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Music Glossary


M.Tevfik Dorak


Naxos Music Glossary     Sofia Open Access Courses: Musicianship


Alla breve: A tempo mark indicating quick duple time; i.e., 2/2 instead of 4/4. So, the minim but not the crotchet is the unit of time.

Allemande: A moderate duple time dance (4 or 2). It generally has a short upbeat of one semiquaver (occasionally three) at the beginning. The Baroque suit usually starts with an allemande, which is followed by the faster courante.

Alto: A singer whose vocal compass is between the G below middle C and the D above the treble clef. In men, this is usually achieved by a bass singing falsetto, in women it is usually referred to as contralto.

Anacrusis: Starting a phrase with an upbeat note, therefore, making the first note an unaccented one.

Antefatto: In opera, the parts of the plot that are assumed to have happened prior to the action on stage. Il Trovatore and Fidelio are examples of operas, which have extensive antefattos (also called argomento).

Antiphony: Alternating sounding. In its original meaning it meant the singing of the successive verses of a psalm by alternating choruses.

Apotheosis: The perfect (quintessential) example; to glorify as of supreme worth (used very frequently to describe a piece of music!)

Appoggiatura: An unprepared, non-harmonic note, which does not belong to the chord on the strong beat. Approached by leap and resolves downwards or upwards by step (sometimes by leap) into the chord. In contrast, suspensions are prepared (not approached by leap) and never resolve by leap. Appoggiatura may be shown as an ornament or may be absorbed in the ordinary notation (nineteenth century). When there are two appoggiaturas on the same beat, it is called double appoggiatura. For a triple appoggiatura, see b.181 of the first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Op.18, No.1).

Arabesque: A florid melodic section (the real meaning is a florid element in Arabian architecture). Generally used for characteristic pieces of a more or less casual type.

Arpeggio: A chord whose notes are presented one at a time successively instead of as a stack of notes sounding at the same time. Also called broken chord.

Articulation: The way successive notes are joined to one another in performance. Opposite kinds of articulation are staccato (detached) and legato (smooth). The three standard signs of articulation are the dot, the bow or slur, and the tenuto dash.

Augmented sixth chords: These are a group of chromatic chords usually occur on the flattened submediant or flattened supertonic. In harmonic progression, their place is invariably before the dominant (V) or the cadential six-four (Ic). The augmented sixth chord resolves by opening outward to form an octave, and a dominant chord. If the augmented sixth is on the flattened submediant (Ab:F# in C major), the resolution will be on the dominant seventh chord (G in C major). If it is on the flattened supertonic (Db:B in C major), the resolution will be on the dominant seventh chord on the tonic (one way of modulating to the subdominant). The German sixth is enharmonically equivalent to the dominant seventh. The drive of the (German) augmented sixth chord towards the dominant is frequently exploited in harmony (used instead of II). They are also used to modulate by forming a German sixth on the flattened submediant of the target key (see modulation).

Back to Bach movement: The movement, which revisited Baroque musical forms and paved the way to Neoclassicism in the twentieth century. Some important works of this period are Stravinsky's Octet for Winds, Pulcinella (a ballet with songs based on Pergolesi's music), Hindemith's Kammermusik Op.36 and Holst's Fugal Concerto (written in 1923). Music historians use the word neoclassicism for the period after 1923.

Ballad: A poem that tells a story, often of a historic, legendary or fairy-tale character.

Ballad opera: A light opera constructed by fitting new lyrics to popular existing tunes. It includes extensive spoken dialogue. The Beggar's opera was the first inspiring success. The German Singspiel was influenced and inspired by the English ballad opera.

Baritone: Range of voice between tenor and bass. The compass of a baritone voice is between the G below the bass clef and the F above middle C.

Bass: The lowest register male voice, which ranges from F below the F clef to the D just above the middle C.

Basso continuo: Thorough-bass (really through-bass), a prominent feature of Baroque music. It was first associated with the operatic recitative style, it quickly came to be used for nearly all Baroque musical repertory. It is called (through) continuo because it is a continuous, independent part, which continues or goes through the whole piece as opposed to basso seguente, which is not independent. In orchestral music, the disappearance of the basso continuo began about 1760, by the end of the century it was obsolete. In accompanying recitatives, it was used till 1820 by some composers.

Basso seguente: An instrumental bass (organ, etc.), which merely duplicates the lowest vocal part.

Bel canto: A style of singing emphasizing the melody. Bel canto, literally meaning beautiful singing, gave importance to human voice more than the words or the orchestra. Originated in the Baroque era. Appeared in cantata and opera simultaneously. Frequently uses IV-V-I and IIb-V-I cadences in short phrases. Powerfully influenced the slow movements of Baroque concerto and sonatas. In operatic bel canto, a particular specialty is the mad scene (the most famous is in Lucia di Lammermoor).

Binary form: The form of a piece, which falls into two sections: the first begins in the tonic and finishes with a cadence either in the tonic (closed binary), or in the dominant (open binary); the second section starts in the new key (usually dominant), modulates and works back to the tonic. Each section is repeated. The main principle is the contrast of key. If the opening material is repeated (often with modifications) towards the end of the second section, it is called rounded binary form. Unsuitable for long pieces and the usual form for Baroque dance movements (allemande, sarabande, courante, gigue, gavotte, bourre, minuets etc).

Bipartite form: A scheme first found in the opera arias of the mid-eighteenth century (A-B-A-B-coda). Unlike the abridged sonata form (slow movements) it is distantly related to, there is no tonal principles within this form.

Biskra scale: The Arabic scale consisting of D, F, F# and G#. Thus, it contains a minor third (D-F), a major third (D-F#) and an augmented fourth - tritone (D-G#). It is one of the trade marks of Bartokian melodic style (an example being the first movement of his Music for strings, percussions and celesta).

