A is the note of the musical scale used generally for tuning (= French, Italian, Spanish: la). Notes in English are given letter names: A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
Accelerando (Italian: becoming faster) is a term in general use to show that the music should be played at an increasing speed.
An accompaniment is an additional part of any kind that is less important than another, which it serves to support and enhance. The piano is often used to provide an accompaniment to a solo singer. In works for, say, violin and piano the role may be swapped between the instruments.
Adagio (Italian: slow) is an indication of tempo and is sometimes used to describe a slow movement, even when the indication of speed at the start of the movement may be different. The diminutive form adagietto is a little faster than adagio.
The so-called Doctrine of Affections, in Italian affetti, indicates the Baroque theory, derived from Greek and Roman rhetorical theory and practice, according to which one piece of music should aim to bring about a certain state of feeling in the hearer, of sadness, joy, anger (in the musical representation of which Monteverdi claimed to be a pioneer) or love. The original affetti developed in the 17th and early 18th centuries to cover a relatively wide range of human emotions and this had a clear effect on operatic requirements. The opera seria of the first half of the 18th century came to require a variety of arias for the principal singers, who would then be able to show their ability in expressing sorrow or anger, with other emotions.
An air (ayre) is a song. The word is used by earlier English composers and has its counterpart in French usage.
The Italian alla means ‘in the manner of’ (= French: à la) and may be found in titles like that of Mozart’s Rondo alla turca (‘Rondo in the Turkish Style’).
Allegro (Italian: cheerful, lively) is generally taken to mean fast, although not as fast as vivace or presto. Allegretto is a diminutive, meaning slightly slower than allegro. These indications of speed or tempo are used as general titles for pieces of music (usually movements within larger works) that are headed by instructions of this kind. The first movement of a Classical sonata, for example, is often ‘an Allegro’, just as the slow movement is often ‘an Adagio’.
An allemande is a German dance (the word itself is French) in 4/4 time, often the first dance in a Baroque dance suite, where it is frequently followed by a courante, a more rapid dance. The allemande, which appears in earlier English sources often as alman, almain or with similar spellings, is generally moderate in speed.
The alto (Italian: high) is the lower female or unbroken male voice at a pitch below that of the soprano and above that of the tenor. For female singers at this pitch, the term contralto is preferred.
Andante (Italian: walking) is used to indicate that the music should be played at walking pace. The diminutive andantino is ambiguous and means either a little faster or a little slower than andante, more often the former.
An anthem is a short vocal composition. In the Church of England the word indicates such a composition often using a non-liturgical text (i.e. not part of the official service). A full anthem is for full choir, without soloists, while a verse anthem makes contrasting use of solo singers. Both these forms flourished in the Church of England from the late 16th century.
The word arabesque originally indicated a decorative pattern in Arab style found in painting or architecture. Its most common use in music has been as a descriptive title of short decorative piano pieces of the 19th or early 20th century. There are two well-known arabesques by the French composer Debussy.
Arco (Italian: bow) is used as an indication to string players that they should use the bow, rather than pluck with the fingers (see ‘Pizzicato’).
The word aria is the equivalent of the English air, in its most literal meaning. In opera it came to mean a separate song, usually for one voice, and distinguished, by the later 17th century, from recitative, which resembles heightened speech.
There are various forms of aria. These include the da capo aria (‘from the beginning’ aria), originating in opera in the early 18th century. Here the singer repeats the first section of an aria, with appropriate additional ornamentation, to make a three-section lyrical form, with a generally contrasted middle section. This was not always dramatically suitable.
The dal segno aria (‘from the sign’ aria) is similar to the da capo aria, except that the repetition is from a sign in the earlier part of the score, not from the beginning. Both forms of aria would include instrumental introductions, conclusions and interruptions, the so-called ritornello, and might well involve further repetition of the sections.
The aria in one form or another, as a solo set-piece, has continued to have a place in opera, but it is, essentially, a closed form, with an element of completeness in itself. The allocation of arias between rival singers and the necessary nature of these arias was often a matter of great importance. In the formal opera of the first half of the 18th century, entrances and exits needed to excite interest and applause from the audience.
