History of Classical Music

Glossary

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

A

Absolute Music
Music without extramusical associations, as opposed to program music.
A cappella
Choral music for voices alone, without instruments.
Aleatory, Aleatoric Music
Same as Chance music.
Antiphony
A musical style in which two or more choirs and/or instrumental groups alternate with one another.
Aria
A vocal piece for solo singer and orchestra, generally in an opera, cantata, or oratorio.
Arioso
A singing style between recitative and aria.
Ars Antiqua
The first style of writing with more than one melodic line, exemplified by Leonin and Perotin.
Ars Nova
Succeeded Ars Antiqua in the early 14th century; its pioneers included de Vitry and de Machaut. Notable for greater rhythmic complexity.
Art Song
A song consciously intended as a work of art; as opposed to a folksong or popular song.
Atonality
The absence of any feeling of tonality.
Avant-garde
In the most advanced style.

B

Ballad
A song or song-poem that tells a story, in several stanzas.
Ballade
A name for a miniature piano piece of dramatic nature. Ballades sometimes suggest a program.
Basso Continuo
see Continuo.
Bel canto
A style of singing that brings out the sensous beauty of the voice.
Bel canto opera
Term for early romantic opera, which featured bel canto singing.

C

Canon
Strict imitative polyphony, with the identical melody appearing in each voice, but at staggered intervals; standard in vocal polyphony.
Cantata
A composition in several movements for solo voice(s), instruments, and perhaps also chorus. Depending on text, cantatas are categorized as either secular or church cantatas.
Cantor
Musical director of a German town.
Chamber music
Music played by small groups, such as a string quartet or a piano trio.
Chance music
A type of contemporary music in which certain elements, such as the order of the notes or their pitches, are not specified by the composer but are left to chance.
Chanson
French for song; a song for one or two vocal lines and sometimes instrumental acompaniment.
Chant
A way of reciting words to music, generally in monophony and generally for liturgical purposes, as in Gregorian Chant.
Chorale
German for hymn; also used for a four-part harmonization of a German hymn.
Chord
A grouping of pitches played and heard simultaneously.
Church Cantata
A cantata with religious words, often tied directly to a particular church service, such as the Easter or Christmas service.
Coda
A section sometimes added on to the end of a song; in sonata form, added after the recapitulation to conclude the sonata form movement.
Concerto
A large composition for orchestra and solo instruments or small solo group.
Concerto Grosso
The main type of Baroque concerto, for a group of solo instruments and a small orchestra.
Concert Overture
An early nineteenth-century term for a piece resembling an opera overture--but without any following opera. Often concert overtures amount to short pieces of orchestral program music.
Conductus
Entirely newly composed music used to set verse of a religious nature, though not necessarily drawn from the liturgy.
Continuo (basso continuo)
A set of chords continuously underliying the melody in a piece of baroque music; the instruments playing the continuo, usually cello plus harpsichord or organ.
Cyclic form
A large form, such as a symphony, in which certain themes come back in various different movements.

D

Development
In sonata form, the 2nd section of a sonata form movement which expands and transforms the main themes presented in the exposition.
Duet, duo
A composition for two singers or instrumentalists.
Dynamics
The volume of sound, the loudness or softness of a musical passage.

E

Electronic Music
Music composed and performed with the aid of electronics, usually synthesizers and computers.
Exposition
The first section of a sonata form movement which presents the main themes to be developed.

F

French Overture
A baroque type of overture to an opera, oratorio, or suite.
Fugue
A composition written systematically in imitative polyphony, usually with a single main theme.

G

Galliard
A lively, vigorous sixteenth-century dance.
Gesamtkunstwerk
A concept of art in which poetry, scenic design, staging, action, and music are all seen as aspects of the total scheme.
Gigue, Jig
A baroque dance in a lively compound meter; often fugal in style.
Gregorian Chant
The type of chant used in the early Roman Catholic Church.

H

Harmony
The chordal accompaniment of a melody; vertical representation instead of horizontal.
Hocket
A rhythmic device which enlivens rhythm by putting rests in the middle of vocal lines; the alternation of very short melodic phrases, or single notes, between two voices, used in late medieval polyphony.
Homophony
A musical texture that involves only one melody of real interest, combined with chords or other subsidiary sounds.
Hymn
A simple religious song in several stanzas, for congregational singing in church.

I

Idee fixe
Term used by Berlioz for a recurring theme used in all the movements of his Symphonie Fantastique.
Imitation, Imitative Counterpoint
A polyphonic musical texture in which the various melodic lines use approximately the same themes.
Impressionism
A French artistic movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Improvisation
Making up the music as you play.
Isorhythm
Putting parts of a melody into a repeated pattern to form one strand in a polyphonic work, usually a motet.

J

Jongleur
A medieval secular musician.

K

K. numbers
The numbers assigned to works by Mozart in the Koechel Catalogue; used instead of opus numbers to catalogue Mozart's works.