Cadence: The close of a musical phrase or movement. There are perfect, imperfect, plagal and interrupted cadences. The tonic chord preceded by the dominant constitutes a perfect cadence, but not invariably, only at the end of a phrase. In the middle of a phrase, V-I is a strong chord progression (especially from a weak to a strong beat) and not a cadence.

Cantata: A composite secular vocal genre of the Baroque period. It is on a smaller scale than opera and not staged. The reform cantatas (after Neumeister's texts) consist of several movements such as arias, recitatives, duets and choruses based on a narrative text. Appeared as an offspring of monodic style and replaced the sixteenth century madrigals.

Canzona: (a) Sixteenth century Italian secular vocal music; (b) Sixteenth and seventeenth century instrumental (solo or ensemble) form using imitative techniques developed from Franco-Flemish chansons. The most important instrumental form of the late Renaissance. A canzona consists of contrasting sections in a single movement, alternating in tempo, meter, etc. In the Baroque era, it eventually became a separate movement in sonata. The organ canzonas were the forerunners of the fugue; the ensemble canzonas eventually developed into the sonata da chiesa.

Cell development technique: Exact or slightly varied repetition of a motif (as opposed to motivic development). Typical of Eastern European music.

Chaconne: A moderate triple time dance with the second-beat accent like sarabande. They are not in binary form and they have some kind of recurring bass line together with the full harmony over and over. In passacaglia, just the bass line is repeated.

Chest of viols: A group of viols consisting of two treble, two tenor and two bass viols.

Chorale [not choral]: Hymns of the Lutheran church originated in the Renaissance. As most Catholic Church music in the 16th century was an outgrowth of plainsong, so much Lutheran church music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was an outgrowth of the chorale. Most Bach cantatas use a chorale tune.

Chorale prelude: Usually applied to an organ composition based on a chorale melody.

Chromatic fourth: see ostinato.

Chromaticism: The use of accidental notes outside the prevailing diatonic key either for special effects (emotionally intense parts; colour-modification of diatonicism) or for modulation. The augmented sixths (augmented triad=affecting chord), the Neapolitan sixth and the supertonic chromatic chords are examples. The chromatic or diatonic character of a ‘foreign’ note is conditioned by harmonic considerations like: in the progression C-E-F#-G, the note F# is chromatic if the harmony stays on C, diatonic if it modulates to G.

Circle-of-fifths: The prime harmonic model of the early eighteenth century. Together with the sequence, an important device to establish tonality as it passes through the degrees of the scale in the expected mode (minor, major, diminished, augmented) for the chord of that degree.

Coda: Optional last part of a piece that comes after the basic design is complete like the closing section after the recapitulation in a sonata-type movement or the part after the last variation in variation form. Means tail in Italian.

Codetta: It has the same function of the coda but for a section rather than a movement of piece. Closing group is preferred by some.

Comma: A small interval used in the music of Eastern Europe and Islamic world, which corresponds to one ninth of a whole tone. One (Pythagorean) comma is 24 cents while an octave is 1200 and an equal-tempered semitone is 100 cents (four commas). Although not precisely, an octave is 53 comma (five whole-tones and two semitones: 5x9 + 2x4=53). A comma corresponds to the difference between seven octaves and twelve perfect fifths.

Compass: The range of notes from the highest to the lowest note obtained from an instrument or voice.

Con brio: Fiery (the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No.5 is Allegro con brio).

Concertare: The Latin word concertare means 'to contend, dispute, debate', whereas, the primary Italian word concertare means 'to arrange, agree, get together'.

Concertato: An identical word to concerto.

Concerto: Appeared in the late Renaissance. The term is probably a derivative of the Latin word concertare=to contend; referring to competing or contrasted groups. Solo concerto was first introduced by Torelli, and further developed by Albinoni and Vivaldi. The Baroque solo concerto usually has outer movements written in ritornello form with a tonal plan close to that of da capo aria. As the only Baroque form survived into the Classical era, the concerto remained in three movements since its emergence.

Concerto grosso: Orchestral music written for a group of solo instruments (concertino), contrasted with a tutti of strings (ripieno). The concertino is the same as the trio sonata ensemble (two violins + continuo). It often has three movements: a long first movement in ritornello form, a slow second movement, and a quick finale (usually a rondo). First appeared as an expansion of contrapuntal trio sonata. It may be played by as few as four performers or, by doubling the parts many times, up to 60 performers. Concerto grosso is more a forerunner of the modern symphony [concertante] than of the modern concerto.

Consonance vs Dissonance: Agreeable (satisfactory) or disagreeable (unsatisfactory) effects created by chords on the listener. Chords consisting of consonant intervals (octave, perfect fifth, perfect fourth, third, sixth) are called consonant and those containing dissonant intervals (second, seventh, ninth, augmented intervals, etc) are dissonant chords. The triadic chords and their inversions are consonant, whereas, all others including augmented sixth and diminished seventh chords are dissonant.

Consonant vs Dissonant interval: An interval is consonant when two notes producing it share overtones. The more overtones they share, the more consonant they are and vice versa.

Consort: Ensemble.

Continuo:  see basso continuo.

Cornetto: A treble wind instrument made of wood. It is curved but played with a trumpet-like mouthpiece. It makes a bright sound but not as loud as the modern trumpet. Its bass counterpart is trombone. The cornetto had fallen out of favor about 1650 even before the advent of the transverse flute and oboe about 1700.

Courante: A moderate to fast triple time (3) dance. Almost always starts with a quaver upbeat. The time value may change from 3/2 to 6/4 (hemiola).

Counterpoint: Two parts with individual distinctive melodic significance and rhythmic independence running together (singing in unison or octaves is not counterpoint). Thus, the texture of music, which is made up of individual melodic strands woven together, is contrapuntal (or polyphonic). The opposite is homophonic texture where one melodic idea is supported by accompanying harmony. Counterpoint in which two (or more) strands can function equally well as bass or treble to each other is invertible counterpoint. If applied to two parts, it is called double counterpoint.

