhythm The combination of two or more rhythms played simultaneously. Two techniques exist; the first with superimposed and different meters, with varying measure lengths and number of beats; the second with equal measures but varied beats, thus having the same downbeat. polyphony, polyphonic Music in which two or more independent melody lines (parts) create complexity in a composition. The opposite is monophony, which it succeeded. See also homophony. polytonality The combination of two (bitonality) or more (polytonality) keys being superimposed, i.e. played at the same time. portamento Musical term that describes pitch sliding from one note to another, for an expressive effect. quarter-tone Tone smaller that the semitone, e.g. a tone between B and B-flat, found in Indian music and in 20th century classical music. register Term for a given range of a voice or instrument, e.g. bass. rhythm Organization of notes in relation to time. Notes are grouped in measures and the rhythm is based on the number of beats (notes) in a measure added with the duration of those beats, creating perceived 'rhythm'. Rhythm is one of three core elements of music, the other two being harmony and melody. ritornello Recurrent section or phrase used during the Baroque, punctuating arias in operatic works or used in solo concertos, notably by Vivaldi. root The root of a chord is the note or pitch upon which a chord may be built by stacking thirds. A triadic chord using C as a root would be C-E-G. rubato See phrasing. scale A series of notes that are ascending or descending in a determined, linear fashion, centered around their tonic. There are different scales, depending on the musical system in use; see chromatic, diatonic, major and minor scales. Also see mode. pentatonic scale Musical scale with five notes per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven-note) scale such as the diatonic scale. Common in folk and ethnic music. whole tone scale A scale in which each note is separated from its neighbors by the interval of a whole tone, making it a hexatonic (six-note) scale. scherzo and trio See minuet and trio. scordatura An alternative tuning used for the open strings of a string instrument, in order to play notes below the ordinary range of the instrument. Also called cross-tuning. score Enhanced notation showing all parts of a composition, aligned vertically with staves for all instruments or groups thereof. Used by the conductor of an orchestra. A so called vocal score is a simplified version with two staves. When a composer orchestrates a work, he or she is said to 'score' it. section Part of a music piece, also called 'passage', that is 'a complete, but not independent musical idea' such as an introduction, exposition, development, conclusion, recapitulation, coda, verse, chorus, interlude, etc. A section is longer than a period, but shorter than a movement. Many of these are parts of the various forms of compositions, such as the sonata form, and thus explained either separately or in conjunction with said forms in this glossary. semitone Half a tone, known as the smallest interval in conventional classical music, although 20th century composers also use quarter-tones. sentence Imprecise term usually encountered in discussions of thematic construction. More or less synonymous with period. sequence A successive transposition and repetition of a phrase at different pitches. serialism & total serialism Serialism is an extension of twelve-tone music, or rather the twelve-tone composing technique. Both are based on atonalism, using all twelve notes of the chromatic scale in a composition without repeating any note and without having anyone dominating the music. The difference it that serialism extend the technique to include also aspects such as rhythm, dynamics, and timbre, while twelve-tone focuses mainly on pitch. sharp 1) Musical sound that is half a step (semitone) higher in pitch than the regular tone. See also flat.
2) Symbol in notations (♯) placed before a note to indicate sharp, or in the key signature to indicate a sharp tonic. sight-reading The ability to play or sing a piece upon seeing the printed music for the first time. Highly skilled musicians can sight-read silently; that is, they can look at the printed music and hear it in their heads without playing or singing. Also called sight-singing. slide A glissando or portamento. sonata form Invented by Haydn in the Classical period, this is a formula for composition based on a triple division of a piece or a movement into exposition, development and recapitulation, with an introduction and a coda ad lib. That's the basics of the sonata form; beneath this surface the sonata form is a rather complex concept. It's used in the first movement and not seldom also in the last of sonatas, symphonies, concertos etc. The binary form is close in relation hence the sonata form is also referred to as 'compound binary form'. It is also close to the ternary form in that it's being divided into three sections. exposition Occasionally preceded by a short introduction, the exposition is the first section of a piece or movement in sonata form, announcing the principal theme. development The middle section of a piece or movement composed using the sonata form. In the Classical period relatively short but in the Romantic period long and dominant, this section usually begins in the key that ended the exposition and then varies the theme, juxtaposed for contrast, sometimes adding new themes. It usually returns to the starting key during the ending 'retransition' phase. recapitulation The section that ends the sonata form returns to the theme of the exposition, in an altered repeat of it. This can also be part of a larger conclusion, including a coda ad lib. sonority A vague concept for the general quality of sound, as in 'the rich sonority of the cello' or 'the characteristic sonority of a piece'. It's resembles timbre and 'tone color' but is more of a subjective opinion than an objective observation. spinto A versatile soprano or tenor voice of a weight between lyric and dramatic. A spinto voice type has fine squillo qualities and is thus suitable in a wide variety of roles. sprechgesang & sprechstimme An expressionist vocal technique between singing and speaking. Sprechgesang is closer to singing while Sprechstimme is closer to speech. squillo A quality in a singer's voice. The purpose of the squillo is to enable an essentially lyric tone to be heard over thick orchestrations. See also spinto. staccato A note of shortened duration, separated from the note that may follow by a brief silence. The opposite is legato. stave, staff Notation with five parallel lines and the space between them on which notes are written, their position determining their pitch. Plainchant uses a four-line stave. stretto In a fugue, a second subject slightly overlapping a first one. strophic form Music in a series of repeated sections, often setting a strophic poem. Each section usually has the same length, the same meter. subject Theme or group of themes. tablature A system of notation for stringed instruments of the lute/guitar family. The notes are indicated by the finger positions. temperaments System for tuning an instrument in such a way it slightly compromises the pure intervals of strict tuning. Most instruments nowadays are tuned in 'twelve tone equal temperament', dividing the octave into twelve equal semitones. Predecessors such as the Renaissance 'meantone temperament' are not as accurate. Bach's famous The Well-Tempered Clavier is an example of 'well temperament', a Baroque breakthrough in tuning leading up to the modern equal temperament. tempo The speed or 'pulse' at which a music piece is played. In classical music the tempo is indicated in notations by Italian terms such as adagio, moderato, and so on, or by metronome markings such as 80 bpm (beats per minute). Larghissimo Tempo indication to play at a very, very slow pace (this is the slowest tempo). Grave Tempo indication to play at a slow and solemn pace (faster than larghissimo but slower than lento). Lento Tempo indication to play in slow pace (faster than grave but slower than largo). Largo Tempo indication to play at slow pace (faster than lento but slower than larghetto). Larghetto Tempo indication to play at rather slowish pace (faster than largo but slower than adagio). Adagio Tempo indication to play at a slow and stately pace (faster than larghetto but slower than adagietto). Adagietto Tempo indication to play at a rather slow pace (faster than adagio but slower than andante moderato). Andante moderato Tempo indication to play at a slow walking pace (faster than adagietto but slower than andante). Andante Tempo indication to play at a walking pace (faster than andante moderato and the slightly faster andantino). Andantino Tempo indication to play at a fast walking pace (between the slightly slower andante but slower than moderato). Moderato Tempo indication to play at a moderate pace (faster than andantino but slower than allegretto). Allegretto Tempo indication to play at a moderately fast pace (faster than moderato but slower than allegro moderato). Allegro moderato Tempo indication to play at a moderately quick pace (faster than allegretto but slower than allegro). Allegro Tempo indication to play at a fast, quick and bright pace (faster than allegro moderato but slower than vivace). Vivace Tempo indication to play at a lively and fast pace (faster than allegro but slower than vivacissimo). Vivacissimo Tempo indication to play at a very fast and lively pace (faster than vivace but slower than allegrissimo). Allegrissimo Tempo indication to play at a very fast pace (faster than vivacissimo but slower than presto). Presto Tempo indication to play at a very, very fast pace (faster than allegrissimo but slower than prestissimo). Prestissimo Tempo indication to play at a extremely fast pace (this is the fastest tempo). accelerando Additional tempo indication stating that a music piece is to be played at increasing speed. alla breve Additional tempo indication meaning 'in short style', i.e. that a piece is to be played in duple time. assai Additional tempo indication meaning 'very much' and used together with other tempo indications, e.g. allegro assai, very fast. con moto Additional tempo indication meaning 'with motion, fast'. giusto Additional tempo indication meaning to play at exact and strict speed, e.g. allegro giusto. mosso Additional tempo indication to play at changed speed. Generally found as either più mosso, faster, or meno mosso, slower. l'istesso, lo stesso Additional tempo indication requesting a return to the previous speed of the music. non tanto, ma non tanto Additional tempo indication meaning 'not so much', e.g. allegro ma non tanto, fast but not so much. Slightly weaker than the more common non troppo. non troppo, ma non troppo Additional tempo indication meaning 'not too much', e.g. allegro ma non troppo, fast but not too much. Slightly stronger than the much less common non tanto. poco Additional tempo indication meaning little and used together with other tempo indications, e.g. poco adagio, little slow. ralletando Additional tempo indication referring to a gradual slowing down of a piece's speed. ritardando Additional tempo indication referring to a less gradual slowing down of a piece's speed than the ralletando. ritueno Additional tempo indication meaning the music is to become slightly slower, often only temporarily. stretto Additional tempo indication suggesting a faster speed near the conclusion of a section. ternary form A very common three-part composition formula, reminiscent of the sonata form although less complex; the first sections sets the theme and main key, which is repeated slightly modified, perhaps with ornamentation, in the third section. The middle section is freer in this aspect, with independent material. The ternary form can actually be found in Medieval music, in the common arrangement antiphon-verse-antiphon in Gregorian chant. compound ternary form Also known as trio form, in this one each section is a dance piece in binary form, the first and last highly similar, and the middle an independent 'trio' also binary i structure, but noticeably lighter and sweeter than the outer sections. See also minuet and trio. tessitura 1) The most musically acceptable and comfortable range for a given singer.