A short aria.
Originally the French form of the Italian arietta, the word ariette came to signify a particular form of short aria, of lively character. The word is used in the descriptive title of French comic operas in the later 18th century, comédie mêlée d’ariettes, dialogue interspersed with songs.
Assai (Italian: very) appears often in speed indications to performers, as in allegro assai (very fast).
Atonal music is music that has no specific tonality—i.e. it is not in a specific key and therefore has no specific ‘home’ note or chord. The word atonality refers technically to various forms of 20th-century music not in a key.
An aubade is a morning song. A well-known example is the Siegfried Idyll, a work written by Richard Wagner to be played for his second wife Cosima on the morning of her birthday.
B is a note in the musical scale (= German: H; French, Italian, Spanish etc.: si).
Badinerie (French: teasing) indicates a piece of music of light-hearted character. The best-known badinerie is the lively last movement of Bach’s Suite in B minor for flute, strings and continuo.
Bagatelle, used as the title of a short light-hearted piece of music, was employed most notably by Beethoven in a series of such compositions for piano. The descriptive title was thereafter used by a number of other composers.
The bagpipe is an ancient instrument, at least in its most primitive form, and is still found in a number of countries. It is a reed instrument, with the reed sounded by air expressed from a leather bag. It generally makes use of a single pipe that can be fingered to produce different notes, along with additional drones—pipes that produce single notes, a marked feature of bagpipe music and of its imitations for other instruments. The sophisticated and more versatile French musette, a bagpipe operated by bellows, gave its name to a Baroque dance-suite movement, marked, usually in the bass, by the continuing sound of a drone (a repeated single note).
Ballad, derived from the late Latin verb ballare (to dance), came to be used primarily to describe a folksong of narrative character or a song or poem written in imitation of such a folksong. The title Ballade was used by Chopin to describe four piano pieces of otherwise concealed narrative content, apparently based on narrative poems of ballad type by the patriotic poet Mickiewicz, while Brahms in one of his ballades transfers into music an old Scottish narrative ballad. The ballade of French music and poetry of the 14th and 15th centuries denotes a different and fixed literary and musical form.
Ballad opera is the form of English musical and dramatic entertainment that offers a play, usually comic, interspersed with songs set to popular tunes, whether traditional or borrowed from current operas or other repertoire. The form seems to have started in England in 1728 with John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. This had possible, if less satisfactory, predecessors in the previous century, but itself essentially provoked a new genre, developed particularly by the dramatist and novelist Henry Fielding.
Derived from the Italian ballare (to dance), the word ballata has connection also with ballad, a narrative song. In opera it is used to indicate a dance-like song or a sung narrative.
Ballet, the art of dance and mime, has held an important place in opera, providing an element of spectacle and of variety, and found in the earliest period of operatic history, in particular with the court masque. The place of ballet in France was of particular importance, at one time of symbolic significance in supporting the power of the monarch. In later periods ballet continued to be an essential element in French opera, leading, in some cases, to the addition of a ballet to make a foreign opera more acceptable to the Parisian public.
The ballet-héroïque was a form that developed in France in the second and third quarters of the 18th century. Generally celebratory in tone and purpose, the genre involved heroic figures in a series of episodes based on a general theme. Rameau was the principle exponent of a form of distinct political relevance in its own time.
In written Western music the bar-line came to be used: a vertical line through the stave, to mark metrical units or bars (= measures). By the later 17th century the bar-line would precede a strong beat, so that a bar came to begin normally with an accented note. The double bar or double bar-line marks the end of a section or piece.
A barcarolle (= Italian: barcarola) is a boating-song, generally with a characteristic swaying rhythm. The best-known operatic example is found in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (‘The Tales of Hoffmann’), setting the scene in Venice.