Cyclical form: A composition in which the same thematic material is used in all or most movements. Although Beethoven did this in the Fifth and Ninth symphonies and in the Piano Sonata, Op.101; the form was established by Cesar Franck and used by his French followers d'Indy, Faure, Saint-Saens and Dukas.

Da capo aria: A ternary form (ABA) aria. First section in tonic, second section in a related key, then, repeat of ‘A’ probably with ornamentation. A usual tonal plan for da capo arias is as follows:

                     A............................    B...............

Keys (major): I... I to V... V to I... // vi to iii  D.C.

Keys (minor): i...  i to III.. III to i... // ? to  v  D.C.

Note the Phrygian ending at the end of section B that provides a iii to I tonal switch by returning to the beginning in major keys. This plan provided the basis for many Baroque concerto movements (see ritornello). Most da capo arias start with a ritornello section.

Deceptive cadence: Sometimes a composer makes all the preparations for a final cadence but at the last moment puts some other chord (anything but tonic; most frequently chord vi) in the place of the expected tonic chord. Also called interrupted cadence. 

Declamation: The mirroring in the musical setting of the rhythm of the text as it would be declaimed.

Declamatory: Vocal music of which the rhythm is determined by the rhythm of the words.

Diminished seventh chord: A chord consists of three minor thirds on top of each other (B - D - F - Ab - Cb=B - D and so on). Because of this structure (an endless string of minor thirds), it has no tonal center and is tonally ambiguous. It is a favorite chord of Romantic composers. It is used for expressive effects or for modulation. When it is based on the leading note, it has three notes in common with the V7b, therefore behaves like a secondary dominant and nicely resolves on the tonic. By semitone lowering of any of the four notes of a diminished seventh and with necessary enharmonic changes, a dominant seventh in a new key is obtained (i.e., a diminished seventh on the leading note of C major or minor turns into a dominant seventh of A, F# or Eb depending on which note moved a semitone downwards. For example, if F is lowered to E, and Ab being equivalent to G#, the new chord E, G#, B, D is the dominant seventh of A major/minor). This is a powerful way to modulate as one diminished seventh may resolve on four different dominant sevenths and they may resolve on four major or four minor tonic chords. See also dominant seventh.

Dominant preparation: At the end of the development, the extensive use of dominant harmony. This helps to stabilize the harmony, which is usually destabilized in the development, and also creates an expectation for the return of the tonic (recapitulation). Beethoven is very fond of massive dominant preparation before the double return (as in the Pathetique sonata)

Dominant seventh: A chord that consists of the intervals major third, minor third and minor third from the bottom to the top. It is easily obtained from a diminished seventh chord, which only contains minor thirds, by lowering any of the notes by a semitone.

Double return: The return of both tonic and the exposition after the development in a sonata form movement. Following a harmonically and thematically freer development section, the double return creates one of the dramatic events of the sonata form.

Empfindsamkeit: It is translated as sensitive style. It was the North German equivalent of Style Galant in 1750-1780. The romantic variety of Rococo style. Tries to arrive at an expression of true and natural feelings, anticipating to some extent the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. It aims to portray subjective expression, especially melancholy. Typical example is CPE Bach's music. WF Bach's music also falls into this category. The volkstumliche Lied and Singspiel are the results of this movement.

Entracte: In opera, pause in the action where music continues. Bizet's Carmen has a well-known one.

Episode: A section of the composition where the principal subjects are missing. The term derived from the fugue where after the exposition and before the return of the subject an episode presents new material to decrease the tension. It is used to describe the non-recurring material in rondo and ritornello forms. Also, a new theme in a symphony -usually in the development- may be called an episode [Beethoven's Eroica; Haydn's Farewell symphonies].

Equal temperament: A tuning adjustment by which the octave on a keyboard is divided into twelve equal intervals. 

Ethos (1): In ancient Greek music, ethos designated the different characters of various modes. The Dorian was considered manly and strong; the Phrygian, ecstatic and passionate; the Lydian, feminine and lascivious; the Mixolydian, sad and mournful.

Ethos (2): The constant, total character (as opposed to transient moods) of a person depicted in an opera (see pathos). [Greek ethos: custom or character.]

Falsetto: A vocal technique used mainly by counter-tenors to sing to sing in the highest range of the voice.

False-relation (cross-relation): Appearance of two contradictory notes in different voices. This is like having E and Eb in diagonal position rather than in horizontal position (in the same voice). Such chromatic movement in different voices in successive beats is considered disturbing for the listener in the Classical period (see the transition of the first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Op.18, No.1).

Feminine cadence: Usually the final chord of a cadence falls on an accented beat. Sometimes, to soften the effect of the cadence, the final chord is placed on an unaccented beat. This cadence is then called a feminine (perfect, interrupted, etc.) cadence. The feminine cadence is preferred in Romantic styles. Beethoven uses it in his late-period works. Feminine cadence is a typical feature of the Polonaise.

Figured bass: The short hand way of describing the harmony in the Baroque era. Briefly, the absence of a figure underneath the bass line implies a root position chord, whereas, 6 implies a first inversion, 7 implies a (root position) seventh chord,  # implies a major third, and an oblique stroke through a numeral means that the note is chromatically sharpened, etc. Figured bass has a good deal of room for improvisation within the framework set by the composer. One can play simple chords with a variety of spacing, introduce passing notes, or incorporate melodic motifs in imitation of the treble or bass parts.

First and second endings: Alternative endings for each repeat of a repeated section (like the exposition of a sonata-type movement).

Folk elements in music: Repetition of single notes, motifs, phrases, verses; dance-like rhythm; real or imitative folk tunes; modal elements: flat (minor) sevenths [common to many modes], flat seconds [Phrygian], and augmented fourths [Lydian] are the elements, which give music a folk-like character. Direct reference to folk songs has been made (especially by Russians) in classical music.

