While English pantomime has developed from its 18th-century origins into a popular Christmas entertainment that incorporates elements of the earlier music hall, the international meaning of the word reflects its etymology, indicating performance completely in mime. This meaning is found in sections of opera, where mime replaces the verbal indications of the course a plot is taking.
The direction parlando (speaking) indicates that a singer should use a speaking style of delivery.
A part may indicate the line or music intended for a particular performer. Earlier choral music, for example, was written in separate part-books, one for each part (as is the modern practice with orchestral parts), rather than in the full vocal score now usual. The art of part-writing—or, in American, voice-leading—is the art of writing simultaneous parts according to the established rules of harmony. A part-song is a vocal work in which different voices are used, as distinct from a song in which all sing the same melody.
Partita is another word for suite, used, for example, by J.S. Bach in the title of a set of keyboard suites or in the three partitas for unaccompanied violin.
The passacaglia is a Baroque dance variation form on a short melodic formula usually occurring in the bass. It is similar in form to the chaconne, in which a recurrent bass pattern forms the basis of the composition, implying a recurrent harmonic progression. The two forms are sometimes confused by composers. Famous examples of the passacaglia include Johann Sebastian Bach’s C minor Passacaglia for the organ. Something of the form appears in the last movement of the Fourth Symphony of Brahms, and they occur in Berg’s opera Wozzeck and in Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.
The four accounts of the suffering and death of Christ, as given in the first four books of the New Testament, were customarily sung during the Catholic rites of Holy Week to plainchant, with a division of parts where direct speech is involved. It became customary in the 15th century to allow the singing of the parts of the crowd (= Latin: turba) in the biblical narrative in polyphonic settings, and there was a gradual extension of the polyphonic element in the next century. The best-known settings of the Passion are the surviving Lutheran settings by J.S. Bach of the accounts of the Passion in the Gospels of St Matthew and St John.
A pasticcio (= French: pastiche) is an opera that makes use of arias and other musical elements drawn from a number of different sources. The practice of concocting such works, a procedure that brought obvious advantages, became current in the second half of the 17th century and continued at least until the end of the 18th century.
Pastorale is a musical expression of a genre familiar in European literature from Hellenistic times or earlier, an idealisation of the rural, in literary form, in the lives and loves (often fatal) of shepherds and shepherdesses, and then, by extension, of the country in general. The word may be used as the title of a piece of music suggesting a rural idyll. In Italy it was associated particularly with the dance-form the siciliano, used to suggest the scene of shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem at the birth of Christ. Such pastoral movements formed part of the Christmas concertos of Corelli and his contemporaries and imitators. Adjectivally used, the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony of Beethoven, in true Wordsworthian fashion, offers emotions experienced on a visit to the country, recollected in what passed for tranquillity in his life.
The pavan (= French: pavane), a stately duple-metre dance of the 16th and early 17th centuries, appears in various English spellings: paven, pavin and other forms. Coupled with the quicker triple-metre galliard, it was among the most popular dances of the time. The origin of the word is attributed either to the Italian town of Padua or to the peacock (= Italian: pavone). Well-known examples include the English composer John Dowland’s Lachrimae, or Seaven Teares Figured in Seaven Passionate Pavans or Ravel’s nostalgic Pavane pour une infante défunte (‘Pavan for a Dead Infanta’).
The pentatonic or five-note scale is formed by the black notes of the keyboard, or the white notes C, D, E, G and A: two whole tones, a minor third and a whole tone. This form of scale is the basis of folk melodies in many countries, from China to Scotland, and occasionally occurs, in passing at least, in the work of 20th-century composers. It is an important element in the educational music of Carl Orff and in the choral method of the Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály.
The percussion section of the orchestra includes all instruments that are played by being struck, including the piano and celesta. Originally consisting of a pair of kettledrums or timpani, appearing normally with a pair of trumpets, the percussion section was significantly enlarged in the later 18th century with the allegedly Turkish fashion of the time, involving the occasional use of bass drum, cymbals and triangle in an imitation of the Janissary band. Liszt shocked audiences by including a triangle in the orchestration of a piano concerto (dubbed a triangle concerto by a hostile critic), and gradually other percussion instruments were added for occasional effects, including even, by Erik Satie, the typewriter.