The word baritone indicates a male voice that is lower than tenor and higher than bass. The range corresponds to that of the normal male speaking voice. In fact the baritone range can vary very considerably, leading to a necessary distinction between high baritone and bass-baritone. Operatic repertoire includes a number of leading baritone roles, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to the dramatically and technically demanding parts offered by Verdi in operas like Rigoletto or Falstaff.
Once used as a term of critical disapproval, the word Baroque is now used in music to designate a period of musical history from about 1600 to about 1750, although any such periodisation in history can only be a rough guide. In musicology the term was borrowed from the history of art and architecture. In music the Baroque era may conveniently be divided into three 50-year periods: early Baroque, middle Baroque and late Baroque. The first of these is typified by the Italian composer Monteverdi, the middle Baroque by composers such as Henry Purcell in England or Lully in France, and the late Baroque by Johann Sebastian Bach, Handel and Vivaldi.
The word bass describes the lower register and lower sonorities in music. In vocal music it indicates the lowest type of male voice, and in instrumental music it is generally used to indicate the bottom part. As an adjective it is used to describe instruments of lower register, such as the bass clarinet. In common speech the word bass may indicate the double bass, the largest and lowest instrument of the string family, or, in brass bands, an instrument corresponding to the orchestral tuba (the bass of the brass family).
The bass is the lowest male voice, originally cast in majestic roles like those of Plutone, King of the Underworld, or of Caronte (Charon), sinister ferryman of the dead, in Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Composers sometimes call for a wide range of voice, rising from the depths to the heights. In French opera of the 19th century distinctions were made between types of bass, according to the character and range of the roles, whether noble or lyrical.
The bass-baritone voice lies between baritone and bass and there are roles that may be allocated to a bass-baritone instead of to a bass. Such roles include that of Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s opera and a number of roles deliberately allotted by Wagner to a ‘high bass’.
The basso buffo is the comic bass, as exemplified by the comic slave overseer Osmin, in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’), or by Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.
A basso cantante (= French: basse chantante) is a singing bass, a bass singing a more lyrical melodic line, as, perhaps, in the title role of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov.
The basso continuo or continuo is the figured bass commonly used in music of the Baroque period. It was the normal practice to make use of a bass instrument of some kind (for example a cello or bass viola da gamba) and a chordal instrument (a keyboard instrument or plucked string instrument). The part of the latter is indicated by numbers added to the bass instrument’s part; these show the basic chords, or harmony, on which can be improvised a more elaborate accompaniment or ‘filling in’.
The basso profondo is a deep bass, of rich lower sonority, the kind of bass for which Russia is well known. In opera the basso profondo is generally used for roles of some solemnity, but the range demanded of Osmin in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’) qualifies him for this description; his range is profondo in a role that is buffo.
The bassoon is a double-reed wind instrument (= German: Fagott; Italian: fagotto). It is the bass of the woodwind section in the modern orchestra, which can be augmented by the use of a double bassoon of lower range.
The beat or pulse in a piece of music is the regular rhythmic pattern of the music. Each bar should start with a strong beat and each bar should end with a weak beat. These may be known as the down-beat (strong, at the beginning of a bar) and the up-beat (weak, at the end of a bar). Up and down describe the gestures of a conductor, whose preparatory up-beat is of even greater importance to players than his down-beat.
A berceuse is a cradle-song or lullaby, in lilting triple or compound time. The most famous example of the use of this title is by Chopin, who wrote one Berceuse, followed by Liszt.
Bewegt (German: agitated) is used as a tempo indication with a similar meaning to the Italian agitato, although mässig bewegt is used as the equivalent of allegro moderato.
The bolero is a Spanish dance, popular in Paris in the time of Chopin and in Latin America. The best-known example of the dance in art music is Ravel’s ballet music Boléro, music of mounting intensity described by the composer as an orchestrated crescendo.
A bourrée is a duple-rhythm French dance sometimes found in the Baroque dance suite, where it was later placed after the sarabande, with other lighter additional dances.
The brass section of the orchestra comprises metal instruments on which the sound is produced by forcing air through a cup-shaped or conical mouthpiece. The brass section usually consists of trumpets, trombones, French horns and tuba.