Fugue: A contrapuntal composition following a strict tonal plan. It is a texture rather than a form. It opens with a theme in one part in the tonic, which is then repeated by each part alternating in the dominant and the tonic. It may have as few as two voices and rarely more than four. The difference from imitation is that in imitation the theme may be repeated by another part at any degree of the scale. The fugue became an important texture or compositional device in later Baroque and reached its height in the works of JS Bach.

Galant: Light and elegant musical style of the Rococo period (1730-1780) as opposed to the serious and elaborate style of the Baroque era. Galant referred to a particularly courtly manner of social manner. In music, it is generally used to refer to lightly accompanied, clear, natural and pleasing music with balanced phrasing (JC Bach, Sammartini, Hasse and Pergolesi). Galant shares with rococo the idea of heavy ornamentation, but differs from it in its clear phrase structure and mannered elegance. It avoids disturbing sudden dynamic changes.

Gavotte: A moderate to fast duple time dance with a time signature of 2. It has a long upbeat of half a bar.

Gigue: A fast compound duple or triple time (usually 6/4 or 6/8) dance with a light texture.

Grand opera: Operas on a historical theme with traditional opera writing such as no spoken dialogue, large choruses, full ballets and elaborate sets. (In comic opera, spoken dialogue is allowed.) Examples are Spontini's and Meyerbeer's [Les Huguenots] operas, and Verdi's Aida.

Heldentenor: Heroic tenor. The range, power and quality of this kind of tenor suit best to heroic roles as in most Wagner operas, Beethoven's Fidelio, Verdi's Othello and Aida, and Handel's Samson.

Heterophony: The use of slightly modified versions of the same melody by two or more performers, usually a singer and an instrumentalist. Examples are Javanese music and the music of troubadours.

Homophony: Music in which one voice leads melodically while supported by an accompaniment. This is the opposite of polyphony in which all parts contribute equally to the music. The characteristic texture of similar contrapuntal voice parts was the hallmark of the Renaissance music. The dominance of homophony in the Venetian School towards the end of the sixteenth century was a sign of things to come. (Monody = accompanied solo song.)

Idyll: A musical composition of peaceful pastoral character (Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, Janacek's Idyll).

Imitation: Similar melodic material used in dialogue between parts at a different pitch.

Intermezzo: Stage plays of light character usually played between the acts of a serious play or an opera. Pergolesi's La Serva padrona is a well-known intermezzo, which became the first example of opera buffa in 1733. The other use of intermezzo as instrumental interpolations in an opera (as in Cavalleria Rusticana) is better called entr’acte.  

Inversion (chords): A chord without the root in the bass. A first inversion chord is used to start a new thought as in recitatives. The second inversion chord (six-four chord) is a very unstable one with a limited use. Typically it precedes the cadenza. A great exception in its use is the first Razumovsky Quartet, which starts with a six-four chord.

Lied (plural Lieder): Any self-contained song in the German language. In Schubert's day, a distinction was made between a Lied (strophic song) and a Gesang (through-composed). This distinction has now disappeared.

Madrigal: A type of Italian vocal music without any strict form, written in four-to-six parts, polyphonic and imitative.

Maqam (makam): Roughly corresponds to modes in Turkish music. A maqam is not only a scale but is also distinguished by their treatment of the scale (ascending vs descending, or mixed), certain melodic patterns, and by association with particular moods and circumstances.

Masque: Sixteenth and seventeenth century stage productions, designed for the entertainment of the nobility. They consist of a combination of poetry, music (vocal and instrumental), dancing, acting, etc.

Melodrama: As in the grave digging scene of Beethoven's Fidelio, instrumental accompaniment to a spoken text. Speech is either accompanied or interspersed. The difference between dialogue and melodrama is the same as recitativo secco and recitativo accompagnato.

Microtone: Any interval smaller than the semitone. Frequently used in Eastern European, Middle Eastern and Oriental music.

Minuet: A dance in a moderate triple time. It has a light texture. Some have a cross-rhythm or hemiola, which makes two bars of 3/4 sound like one bar of 3/2 (as in courante). Unlike other dances in the suite, it is often in ternary form. The only Baroque dance form survived into the late symphony of the Classical era as minuet and trio.

Modulation: The change of key in a composition verified by a cadence in the new key (otherwise, it is a passing modulation or touching upon a different key). As a general rule, modulations to the sharp side raises tension, modulation to the flat side lowers it. Modulations to related keys are ideally accomplished by means of 'pivot chords', i.e., a chord which is common to both the initial and the new key (like the submediant chord -vi- followed by II(#) - V when modulating to the dominant; ii-V-I in the new key); or the tonic chord itself would be the subdominant of the dominant key: I - II(#) - V would be a smooth modulation to the dominant (IV-V-I in the new key). Some other means to modulate are: circle-of-fifth progression to modulate to another degree of the scale or one-step sharp or flat, by changing the chord before the new tonic to a dominant seventh if required; changing any chord to a dominant seventh of the new tonic by adding a minor third above a major triad (like I7 - IV would be V7 - I in the subdominant key); in minor keys, the submediant is a major chord, if it is made a dominant seventh and followed by its tonic, this would be modulation to the flattened supertonic; resolving a diminished seventh on the dominant seventh of the new key and progressing to the new tonic (see diminished seventh); using an augmented sixth on the flattened submediant of the target key and resolving onto the new tonic via its dominant (like Ab - G - C) [modulation via outward resolution]; using a Neapolitan sixth to modulate to the flattened submediant (in C major, Db chord as the Neapolitan  -IV in Ab-  followed by Eb7  -V7 in Ab-  and Ab as the new tonic: IV-V-I  in the new key) or by using the Db Neapolitan chord as the dominant of the next key (to Gb). The (major) tonic chord of the prevailing key would be the Neapolitan chord of the new key a semitone lower (in C, bIb - IV - VII would be IVb - V - I in B). This is another use of the Neapolitan chord to modulate a semitone lower. Direct juxtaposition of the new key is not considered to be a modulation by some.