2) In musical notation, tessitura is used to refer to the compass in which a piece of music lies for a particular vocal part. texture Term synonymous with structure, for example 'contrapuntal texture'. Also used in a quasi-clever fashion, when a piece is described as having a 'rich texture' or such. theme A synonym to tune or melody, which is of fundamental importance to a piece of music. through-composed form A piece without any strophic patterns or recapitulations or repeating sections, with new music for each part of the work. timbre The individual audio quality of the sound, the 'tone color', that distinguishes a particular voice or instrument from another. See also sonority. time Measure of the momentum in music referring to its rhythm, meter and tempo. tonality The use of a number of keys, one of which is dominant, to compose harmonic music, with reference to consonance and dissonance. Tonality is the organization principle of conventional classical music. The opposite is atonality. tone The sound (pitch) that occurs when a string, membrane, air moving in a pipe or such is vibrating at a certain frequency. In America and Germany tone is synonymous with note, but not in the UK. tone clusters Dissonant effects made up of adjacent notes by, for example, hitting a piano's keys with the hole hand or arm. Used by 20th century composers. tonic The tonic is the first note and the tonal center of a diatonic scale. Scales are named after their tonics, thus the tonic of the scale of C is the note C. The tonic is considered to be the first 'degree' of the scale, from which each octave is assumed to begin. The concepts 'tonic' and 'degree' are meaningful in diatonic scales, but futile in chromatic ones. Tonic is also called keynote. transposition Shifting of the overall pitch of a music piece, making it possible to play the piece in a higher or lower key than the original. In tonal music, that is. In chromatic and atonal music the pitch of the intervals is changed. triad A set of three notes, i.e. a chord, that can be stacked in thirds. A basic harmonic unit of tonal music. triadic Chord based on the triad, i.e. made up of the first, third and fifth notes in a scale. trio form See compound ternary form under ternary form. triple time Music piece with a rhythm of three beats per measure. tuning The raising and lowering of a pitch on an instrument to produce the correct tone of a note. twelve-tone, twelve-note Music not composed in keys, instead using the chromatic scale, i.e. all twelve notes (naturals, sharps, flats) in an octave and without any note dominating the music. This is the simplest form of serialism. See also atonality. unison Simultaneous sounding of the same note, sung or played. Unison songs are in one part. variation In music a repetition of a theme or phrase in an altered form. Not to be confused with imitation. Venetian polychoral style The music of the late Renaissance and early Baroque eras which involved spatially separate choirs singing in alternation. This is one of the major stylistic developments which led to the formation of what we now know as the Baroque style. vibrato Pulsating effect in an instrumental or vocal tone produced by slight and rapid variations in pitch, designed to enhance the beauty of the sound. voice One of two or more parts in polyphonic music, referring to instrumental parts as well as the singing voice.


From the Glossary Instrumental music One of three superordinate genres of classical music, the other two are Operatic music and Vocal music. Instrumental music is divided into Orchestral and Chamber and Solo Instrumental music, with certain compositions for chamber ensembles, such as the chamber concerto, being intermediate sub-genres. orchestral music Music composed for an orchestra. There are many subgenres, especially symphonies and concertante music plus suites, overtures, symphonic poems, waltzes and so on. chamber music Music composed for and played by a small group of musicians, usually in smaller rooms rather than auditoriums. The compositions are usually written so there's one part to each instrument. solo instrumental music Music performed by one instrumentalist (musician). The main genre is piano music, with the piano sonata as the dominating sub-genre, but included is also solo music for other instruments, plus the piano duet and duo.