Absolute music. Music that makes no intentional reference to
a non-musical source, such as a literary work, visual image, historical
event, etc. The term was coined in the Romantic
Period to make a distinction between "pure" music and program music
(music that tells a story). The distinction is often hazy, however. For
example, though Beethoven's
Fifth Symphony has no overt program, Beethoven himself described the opening
measures as describing "fate knocking at the door."
A capella. [ah kah-peh-lah] (Italian) Literally, "in the chapel." Choral music sung without instrumental accompaniment.
Adagio/Adagietto. [ah-dah-jee-oh; ah dah-jee-eh-toh]
(Italian) "Slowly." Indicates a slow tempo
. Adagietto is also a slow tempo, but not as slow as adagio.
Allegro/Allegretto. [ah-lay-groh; ah-lay-greh-toh]
(Italian) "Merry," "cheerful." Indicates a fast tempo
. Allegretto is slightly slower than allegro and implies
a lighter style.
Andante/Andantino. [ahn-dahn-tay; ahn-dahn-tee-noh]
(Italian) From the verb andare, "to walk." Implies a moderate, "walking"
Similarly, andantino (the diminuitive of andante) could imply
a tempo either faster or slower than andante.
Animato. [ah-nee-mah-toh] (Italian) "Animated." Tempo
indication, generally modifying an initial tempo.
For example, piu animato means "more animated than before."
Antiphonal. Music performed by an ensemble divided into two or
more distinct groups which perform in alternation and together.
Aria. [ah-ree-ah] (Italian) "Air." A self-contained, melodic
section of a large-scale vocal work (opera
, cantata, or oratorio) sung by a soloist with instrumental or orchestral
accompaniment. It is distinct from the more speech-like recitative
sections. There are also arias that exist independent of any larger
work, and in the Baroque
period, some instrumental works were called arias, such as the theme
Arioso. [ah-ree-oh-soh] Sometimes used to identify vocal
or instrumental music in a lyrical style.
Arpeggio. [ahr-peh-jee-oh] (Italian) From "arpa" (harp).
Playing the notes of a chord in succession, instead of simultaneously.
Bar. Synonymous with measure. A way of dividing music
into small, often regularly spaced groups of beats. The division is indicated
by a vertical line, called the bar-line.
Cadence. The ending of a musical phrase, and the common melodic
or harmonic formulas that make the ear recognize such an ending.
Cadenza. [kah-dehn-zah] (Italian) "cadence." A virtuoso
passage usually found near the end of a concerto movement or vocal aria
. Cadenzas are often based on the themes of the piece
in which they appear and are improvisatory in style. In the Classical
periods performers were expected to improvise or provide their own cadenzas,
began the practice of providing written cadenzas for some of his piano
Canon. (Latin) "Rule." The strictest form of counterpoint.
After the initial statement of a melody in one "voice," all subsequent
"voices" must imitate that melody exactly (note
for note), or with only minimal adjustments. The melody must be composed
so that it sounds "correct" when played "against" itself. The imitatations
may begin on the same pitch, or on another pitch (in which case all the
notes will have to be "transposed" to maintain the integrity of the melody).
Canons are usually part of larger works; perhaps the most renowned collection
of canons is contained in J.S. Bach's
Offering. "Row, Row, your Boat" is a familiar example of a simple canon.
Cantabile. [kahn-tah-bee-lay] (Italian) "Singing." Music
performed in a singing style. The term can be added to a tempo
marking (andante cantabile, for example) or placed over a melodic
Chord. The simultaneous sounding of three or more notes.
Chromatic. From the Greek "chromatikos" (colored). The chromatic
scale divides an octave into twelve semitones (all the white and black
notes on the keyboard from middle c to the c above it, for example), as
opposed to the
diatonic major and minor scales.
Chromatic chords employ notes foreign to the diatonic
scale of the prevailing key in a musical passage. The
history of Western Music through the early 20th
century reveals a progression of increasing chromaticism.
Coda. [koh-dah] (Italian) "Tail." The last section of
a piece of music.
Consonance. The simultaneous sounding of two or more tones which
produce an effect of stability or harmoniousness. Exactly which combinations
of tones are considered consonant varies considerably among different cultures
and has changed considerably during the history of Western music. Definitions
of consonance may also be found in acoustical theories from Pythagoras
to Helmholtz. Intervals (the distance from one note to another] considered
consonant in the common practice of tonal music are unisons, octaves, perfect
fifths and fourths, and both major and minor sixths.
Counterpoint. The art of combining two or more musical lines
that are to be played or sung simultaneously. These lines may be said to
be "in counterpoint" with each other. The term is in some ways synonymous
polyphony, although counterpoint is most
commonly used for
music; polyphony for music from the Medieval
periods. The rules of counterpoint were codified from the music of Palestrina
by J.J. Fux in his 1725 treatise, Gradus ad Parnassum (Steps
Crescendo. [kreh-shen-doh] (Italian) "Growing." Indicates
a gradual increase in volume. May be indicated by a symbol called a "hairpin"
(<) or abbreviated as "cresc."