L

Leitmotif
A leitmotif is a musical theme associated with a particular character or idea.
Libretto
The complete book of words for an opera, oratorio, cantata, etc.
Lied
German for song; often used as a term for art song.

M

Madrigal
a 16th-century secular piece for four or more voices which emphasized the meaning of words.
Mass
The Catholic liturgy; in a musical context, the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei.
Melisma
Several notes sung to a single syllable.
Miniature
A term for a short evocative composition for piano composed in the Romantic Period.
Monophony
A musical texture involving a single melodic line and nothing else, as in Gregorian chant; as opposed to polyphony.
Motet
A sacred piece for several voices.
Motive, motif
A short fragment of melody or rhythm used in constructing a long section of music.
Movement
A self-contained section of a larger piece, such as a symphony or concerto grosso.
Musique concrete
Music composed with natural sounds recorded electronically.

N

Nationalism
A nineteenth-century movement promoting music built on national folksongs and dances, or associated with national subjects.
Neoclassicism
A twentieth-century movement involving a return to the style and form of older music, particularly eighteenth-century music.
Neuma
A sign in very early manuscripts indicating pitch.
Nocturne
"Night piece"; title for romantic miniature compositions for piano, etc.

O

Opera
A play set to music.
Opera buffa
Italian comic opera.
Opera seria
Serious and heroic opera of the Baroque period.
Operetta
A nineteenth-century type of light (often comic) opera, employing spoken dialogue in between musical numbers.
Opus
"Work"; opus numbers provide a means of cataloguing a composer's compositions.
Oratorio
Long, semi-dramatic piece on a religious subject for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.
Organum
Liturgical music, based on existing plainsong,, used to set prose; the earliest genre of medieval polyphonic music.
Overture
An orchestral piece at the start of an opera, oratorio, etc.

P

Passion
A long, oratorio-like composition telling the story of Jesus's last days, according to one of the New Testament Gospels.
Piano Trio
An instrumental group consisting of violin, cello, and piano; or a piece composed for this group; or the three players themselves.
Plainsong
Liturgical chant, such as Gregorian chant.
Polyphony
Music which uses several independent vocal lines simultaneously; the predominant early music style, replaced by homophony, in which the music moves chordally (for example, like a hymn).
Program music
Instrumental music associated with a story or other musical idea.

Q

Quartet
A piece for four singers or players; often used to mean string quartet.
Quintet
A piece for five singers or players.

R

Recapitulation
The third section of a sonata form movement which restates the themes in their original order.
Recitative
A half-singing, half-reciting style of presenting words in opera, cantata, oratorio, etc., which follows speech accents and speech rhythms closely.
Responsorial chant
A type of Gregorian chant in which soloists sing in alternation with the choir.
Rhythmic serialism
A compositional technique based on a fixed pattern of different noted lengths held to throughout a piece.
Ricercar
An instrumental genre of the Renaissance.

S

Sacred
Religious or associated with a church.
Secular
Non-religious in nature.
Serialism
The technique of composing with a series, generally a twelve-tone series (but see also rhythmic serialism).
Series
A fixed arrangement of pitches (or rhythms) held to throughout a serial composition.
Sonata
A chamber music piece in several movements, typically for three instruments plus continuo in the Baroque period, and for only one or two instruments in all periods since then.
Sonata form, sonata-allegro form
A form developed by the Viennese composers and used in almost all the first movements of their symphonies, sonatas, etc., as well as in some other movements.
Song Cycle
A group of songs connected by a general idea or story, and sometimes also by musical unifying devices.
Stanza
In songs or ballads, one of several similar poetic units, which are usually sung to the same tune; also called verse.
String Quartet
An instrumental group consisting of two violins, viola, and cello; or a piece composed for this group; or the four players themselves.
Strophic Song
A song in several stanzas with the same music for each stanza; as opposed to through-composed song.
Suite
A piece consisting of a series of dances.
Symphonic Poem
A piece of orchestral program music in one long movement.
Symphony
A large orchestral piece in several movements.
Synthesizer
An electronic apparatus that generates sounds for electronic instruments.

T

Tempo
The speed of music.
Through-composed song
A song with new music for each stanza of a poem; as opposed to strophic song.
Toccata
A piece in free form designed partly to show off the instrument and the technique of the player (usually an organist or harpsichordist).
Tonality
The feeling of centrality of one note (and its chord) to a passage of music; as opposed to atonality.
Tone Poem
Same as symphonic poem.
Trio Sonata
A baroque sonata for three main instruments plus the continuo chord instruments.
Troubadours, trouveres
Aristocratic poet-musicians of the middle ages.

U

V

Verismo
A realistic and sensational type of late Romantic Italian opera.
Verse
Another term for stanza.

W

Whole-tone scale
A scale, used sometimes by Debussy, comprising only six notes to the octave, all at the interval of the whole tone (i.e. two semitones).

XYZ



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