Monody: Music for one singer (monophonic) with a simple chordal accompaniment not preventing the expression of the emotional message in the melody line (as opposed to polyphony with strict counterpoint). The monodists placed a special emphasis on the words, and the declamation approximated to speech rhythm. In the Baroque era, cantata, oratorio and opera evolved from monodic style. Monody in the operatic context is synonymous with recitative. (Monody embraces all the styles of solo singing, including recitative, airs, and madrigals.) The canzona and sonata developed as outgrowth of solo monody.

Motet: Unaccompanied choral composition based on a Latin sacred text.

Motif: A short melodic, harmonic or rhythmic idea. It is the shortest fragment of a theme or a phrase that still maintains its identity. A typical example is the opening motif in Beethoven's Symphony No.5, which is incomplete in itself but can be heard (and recognized) all the way through in the symphony. As few as two notes can make up a motif as the descending fifth at the opening of Beethoven's Symphony No.9. A motif is the elemental brick of a theme (or subject) and a theme is the building block of a movement. A figure is similar to the motif but it is of secondary importance as motifs are part of themes and figures are not.

Musette: The French bagpipe of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Especially suitable for pastoral music.

Mystic chord: A chord developed by Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) in the beginning of the 20th century. It consists of a series of fourths (C, F#, Bb, E, A and D).

Neapolitan sixth: First inversion of a major chord on the flattened supertonic in major or minor keys (bIIb). To keep the fifth above the flattened supertonic a perfect one, the submediant needs to be flattened too (in a major key). Its resolution is normally on the dominant via an optional Ic. It can be used to modulate to the flattened submediant or a semitone down (see modulation).

Neoclassicism: The musical movement of the post first world war period aiming to revive the musical forms and textures of the pre-Romantic era. Stravinsky's works after 1920, Prokofiev and Hindemith's works are some of the examples (see also Back to Bach movement).

Open strings: The four strings of the violin are tuned G, D, A, E and, the strings of the viola and cello, in C, G, D, A (an octave apart). When played unstopped by the player's fingers, these (open) strings sound more sonorous. The four notes G, D, A, E are the notes of the D major and G major. This is why these keys are featured more frequently in music for violin (three of Mozart's five violin concertos and Beethoven's only violin concerto are in these keys). 

Oratorio: Composition of an extended libretto by solo voices, chorus or orchestra. It is usually a musical narration of a Biblical story. The presence of a narrator standing outside the action is an obvious distinguishing feature of the oratorio.

Ostinato: A melodic phrase repeated persistently in the same voice and at the same pitch. (Repetition at a different pitch is called sequence). The ostinato principle is the chief characteristic of chaconne and passacaglia. The stepwise semitonic descent from the tonic to the dominant in a minor key forms a special kind of ostinato which is associated with operatic lament (the lament aria in Cavalli's Ormindo in B minor; Dido's lament in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas in G minor; Crucifixus in Bach's Mass in B minor; Mourn, all ye muses in Handel's Acis and Galatea in F minor). This chromatic fourth was also used in instrumental music as the ostinato in Biber's Passacaglia in G minor.

Oussoul (usul): The Turkish system of rhythm. About fifty standard combinations of beats (up to 120 beats) are known which correspond to Western metres. They are repeated throughout the entire composition.

Overture: The seventeenth century opera overture, also known as sinfonia. The sinfonia was established as an introduction to the opera by A. Scarlatti. It has differences in Italian and French style. The French overture has two sections: slow-solemn chordal introduction with dotted rhythm in simple duple/quadruple time followed by a fast contrapuntal (fugal allegro) section. Rameau's overtures introduce a theme to reappear in the opera later on. The Italian overture has the fast-slow-fast structure. The overture was the forerunner of the symphony. Later an extra movement in triple time was added between the slow and the last movements (minuet - scherzo). The Italian type sinfonia provided the basis of the future orchestral symphony.

Partita: Another name for suite or theme and variations.

Pastoral: Pieces in imitation of the music of shepherds. The characteristics are fast triple (3/8) or compound (6/8, 12/8) meter, Siciliana rhythm, moderate time (often siciliano and larghetto), tender, flowing, lilting melodies mainly in conjunct motion, notes flowing along in groups of threes, prominent use of parallel thirds, repetition, long-held drone bass on dominant or tonic. Oboes and F major are the most pastoral instrument and key, respectively.

Pathetique: Affecting the emotions of pity, grief or sorrow; touching.

Pathos (1): Evoking pity or compassion.

Pathos (2): The depiction of momentary (transient) emotional states of a person in an opera (see ethos). The Baroque opera focused on pathos in characterization with almost total exclusion of ethos. [Greek pathos: feeling.]

Phrase: A natural division of the melodic line (like the sentences of speech). In the Classical period, phrases are usually two, four or eight bars long.

Phrygian Cadence: In general, an imperfect cadence in a minor key, but more precisely an imperfect cadence on the dominant chord of the relative minor using the first inversion of the subdominant chord (IVb-V). This is a Renaissance device still used in late Baroque by composers like Corelli, Handel and Bach. It was generally used at the end of the slow movement (in relative minor) of sonata or concertos written in major keys providing a (iii to I) tonal switch with the start of the following movement [in a major key].

Pitch: The location of a musical sound in the tonal scale, which is determined by the vibration frequency. The present day standard of pitch is a'=435 vibrations (in Europe). The indication of different octaves does not have a uniform notation. The middle C is usually shown as c, and an octave lower C is shown as C. An octave higher C is shown as c' (or c1), etc. (The whole range of Cs from the lowest to the highest on the piano are: C2, C1, C, middle c, c1, c2, c3.)

Plainsong: Ancient chant of the Christian church. The term derived from the Latin word cantus planus. It was first codified by Ambrose, bishop of Milan (Ambrosian chant), and then by Pope Gregory in the 6th century (Gregorian chant). The melodies are monophonic (non-harmonic) and rhythmically free (unmeasured).