Diatonic. Any octave divided into a seven-note scale (consisting
of various combinations of whole tones and semitones). The major and minor
scales, as well as the church modes, are diatonic. Diatonic harmony, which
is the basis for our tonal system, consists of chords which contain only
the notes of a given diatonic scale. (See chromatic.)
Diminuendo. [deh-meen-yoo-ehn-doh] (Italian) "Diminishing."
Indicates a gradual decrease in volume. Synonymous with decrescendo. May
be indicated by a symbol called a "hairpin" (>) or abbreviated as "dim."
Dissonance. The sounding of two or more tones which produce an
effect of harshness or instability, and demand "resolution" to a consonance.
Like consonance, the concept of dissonance is dependent
upon both context and the way our ears have been cultured. Some intervals
considered dissonant in the Medieval
period were found to be consonant during the Renaissance.
Also, the way a dissonance is resolved (and even the way it is orchestrated)
can decrease or intensify how "harsh" it sounds. Intervals commonly considered
dissonant in tonal music are the major and minor seconds and sevenths.
Drone. A sustained musical sound, usually a bass note or notes.
Also, an instrument or part of an instrument that produces such sounds
can be called a drone, such as the drones of a bagpipe.
Dynamics. The degrees of volume (loudness and softness) in music.
Also the words, abbreviations, and symbols used to indicate degrees of
Piano (soft) and forte (loud) are most common.
Harmony. Harmony is the chordal or vertical structure of a piece
of music, as opposed to melody (and polyphony,
or multiple melodies) which represents the horizontal structure. The succession
of chords in a given piece is referred to as a chord
Homophony (homophonic). From the Greek for "like-sounding."
Music in which all voices move in the same rhythm. Or, more commonly, a
musical texture in which there is a clear distinction between melody and
chordal [chord] accompaniment. (See polyphony.)
Imitation. The overlapping repetition of a melody by two or more
"voices." A technique of polyphonic composition.
Key. A musical work in a "key" is melodically and harmonically
orientated around a particular major or minor scale. For example, a composition
in C Major will usually begin and end in that key, although excursions
to other keys may occur. However, a passage in C Major may temporarily
utilize notes that do not occur in that scale and still remain in C Major.
Key signature. The key signature is a symbol found at the beginning
of a musical composition; sharps or flats are placed on the staff as needed
to indicate the key of the piece.
Largo. [lahr-goh] (Italian) "Broad." Indicates a very
slow tempo, usually slower than adagio.
Legato. [leh-gah-toh] (Italian) "Tied." An indication
to play music in a connected, smooth fashion.
Libretto. [lih-breh-toh] (Italian) "Little book." The
text of an
oratorio, or other large-scale vocal work.
Measure. Synonymous with bar.
Meter. The organization of beats, establishing an underlying
pattern of emphases and creating a regular, measurable "pulse." A waltz
for example, is in a triple meter, with an emphasis on the first beat of
the three: 1-2-3,
1-2-3. A time signature placed at the beginning
of a composition or section indicates the basic unit of measurement contained
within each measure. A waltz is usually notated in three-quarter (3/4)
time, for example, which tells the performer that each measure will contain
three quarter notes to be played as fast as the tempo
indicates. The first beat of a group is generally emphasized. A beat should
not be confused with a note; a beat may contain one note, many notes, or
may be silent (indicated by a symbol called a rest). Beats create an underlying
pulse that organizes musical sounds through time.
Mode. In the broadest meaning, any arrangement of musical tones
into a scale. The major and minor scales can be called modes. Mode most
often refers to the scales used in Western music from about 400 to 1500
which were identified by Greek names: Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian.
These are sometimes called the "church modes," because of their associations
with Gregorian Chant. Two subsequent additions to this old modal system,
Ionian and Aeolian, were identical to the major and minor scales known
today. By 1600 these were the only two modes commonly used by classical
composers, but the other modes continued to be heard in folk traditions.
The church modes were rediscovered by composers of the late nineteenth
and early 20th
centuries ; the modes also play in important role in jazz composition.
Modulation. Changing key within the course
of a composition.
Monophony (monophonic). From the Greek for "one-sounding." Music
for a single voice or part; a melody without any accompaniment. Gregorian
chant is an example of monophony.
Motive. A recurring, recognizable rhythmic, melodic, or harmonic
idea. A motive may also be a part of a larger phrase,
Ornament. An embellishment to a pre-existing melodic line, generally
consisting of a single note, or small group of notes. At various times
musical history the use of ornaments has been left up to the discretion
of the performer, indicated either by a system of symbolic shorthand, or
written out as notes.