A breeches role (= French: travesti; German: Hosenrolle) is one in which a female singer takes a male part. This occurred, for example, in the time of Handel, when leading male castrato parts were sometimes, alternatively, allocated to women. Famous breeches roles must include that of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier (‘The Knight of the Rose’) and that of the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, but operatic history offers many more examples, from Monteverdi to Massenet.
Brio (Italian: vivacity, fire or energy) appears as an instruction to performers; for example, allegro con brio, meaning fast with brilliance and fire, an indication used on a number of occasions by Beethoven.
Buffo describes a singer or a role that is comic. The word is most often applied to the comic bass, the basso buffo, but tenors are occasionally allowed to indulge in comedy, as, for example, in the case of the tenore buffo Goro, the marriage-broker in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.
A burlesque (= Italian: burlesca; German: Burleske) is, in its earlier meaning, a comic piece for the theatre, often including an element of parody or caricature. The word is derived from the Italian burlare (to make fun of) and performances of this kind were often used in seasonal festivities to mock more serious theatrical works. In the United States of America the term took on a markedly less respectable meaning from the later 19th century onwards.
Although the word burletta was used in England from the late 18th century for a form of light English opera, it had a use in Italy to indicate a category of comic opera, during the same period. An example is found in Rossini’s L’occasione fa il ladro (‘Opportunity Makes the Thief’).
C is a note in the scale (= French: ut; Italian: do).
A cabaletta, the word used first in the earlier 19th century, is the second, quicker part of an Italian aria in two parts. An example would be Rosina’s Io sono docile (I am biddable), after her Una voce poco fa (A voice, a little while ago), in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (‘The Barber of Seville’). The word can also describe the later part of an operatic duet.
A cadence usually consists of two chords that provide musical punctuation at the end of a phrase.
A cadenza, based often on an extended and embellished final cadence, at least in Classical concertos, is a passage originally improvised by a performer in which virtuoso ability might be shown. Cadenzas are now more often written by the composer, although some modern performers continue to improvise. In Classical concertos the cadenza frequently leads to the last section of a movement.
Camera (Italian: room, chamber) is found principally in the phrase sonata da camera (‘chamber sonata’), to be distinguished in music of the Baroque period from sonata da chiesa (‘church sonata’). The secular sonata da camera generally consists of dance movements.
A canon in music is a device in counterpoint in which a melody announced by one voice or instrument is imitated by one or more other voices or instruments, entering after the first has started, in the manner of a round. The word canon may describe either the device as it occurs in a piece of music or a complete composition in this form, such as the well-known example by Pachelbel.
The Italian word cantabile means singable and is more usually found in directions for instrumental performance in a singing manner. It has appeared also as a noun to indicate the first part of a two-section Italian aria.
A cantata is generally a choral work of some length that also uses solo voices, usually with instrumental accompaniment. The texts used may be sacred or secular. Some cantatas use solo voices without chorus.
A canzone is a song. In opera the word is used to indicate a song that appears as such in the dramatic context. An example might be Cherubino’s song Voi che sapete (You who know what love is) in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (‘The Marriage of Figaro’).
A canzonetta is a little canzone.
Cappella (Italian: chapel) is found particularly in the phrase a cappella for unaccompanied choral singing. The words chapel, cappella and Kapelle indicate a musical establishment rather than a place, as in the English Chapel Royal (the musicians of the monarch). The spelling capella may also be found.
Capriccio or caprice appears in a variety of musical meanings, used differently at different periods and by different composers. In the later 16th century and 17th century it generally indicated a fugal composition (see ‘Fugue’) but later came to signify dances or dance suites or any composition that allowed a relatively free play of fancy, as in the Capriccio espagnol (‘Spanish Caprice’) of Rimsky-Korsakov or the Capriccio italien (‘Italian Caprice’) of Tchaikovsky.
The word cassation is of disputed origin and was used principally in the third quarter of the 18th century in South Germany to describe a piece of music akin to a divertimento or serenade, music intended primarily for entertainment. Mozart uses the word to describe three of his own serenades.