Polonaise: A Polish national dance of a stately and festive character. The music is always in moderate triple meter and typically phrases end with feminine cadences. The basic Polonaise rhythm is generally given to the left hand accompaniment, and the right hand accentuates it by its melody. WF Bach brought the form to artistic perfection. Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Liszt all wrote Polonaises, but Chopin made it a symbol of Polish heroism.

Prelude and Fugue: Typical of seventeenth century German keyboard music. Pieces with alternating free (prelude) and fugal sections. The closing section nearly always reverts to the free writing of the opening.

Prosody: The blending of words and music or matching of lyrical and musical accents. The accented syllables of the lyrics should be on the accented beats of the bars.

Recitative: Emerged around 1600 as the most important turning point in music history. A vocal style designed to imitate and emphasize the natural inflections of speech, and to closely follow the meter. Recitative is a cross between speech and song. Music became subservient to the words. Recitative is sung either to a continuo accompaniment (recitativo secco) or to a written-out fully developed accompaniment (recitativo accompagnato). Wagner's unending melodies are indeed nothing but a recitative of the highest expressiveness and dramatic significance.

Remote keys: The keys represented directly opposite one another on the circumference of the circle-of-fifths. For C major, the remotest key is F# / Gb (flattened dominant) followed by B (seventh) and Db (its Neapolitan).

Repetition: An important principle of musical construction. The use of repetition achieves tonal stability and thematic unity. In contrapuntal music, four devices of repetition are used: Ostinato: repetition in the same part at the same pitch; Sequence: repetition in the same part at a different pitch; Stimmtausch: repetition in a different part at the same pitch; Imitation: repetition in a different part at a different pitch.

Rhetoric: Language calculated to produce an effect; the art of effective expression (a word, music critics cannot live without!)

Ripieno (concerto grosso, tutti): Full (string) orchestra as distinguished from the soloists (concertino, concertante).

Ritornello: A short, recurring, instrumental passage first appeared in the early operas. A small section consisting of several musical ideas is stated usually in the beginning as a tutti passage, and this recurs -either in full or in part- at various moments within a movement (most popular in the Baroque era). In a movement, it is expected to appear in full in the tonic in the beginning and then usually in truncated forms in the dominant, relative and subdominant keys and finally in the tonic key in full again. Fundamental to the ‘ritornello structure’ is the alternation of a passage containing the basic thematic substance of the movement (ritornello) with others in which the music is largely or wholly new (episodes). This form was the commonest first movement form in Baroque concertos in the place of a fugal allegro movement in solo and trio sonatas. The tonal structure may be originated as an extension of the first section (AB) of the da capo aria which starts in the tonic with ritornello (R), first episode (A) in the tonic, R in the dominant (V), A’ in the dominant, R in the tonic then part B in relative minor (vi) ending with a Phrygian cadence in the dominant of relative minor (the mediant of the main major key -iii-). (It is also used to describe the tutti passages in a concerto grosso.) The refrain section in a ritornello movement acts as a binding agent. The difference from rondo is that in rondo form, each repeated part is in the tonic key.

Rococo: The artistic style of the late Baroque and early Classical periods (1700-1770). In music, the Rococo style was chiefly associated with France. It is a rather fussy, elaborate style typified in Rameau and F. Couperin's music (another example is D. Scarlatti). Telemann represents the German equivalent.

Rondo-sonata form: A form which is basically rondo but observing the sonata principle. The principle rondo theme is followed by the first episode in a contrasting key (exposition); the principal rondo theme again and an episode in the character of development; recapitulation of the exposition in the tonic; final appearance of the rondo theme in the character of a coda.

Sarabande: A triple time movement with no upbeat as a rule. The second beat of the bar is accented. It has a regular two or four-bar phrase structure.

Scena: An extended composition for solo voice and accompaniment, made up of several continuous but contrasting sections, some of a recitative-like character, others more song-like.

Second movement: The second movement of a sonata, symphony, concerto or trio, quartet etc., makes a contrast with the first allegro movement and therefore in slow tempo. The sonata form would be out of place here where the mood is more relaxed and also the slow speed would make it too long. The usual forms in a slow movement are: abridged sonata form, air and variations, ternary form and rondo.

Sephardic music: Music of the Jews descended from those expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century.

Sequence: More or less exact repetition of a melody (with or without its harmony) in the same part at another level. If the repetition is only in the melody (the harmony being changed) it is a melodic sequence, if in the harmony also, a harmonic sequence. Italian Baroque Music often used harmonic and melodic sequences based around the circle-of-fifths. Sequence is a fundamental device used in late-Baroque (especially Corelli's) music. The sequence, whether carried out diatonically within one key or modulating downward in the circle-of-fifths, is one of the most powerful agents in establishing the tonality.

Serenata: Short operatic works of the eighteenth century best described as dramatic cantatas. Handel's Acis and Galatea is a good example.

Siciliana: A seventeenth - eighteenth century dance in a slow 6/8 or 12/8 time originating from Sicily. Pastoral in character and using dotted rhythm which gives it a swaying motion.

Singspiel: The German/Austrian equivalent of comic operas with spoken dialogue like the French opera comique, and the English ballad opera. It uses spoken dialogue (like ballad opera and opera comique) rather than recitative (used in Italian opera, both seria and buffa). The use of spoken dialogue made it more accessible for the general public. As opposed to the importance of aria in opera comique, like in opera buffa, ensembles were more popular in Singspiel. In Fidelio, five of the ten numbers in Act I, and five of the six numbers in Act II are ensembles. It is the ancestor of the nineteenth century German Romantic opera. Mozart's Entfuhrung aus dem Serail (1782) is an example of Singspiel. The two greatest examples are Mozart's Die Zauberflote and Beethoven's Fidelio.