Performance practice or performing practice (= German: Aufführungspraxis) indicates the attempt to perform music in the way envisaged originally by the composer. The second half of the 20th century has brought a significant interest in musicology as well as the technology and scholarship necessary to the construction of copies of earlier instruments and to the study of methods of performance on these instruments. The study of performance practice extends from the study of music of the earliest periods to that of relatively recent periods in the 19th and early 20th century.
The adjective philharmonic and noun philharmonia are generally used as adopted titles by orchestras or by music-loving societies of one sort or another. The words have no other technical meaning.
A phrase in music, on the analogy of syntactical use, is a recognisable musical unit, generally ending in a cadence of some kind, and forming part of a period or sentence. Phrasing in performance has a less precise use, indicating the correct grouping of notes, whether as phrases in the technical sense or in smaller distinct units, corresponding to the various possible syntactical uses of punctuation.
Piano (Italian: soft) is generally represented by the letter p in directions to performers. Pianissimo, represented by pp, means very soft. Addition of further letters p indicates greater degrees of softness, as in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, where an excessive pppppp is used.
Piano trio, piano quartet and piano quintet indicate works for the piano with varying numbers of string instruments. The piano trio is scored for piano, violin and cello, the piano quartet for piano, violin, viola and cello, and the piano quintet for piano, two violins, viola and cello.
The pianoforte, known generally as the piano, was developed during the 18th century. A keyboard instrument, it is distinguished from the harpsichord by its hammer action, with hammers striking the strings when keys are depressed. Dynamic change is possible by applying more or less force to the keys. The instrument underwent a number of technical changes during the century and in the years following became the most popular instrument of domestic entertainment.
The piccolo (Italian: small) is the small flute, pitched an octave higher than the ordinary flute. Adjectivally the word may be applied to other instruments or groups, as in coro piccolo (‘small chorus’). The violino piccolo, a small violin, is used by J.S. Bach in the First ‘Brandenburg’ Concerto, where it is to be tuned a third higher.
The pitch of a note accords to the frequency of its vibrations. The exact pitch of notes has varied over the years and nowadays differs to some extent between continent and continent or even between orchestra and orchestra. Earlier pitches were generally lower, but not necessarily standardised. ‘Perfect pitch’ is the ability to distinguish the pitch of a note, according to generally accepted nomenclature. Relative pitch is the ability to distinguish the pitch of one note with relation to another, given note.
Più (Italian: more) is found in directions to performers, as in più forte (‘louder’) or più lento (‘slower’).
Pizzicato (Italian: plucked) is a direction to performers on string instruments to pluck the strings. A return to the use of the bow is indicated by the word arco, bow. Pizzicato notes on the violin, viola and cello are normally plucked with the index finger of the right hand. The great violinist Paganini, however, introduced the technique of left-hand pizzicato for occasional use, notably in one of the variations of his 24th Caprice, where it produces a very special effect.
Plainchant is the traditional monodic chant of the Catholic and Eastern Christian liturgies. It is often known as Gregorian chant, after Pope Gregory the Great, St Gregory, who largely but not completely standardised plainchant in Western Europe at the end of the sixth century. This form of chant is free in rhythm, following the words of the liturgical texts, and is modal, using the scales of the eight church modes. In its long history it has undergone various reforms, revisions and attempts at restoration.
Poco (Italian: little) is found in directions to performers, as in poco allegro (although un poco allegro, ‘a little fast’, would be more accurate). Poco, in fact, is commonly used meaning un poco (‘a little’).
Polacca (‘Polish’), appears often in the phrase Alla polacca (‘in the Polish manner’), as in the last movement of the First ‘Brandenburg’ Concerto of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The polka, a Bohemian dance, became one of the most popular ballroom dances of the 19th century, its title a possible reference to Poland. It is used by Smetana in his Czech opera The Bartered Bride and elsewhere, and in William Walton’s jeu d’esprit Façade.
The polonaise is a Polish dance in triple metre. Although the title is found in J.S. Bach’s French Suite No. 6 and elsewhere in the earlier 18th century, the form is best known from the piano pieces written by Chopin a hundred years later, works that elevated the original dance to a higher level while capturing the current spirit of Polish nationalism.