Ostinato. [oh-steh-nah-toh] (Italian) "Obstinate." A musical
pattern repeated many times, one after another. The pattern may be melodic,
harmonic, or rhythmic. A melodic ostinato repeated in the bass is called
Part. 1. The line or lines of music read by an individual performer
or multiple performers of the same instrument. For example, the viola section
of an orchestra
consists of a group of violists reading the same music, known as the"viola
part." 2. A single melodic strand of a polyphonic
or contrapuntal texture, as in "two-part counterpoint"
and "four-part harmony." In this context, "voice" can also be used to mean
"part." 3. A section of a larger composition, used primarily to describe
a musical form, for example "three-part song form."
Phrase. A sub-section of a melodic line, generally longer than
motive, and comparable to a clause or sentence
within a paragraph of written prose. Melodies and themes
may be constructed out of several phrases of equal or varied length.
Pizzicato. [pih-tzee-kah-toh] (Italian) "Plucked." An
indication to pluck (with the fingers) the string or strings of an instrument
which is usually bowed.
Polyphony (polyphonic). From the Greek for "many-sounding." Music
in which two or more "voices" are heard simultaneously; as opposed to
("one-sounding") and homophonic ("like-sounding").
Recitative. [reh-sih-tah-teev] From the Italian "recitativo."
A declamatory style of singing designed to imitate the natural inflections
of speech. It was developed by a group of Florentine intellectuals (c.1600)
in an attempt to recreate the performance style of ancient Greek tragedy,
and became an essential feature of operas
and oratorios. In early Baroque
[cons/genres] the distinction between recitative and aria
was often blurred; by the late Baroque
(c. 1700) the two were completely distinct in style and purpose, with recitative
used to propel the plot and aria used for poetic reflection. In the Romantic
period the lines between the two forms began to blur again. Baroque
featured two types of recitative: recitativo secco ("dry recitative")
featuring quick articulation of the text, accompanied by harpsichord; and
recitativo accompagnato ("accompanied recitative"), more dramatic and
melodic, accompanied by the full
Rubato. [roo-bah-toh] (Italian) "Robbed." Also tempo
rubato ("robbed time"). The practice of performing music in a flexible,
instead of strict tempo. Rubato is one of the more
controversial issues in musical performance, as its precise manner of execution
cannot be precisely notated. However, the "appropriate" application of
rubato is often considered to be a sign of the "musicality" of a performer.
What sounds like "musical" rubato to one listener may sound overdone and
distorted by another.
Staccato. [stah-kah-toh] (Italian) "Separated." Notes
which are held for less than their written value, or "separated" from one
another. There are various degrees of staccato, and it can be notated
in various ways; the most common has a dot placed over or under the note.
Notes written to be played staccato are often played in a pointed or spiky
Syncopation. An alteration of the expected rhythmic emphases:
for example, accenting a weak (instead of a strong) beat, or replacing
strong beats with a rest (silence). Syncopations disturb the regular, predictable
pattern of strong and weak beats. (See meter.)
Tempo. [tehm-poh] (Italian) "Time." The rate of speed
at which a musical composition is performed. Tempo is indicated by a tempo
marking (usually in Italian), which describes the general speed (and often
the mood) of a piece or section. Allegro, andante
and adagio are common tempo markings.
Theme. A musical idea on which all or part of a work may be based.
The theme is usually a melody or melodic fragment. A single theme may be
used as the basis for a set of variations. Most music is made up of at
least several different themes.
Timbre. [tam-bruh] Synonymous with tone color. The acoustical
properties of a specific instrument or voice which contribute to its distinctive
sound. For example, a flute has a different timbre than a clarinet.
Tonality. Denotes the presence of a central key
in a musical composition. If the music moves to a different key
modulation), it is expected to return to the
original key (called the
tonic). Tonality gives the ear a "center,"
providing a context in which melody and harmony have "meaning." Atonality
(prevalent in some 20th
century music) is music without any central key.
Tone. 1. Any stable sound; synonymous with pitch. 2. A quality
of sound, dependent in many ways on personal taste. For example, a person
may find a particular singer's tone to be beautiful, another may find that
same singer's tone to be unpleasant. 3. The mood of a musical composition,
similar to the use of the term in descriptions of literature.
Trio. 1. A piece of music for three musicians (instrumentalists
or singers). 2. A contrasting middle section of a minuet, scherzo, or similar
Vibrato. [vih-brah-toh] (Italian) "vibrated." A slight
fluctuation of pitch on a sustained tone. String players produce vibrato
by wiggling the left hand back and forth (the right hand holds the bow);
wind players and singers use breath control. Judicious use of vibrato is
considered to be expressive. Excessive vibrato produces what is often described
euphamistically as a wobble.
Vivace. [vih-vah-chay] (Italian) "full of life," "flourishing,"
"vivacious." More an indication of mood than of tempo.
It was often used to modify a tempo indication, such
as Allegro vivace ("Fast and vivacious").
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