Sonata form (first movement form): Most commonly the first movement of a classical sonata (and symphony, quartet, trio) is in sonata form. (In concertos, the sonata-form first movement is somewhat less rigid than it would be in a sonata or symphony.) It consists of three sections: “exposition” with two themes in the tonic and the dominant respectively, a modulating “development” of both themes, and a “recapitulation” of both themes in the tonic. The sonata form is considered either a ternary form (A B A) the opening section itself being in binary form; or more appropriately, an extended, rounded, open binary form (A B) the exposition being the first half (and repeated), and the development and the recapitulation the second half (also repeated in earlier examples). In the exposition, two musical ideas are presented: the first subject (in tonic) and the second subject (in dominant/relative major) linked with a ‘bridging passage’ and a closing group at the end. In the development, these musical ideas are extended, detailed and developed usually with explorations of new keys and staying away from the tonic. New material may be presented (the Eroica, the Farewell). In the recapitulation both subjects and the original key return (double return). In a minor key, the second subject is now in the tonic minor instead of its relative major. This also requires modification of the bridge passage. There may be a coda at the end. One of the advantages of the sonata form is that the construction of new themes should consider their capability for development. A dramatic aspect of this form is the differing characters (rhythmic-masculine first subject and feminine-lyrical second subject) and opposing keys of the themes in the exposition (tonal contrast). The form is designed to create anticipation as it proceeds. The abridged sonata form, used in slow movements (the Unfinished Symphony) and classical overtures, lacks the development (A-B-A-B-coda). As in the sonata form, the B section should be in the dominant or a substitute dominant.

Soprano: The highest register of the human voice, which can reach the F above the high C. It is subdivided into mezzo (the lower ranges); lyric (the middle range); and coloratura (the very top of the register). The usual soprano range is between the middle C and the high A (almost two octaves). As an exceptional example, Maria Callas could reach top Eb. Another subclassification is the dramatic soprano, which denotes a soprano with powerful voice and marked declamatory ability.

Strophic: Having the same music for every verse of the poem as in folk songs and hymns.

Strophic bass: The method, frequent in early cantatas, of using the same bass line for all the stanzas of a song, with varying melodies in the upper part. Basso ostinato and strophic bass are examples of continuous and sectional variation, respectively. Strophic variation holds a place of its own halfway between the theme and variations and the ostinato bass.

Sturm und Drang: Designation for a period in the preclassical era (app. 1770-1780). Means storm and stress. It found its most potent expression in serious, minor-key works, full of sudden and sometimes violent dynamic effects. A number of Haydn's symphonies from his middle period are in this style (No 44,45,49).

Style brise: Arpeggiated chords. Typical of French Baroque Music. Originated from the lute idiom.

Subject: see theme.

Suite (sonata da camera in Italian Baroque music): An important instrumental form of (mainly French) Baroque music, consisting of a number of movements, each in the character of a dance, and all in the same key. A regular two- or four-bar phrase structure is usual in most seventeenth century suite movements. The classical suite became extinct after 1750. The usual movements in a classical French suite are: Prelude, Allemande (German), Courante (French), Sarabande (Spanish), Gigue (English), Chaconne and Minuet; or a prelude and then A-C-S-G and a closing group usually ending with a minuet. The dance movements in a suite are nearly always in binary form except the chaconne and minuet. The modern suit is used to describe a number of pieces grouped together by the composer. They are often an arrangement of ballet (Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet suit) or stage (Bizet's Carmen suit) work.

Symphony: The commonest orchestral genre. Derived from the (fast-slow-fast) Italian overture towards the middle of the eighteenth century. The first movement is cast in sonata form. The second movement can be in sonata form or variations. The minuet is in ternary form. The finale is usually in sonata or sonata-rondo form.

Syncopation: Displacement of a musical accent from a relatively strong accented note onto a note that would normally be unaccented or weakly accented. This is created by using rests, tying notes together or adding accent marks to normally unaccented notes.

Tanbur: A species of lute with a very long neck and smaller body. It is suitable to play Middle Eastern music as its neck has frets giving comma and all 24 intervals within an octave in Turkish, Arabic and Persian music.

Temperament: Adjustment made to the intervals between notes on a keyboard to allow modulation to any key.

Tenor: The range of male voice, which usually covers the octave below the middle C and the range up to the first A above it (an octave lower than the soprano range).

Tenuto (or tenue): Held, sustained. Tenuto dash is an articulation sign.

Ternary form: A form most commonly used in short pieces consisting of three sections: first section is self-contained and closes in the tonic; second section is in a new key, modulatory and in a contrasting character; the first section is then repeated. Each section begins and ends in the same key. The overall structure of the penultimate movement of a symphony or string quartet (minuet/scherzo - trio - minuet/scherzo) fits in ternary form although each section is usually in binary form. Also used in the slow movements of sonatas (Beethoven's piano sonata Op. 7; Op.10/3). In vocal music, it is widely used in from French chansons to (middle-to-late Baroque) opera arias (da capo aria).

Tessitura: The general lie of a vocal part, whether high or low in its average pitch. It is different from range that it does not take into account a few very high or low notes that may exist.

Texture: The density and range of the simultaneous sounds forming harmonies in music. It can be contrapuntal (polyphonic) or homophonic (chordal). The typical texture of Renaissance music is polyphony of independent voices, whereas, the texture in Baroque music can be described as continuo homophony: a firm bass and a florid treble held together by unobtrusive harmony. The texture became the tune and accompaniment type in the Classical era.

Theme (subject): The musical material that forms the basic element in the structure of a composition. It usually has a recognizable (leading) melody and is a complete musical expression in itself (unlike the smaller unit motif). A sonata movement has two main subjects (or subject groups) whereas a fugue usually has a single subject. In a sonata movement, the theme would be the leading phrase. As a recognizable entity, a theme could be used to identify a work (the first movement of the Eroica is well-known with its first subject only).

Through-composed: In music, written for a poem, having different music all the way through. Even if the poem has a repeating verse pattern, the music does not.

Tierce de picardie: A perfect cadence in a minor key, ending on the major chord of the tonic instead of the minor. The Romantic tendency of a finale in major to a minor work (Mozart No. 40; Beethoven No. 9) is nothing more than a tierce de picardie in larger terms.