The castrato, the castrated male singer, held a position of essential importance in opera of the 17th and 18th centuries, in particular in Italian works. Many principal male roles in Italian Baroque opera were allocated to male sopranos or altos, who enjoyed great fame and high fees. Outstanding castrato singers include Farinelli, whose career flourished in the 1720s and 1730s. The castrato voice went out of fashion during the later 18th century, although there are rare and isolated castrato roles in operas by Rossini and Meyerbeer.
A cavatina is a short aria, an example of which, so specified, would be Figaro’s Se vuol ballare (If you want to dance) in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). In Italian opera of the 19th century it came to indicate an opening aria for a leading character or an aria of particular virtuosity.
A celesta (= French: céleste) is a small keyboard instrument developed in the later 19th century which uses hammers that strike metal bars to give a ringing sound. Tchaikovsky used the celesta, then a new instrument, in ‘Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy’ (part of his ballet The Nutcracker).
The word cello is now in general use instead of the longer word violoncello; the latter means ‘little violone’, violone indicating the big viol—the lowest-pitched instrument of the bowed viol family. The cello normally plays the bass line of the string section in an orchestra, its register the approximate equivalent of the lowest male voice (the bass).
A chaconne (= Italian: ciaconna; earlier English: chacony) is in origin a dance popular in Spain in the early 17th century. It came to signify a form comprising a series of variations over a short repeated bass or chordal pattern. Famous examples of the form are found in Bach’s Chaconne for unaccompanied violin in his D minor Partita or the earlier Chacony in G minor by Henry Purcell.
Chamber music is music for a small ensemble of instruments, generally intended for performance in a room or chamber, as opposed to a church or larger building.
A chamber orchestra has come to indicate an orchestra smaller in size than the usual symphony orchestra.
A chanson is a French song. The word is used to indicate songs from the troubadour compositions of the Middle Ages to the art songs of the 19th and 20th centuries.
(see ‘Plainchant’ and ‘Gregorian Chant’)
The word chapel (= Latin: cappella, capella; French: chapelle; German: Kapelle) signifies, in the ordinary sense, a place of worship. In music it may be used to indicate a group of musicians employed by the Church or by the court, as in the English Chapel Royal (the group of musicians employed by the English monarch), or, in later continental terminology, any musical establishment.
A choir is a group of singers. The word is generally used to indicate a) such a group in a church; b) the part of the church in which such a group is normally placed.
A chorale is a German Lutheran hymn tune, a number of which were composed or arranged by Luther himself and adapted in later centuries to various harmonies, the most famous of all by Johann Sebastian Bach. The word is also used in America to signify a choir or chorus.
The chorale prelude (an introduction to a chorale) was developed in 17th-century Germany as an organ composition based on a chorale melody. The form is found in the later 17th century in the work of Buxtehude and in the early 18th century most notably in the 45 chorale preludes of Johann Sebastian Bach.
A chord is the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes. The adjective is ‘chordal’. The study of harmony involves the correct placing of chords with relation to each other.
A chorus is a group of singers, the term often interchangeable with ‘choir’. The word is also used to indicate a refrain in a song.
Chromatic notes are those which do not belong to the diatonic scale. If an ascending major scale is taken from the note C, chromatic notes would be C sharp, D sharp, etc.—i.e. notes not found in the diatonic scale of C major, which has no sharps or flats.
A clarinet is a woodwind instrument with a single reed (as opposed to the oboe, for example, which has a double reed). The clarinet was developed from the year 1800 onwards from the earlier chalumeau, which played notes only in the lower register. The new instrument added notes in the higher register. Clarinets are built in different keys, most commonly in B flat and in A.
Clarino was the word often used in the 17th and 18th centuries for trumpet. It now describes the upper register of the trumpet, much used in the Baroque period, when the trumpet, lacking valves, could produce successive notes only in the highest register (an art that later fell into temporary disuse).