Toccata: A keyboard piece. It is often designed to display the technical proficiency of the performer. Best examples are those of JS Bach. It may contain a series of movements.

Tonality: A system of chordal relations based on the attraction of a tonal center (loyalty to a tonic). Fully established in the late Baroque era. The stabilization and codification of the tonal language first appears consistently in Corelli's sonatas.

Tonal ambiguity: Diminished sevenths, tritones (whole tone scale); semitonal progressions (twelve note scale); empty fifths; free chromaticism; lack of cadences (fluid tonality); oscillating major-minor triads; high level dissonance; unresolved appoggiatura chords. Increased use of these features resulted in the collapse of the tonal system in music.

Transposing instruments: Instruments for which the music is written in another key or in another octave than that of their actual sound. The simplest examples are the piccolo and the double bass, which sound an octave higher and lower than written, respectively. Nearly all wind instruments (except trombones), not pitched in C, are transposing instruments. The clarinet, trumpet and horn sound the interval between the C and their pitch lower than written, except the clarinet in Eb which sounds a minor third higher than the written pitch. In other words, a written C sounds as the note (below the C) the instrument is pitched. The cornet, saxophone, bassett horn and cor anglais are also transposing instruments. (In pre-1900 scores, horns are written an octave too low when notated in the bass clef, in these cases they transpose upwards.)

Tremolando: With tremolo.

Tremolo: Rapid repetition of the same note. If the note value for repetition is shown as strokes on the stem of a minim, it is measured tremolo. Tremolo on the drums is called roll.

Trill: Rapid alternation of two conjunct notes.

Trio: Originally a light-hearted peasant dance in the seventeenth century French opera performed by two oboes and a musette (a bag-pipe) or bassoon (i.e., three instruments). In a symphony, it is the middle section of the minuet movement usually in the subdominant of the key of that movement and performed by the wind instruments (but not necessarily by only three of them).

Trio sonata: Ancestor of Baroque concerto grosso and classical string quartet. Written in three parts and played by four instruments (two violins playing the two melody lines and cello+harpsichord playing the continuo part). Mozart's Trio K266 may be considered as the end of trio sonata.

Tritone: The interval of three whole tones (the augmented fourth=diminished fifth). It is an awkward interval in vocal music. In the Lydian mode starting on F, the interval of F to B is an augmented fourth. It naturally occurs between the fourth and seventh degrees of major and descending melodic minor scales. In counterpoint, it is a very dissonant interval associated with depiction of anguish. The crampy nature of a diminished triad is relieved by using them in first inversion (iib and viib in minor mode).

Troubadours: The aristocratic poet-musicians in Provence and Southern France in the 12th-13th centuries. Their music was passed down orally and it is all about chivalric ideals of the period (courtly love and the idealization of women). It spread to Northern France (trouveres) and to Germany (Minnesinger). There may have been an Arabic-Spanish influence in its origination. More than 300 troubadour poems are preserved with their melodies (chansonniers). The melodies are monophonic and the accompaniment is merely unison duplication of the melody sometimes with slight modification (see heterophony).

Turkish phase: The phase in the Classical period in which some elements of Turkish music exerted a superficial influence on the Western music. Examples are Turkish marches in Beethoven's Eroica and Choral symphonies, Ruins of Athens and Mozart's Rondo alla Turca from Piano sonata K311. Also in operas of Mozart (Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail), Weber (Abu Hasan), Rossini (Il Turco in Italia) Turkish or Middle-Eastern elements were used.

Turn: A group of four or five notes winding around the principal note (see the principal motif of the first movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Op.18, No.1).

Twelve-tone technique: A system devised by Schoenberg using all twelve chromatic tones of the scale and denying a tonal center.

Unity: Music consists of repetition (similarity) and contrast. The unity in this framework is achieved through a refrain section or basso ostinato as binding agents, recurrent use of the same melodic or rhythmic motif (persistent figuration, idee fixe, leitmotif as means of creating thematic unity), tonal plan (starting and finishing in the same key visiting related keys in between), use of a certain recurrent interval in all significant melodic material (intervallic relationship), or thematic transformation (developing related themes from an original theme in different parts of the piece). In Baroque music, a single melodic or rhythmic figure representing a single mood or affekt establishes the unity.

Variations: The systematic presentation of a theme in different guises. The theme of a set of variations can be anything from a little motif to an elaborate paragraph, a harmonic pattern, or a rhythmic figure. The monumental examples of the music in variation form are JS Bach's Goldberg variations, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and C. Franck's Symphonic Variations.

Verismo: The realistic opera that emerged in Italy in later years of Verdi. The examples are Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci where the heroism or mythological Gods and Goddesses no longer exist.

Vibrato: The effect caused by the vibrating medium (oscillating motion of the left hand on the strings, or shaking the vocal cords).

Viol: A family of string instruments popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were superseded by the violin family. The standard types are treble/descant viol, tenor viol, and bass viol. A special type is the double-bass viol or violone, which is the ancestor of the modern double bass.

Viola d'amore:  A kind of treble viol, which also contains sympathetic strings, which vibrate in sympathy to produce a silvery resonance when the main strings are bowed.

Viola da gamba: The larger bass/tenor viols that are held between the legs (gamba=leg).

Voice leading: The principles governing the progression of the voice parts in contrapuntal music with regard to the design of the individual lines rather than the resulting harmonies. Preference of step-wise movement in the three upper parts, contrary motion in at least one part, and avoidance of parallel fifths and octaves form the basis of voice leading.

Whole-tone scale: A scale consisting of whole tones only. It lacks the perfect fifth, the perfect fourth and the leading note of the traditional tonal scale. Because each interval is equal, there is no tonal center. Its exploitation by Debussy is one of the reasons for the dissolution of tonality in the twentieth century.

 Naxos Music Glossary

Sofia Open Access Courses: Musicianship

M.Tevfik Dorak, B.A. (Hons), M.D., Ph.D.

Last updated on 23 Febr 2008

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