In the most general meaning of the word, classical music may designate fine music or serious music. More technically the word may refer to a period in the history of music, roughly from 1750 to 1830: the age of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In this sense, the Classical may be differentiated from the so-called Romantic—producing the relatively experimental and less formally restricted kinds of music that became current in the 19th century.
The clavichord is a small early keyboard instrument with a hammer action. The strings are struck by a ‘tangent’: a small oblong strip of metal, eliciting a soft sound. The limited dynamic range of the clavichord makes it unsuitable for public performance, but it was historically much favoured by composers such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, second son of Johann Sebastian Bach and a leading keyboard player in the mid-18th century.
The five lines generally used in modern musical notation have no precise meaning without the addition at the left-hand side of a clef: a sign that specifies a particular note to be indicated by one of the lines, from which other notes may be gauged. The treble clef, otherwise known as a G clef, is used to show that the second line from the bottom is G. The bass clef, otherwise known as an F clef, shows that the second line from the top is the F below middle C. C clefs are used on any line to show the position of the note known as middle C; most frequently found are the alto clef, a C clef on the middle line of the stave (the group of five lines) and the tenor clef, a C clef on the second line from the top. The alto clef is the principal clef used for the viola, the tenor of the string family, while the tenor clef is used for the upper register of instruments like the cello and the bassoon. In plainchant, which uses a four-line stave, there are C clefs and F clefs which may appear on any line.
A coda (Italian: tail) is the ending of a piece of music. This may be very short, but in a composition on a large scale it may be extended. The diminutive codetta may be used to indicate the closing part of a section of a composition.
In its earlier meaning coloratura signifies colouring, and, in music, ornamentation. The word now generally indicates a role that includes elaborate ornamentation, or a singer specialising in such a role. It often involves a high soprano in exploration of the musical stratosphere. A well-known example is found in the role of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’), with her dazzling vocal acrobatics.
The French comédie larmoyante (tearful comedy) became fashionable in France in the later 18th century, providing a plot in which a tearful element leads to a happy ending. The genre has wider cultural connection with novels such as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded and with the German Empfindsamerstil (sentimental style).
Lyric comedy, comedy in music, comedy set to music, are terms applied to French operas of the later 18th century that are to be distinguished from the tragédie lyrique of the period. It represents a form that has less dramatic pretensions than lyric tragedy but rather more than the comédie mêlée d’ariettes.
‘Comedy mingled with little arias’ was a form that gained currency in France in the second half of the 18th century. The musical element, in the shorter songs involved, is relatively simple and straightforward.
The French Baroque comédie-ballet makes use of spoken dialogue, song and dance. A well-known example of the form is found in Molière’s collaboration with the composer Lully in Le Bourgeois gentilhomme (‘The Bourgeois Gentleman’).
The conventions of the semi-improvised Italian commedia dell’arte, with its stock characters of Harlequin, Pantaloon and Columbine, are reflected in early opera until the middle of the 18th century, and beyond that in the plays by Gozzi, sources of later operatic exploitation. The character of Harlequin (Arlecchino), protagonist of Busoni’s opera of that name, is that of the ordinary man, set, time and again, in inappropriately exotic or majestic surroundings, which he then brings into ridicule. His German equivalent is found in Hanswurst and then in characters such as Mozart’s bird-catcher Papageno in Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’). Shakespeare’s Bottom in fairy-land explores much the same vein of humour. The characters and the genre of the commedia dell’arte continue to have their place, as, for example, in the opera Ariadne auf Naxos (‘Ariadne on Naxos’) by Richard Strauss.
Comprimario roles are operatic roles of secondary or even lesser importance, however vital their existence may be to a plot.
A concertante part in a piece of music is a part that calls for some element of solo performance, as in a Classical concerto. The word is found in the phrase Sinfonia concertante, a title used from the late 18th century onwards to indicate an orchestral composition with two or more solo instruments.
A concertino is a small group of solo instruments used in a concerto grosso, in contrast to the whole body of the orchestra—the ripieno players (see ‘Concerto grosso’). A concertino may also be a small concerto (see Concerto).
A concerto is a piece of instrumental music that contrasts a solo instrument or a small group of solo instruments with the main body of the orchestra. In the earlier 17th century the word had a more general significance, but in the early 18th century it came to mean primarily a work thus described.
The concerto grosso developed towards the end of the 17th century, particularly with the works in this form by Corelli, followed by Handel and many other composers. A small group of soloists, often two violins, cello and harpsichord (the concertino), is contrasted with the whole string orchestra—the ripieno players. The concerto grosso may involve wind instruments as well as strings. The form has been revived by some 20th-century composers, at least nominally.
Consort, used in earlier English, indicates a group of instruments—as, for example, a consort of viols in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. A broken consort is a consort of mixed instruments—strings and wind.
A continuo part, a regular feature of much instrumental music in the 17th and 18th centuries, was the part played by a keyboard player or performer on a chordal instrument, such as a lute or harp. The music comprised the bass line of a composition, generally with numbers to indicate the choice of chords, which the player would then fill out, with other melodic and contrapuntal embellishments. The continuo or basso continuo was a necessary part of instrumental music, but it gradually fell into disuse towards the end of the 18th century, while remaining an important element in the accompaniment of operatic recitative.
The contralto voice is the lowest female voice, now often identified with the mezzo-soprano. It is, however, possible to distinguish between the two types of voice and the kinds of roles allotted to them in opera. A characteristic contralto role is that of Tancredi in Rossini’s opera of that name, a breeches part that demands a rich lower register, as well as the usual vocal agility. In general, however, the contralto has had to be content as a mother, mother-in-law or nurse, or as any other female of formidable power or sinister suggestion, such as the gypsy Azucena in Verdi’s Il trovatore (‘The Troubadour’), which might properly be thought to belong to a mezzo-soprano, because of the part’s slightly higher range.
The cor anglais is the ‘English horn’: a tenor oboe that sounds a fifth lower than it is written.
The cornet is a valved brass instrument, resembling a trumpet but with a wider bore. It was used in the second quarter of the 19th century before the full development of the valved trumpet, but is now principally found in brass bands.
The cornetto or cornett is a wind instrument made of wood or ivory, or nowadays reproduced in fibre-glass. It has a cup-shaped mouthpiece, like other brass instruments, but finger-holes, like a recorder. It was much used in the 17th and earlier 18th centuries, often to support or even replace treble voices. The bass of the cornetto family is the serpent, once found in village church bands in England and now revived.
Counterpoint is the combination of two or more melodic lines, the second or later additional melodies described as counterpoints to the first. If harmony is regarded as vertical, as it is in conventional notation, signifying the simultaneous sounding of notes in chords, counterpoint may be regarded as horizontal. The adjective from counterpoint is ‘contrapuntal’. The phrase ‘modal counterpoint’ indicates 16th-century counterpoint and the phrase ‘tonal counterpoint’ indicates the later Baroque counterpoint of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries.
A countertenor voice is that of a male alto. Sometimes a distinction is made between the two, the second indicating the English falsetto tradition and the first a natural voice of similar range.
The French courante, a triple-time dance movement found frequently in the Baroque dance suite, generally follows the allemande, the opening German dance. It is sometimes not distinguished from the Italian corrente, although the corrente is generally simpler in texture and rhythm than its French counterpart.
Crescendo (Italian: growing, becoming louder) is frequently used as a dynamic instruction to performers.
A song cycle is a set of songs intended to be performed as a group, as in Schumann’s Dichterliebe (‘The Poet’s Love’) or Schubert’s Winterreise (‘Winter Journey’). The 19th-century Czech composer Smetana wrote a cycle of symphonic poems called Má vlast (‘My Country’).
Cymbals (= Italian: piatti; German: Becken; French: cymbales) are pairs of round metal plates, generally made of an alloy of tin and copper, which may be struck together. A single cymbal may be suspended and struck with a hard or soft stick. The instrument is of ancient origin, but its more modern use occurs first principally in the later 18th century, as part of the Turkish music used, for example, by Mozart in his German opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’). It found much fuller and more varied use in the 19th and 20th centuries.