Polyphony is the writing of music in many parts or in more than one part, with reference in particular to contrapuntal practices. Monody or monophony are possible opposites.
The post horn is a relatively simple kind of horn once played by postilions as a signal of the departure, arrival or approach of a coach. Mozart made brief use of the instrument in his Post Horn Serenade, and its sound was imitated by various composers, including J.S. Bach in his harpsichord Capriccio on the Departure of His Beloved Brother, which includes a Postilion Aria and a fugue on the sound of the post horn.
A postlude is played at the end of a piece and indicates, in particular, the additional piano phrases that may appear at the end of a song, after the singer has stopped. The word is more widely used to describe the closing section of a work or to indicate a piece of music to be played as the conclusion of a ceremony (the opposite of a prelude).
The preghiera (prayer; = French: prière) has found a poignant place in opera, as in Desdemona’s prayer in both Rossini’s and Verdi’s Otello. The Gebet is its counterpart in German opera, in the work of Wagner and others.
A prelude (= Latin: praeludium, praeambulum; French: prélude; German: Vorspiel) is a movement or section of a work that comes before another movement or section of a work, although the word has also been used for short independent pieces that may stand alone, or even for more extended works, such as Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune.
Presto (Italian: fast) is used frequently as a direction to performers. An even faster speed is indicated by the superlative prestissimo or even il più presto possible (‘as fast as possible’).
The prima donna is the first lady in an opera, with rights and privileges that she has traditionally used every way of ensuring.
The primo uomo is the first man, usually a castrato, in 18th-century opera, of similar or greater importance than the prima donna and capable of taking equal measures in support of his claims.
Programme music is music that has a narrative or descriptive extra-musical content. Music of this kind has a long history, but the term programme music was coined by Liszt, whose symphonic poems principally attempt to translate into musical terms works of literature, such as Goethe’s Faust or Dante’s Divina Commedia. It seems preferable that the term should be limited to instrumental music for concert use and should not include either incidental music or ballet music.
Psalms are the texts included in the biblical Book of Psalms and retain an important place in the services of the Catholic Divine Office, sung to plainchant. The biblical texts are not metrical and therefore use a relatively simple form of chant that can be expanded by the use of a longerreciting note, the final syllables sung to a short syllabic formula. After the Reformation of the early 16th century metrical versions of the Psalms became current, with texts that could be sung to hymn tunes. Harmonised settings of the biblical and metrical Psalms have been current in Protestant churches and chapels since the 16th century.
The quadrille was one of the most popular ballroom dances of the 19th century, generally in a brisk duple metre.
Divisions of the tone smaller than a semitone are occasionally found in art-music, particularly in the 20th century. Quarter-tones occur in the solo violin part of the Second Violin Concerto of Béla Bartók.
A quartet is a composition for four players or the name for a group of four players.
The Querelle des Bouffons (quarrel of the comedians) was the quarrel between supporters of the French and the Italian forms of opera in Paris in the early 1750s, particularly following the performance there of Pergolesi’s La serva padrona (‘The Servant as Mistress’) and a series of other works of similar provenance. The dispute had political significance, as the King was identified with traditional French opera, which had always had its own dynastic purposes. Matters were, for the moment, resolved with the departure from the Paris Opéra of the Italian company engaged there, after a successful stay of some 20 months.
A quintet is a composition for five players or the name for a group of five players.
A quodlibet (Latin: what you please) is a light-hearted composition generally containing a combination of well-known tunes. There is an example in Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations, where the composer combines the theme of the variations with two popular songs of the time.
Rallentando (Italian: becoming slower) is a direction to a performer to play gradually slower.
The rappresentazione sacra (sacred drama) had its origins in medieval Italy, further developed in the 15th and 16th centuries and revived by Cavalieri in 1600 with his Rappresentatione di anima e di corpo (‘Representation of Soul and Body’) for the Oratorian movement. The genre has brought its modern revival in Pizzetti’s La sacra rappresentazione di Abram e d’Isaac (‘The Miracle Play of Abraham and Isaac’) and other works of the 20th century.
Recitative is a form of musically notated dramatic speech, relatively free in form. Early recitative of the 17th century, with its origin in rhetorical theory and practice, allowed a greater variety of expression than the more formal recitative of the 18th century or later. Recitative became formally distinguished from the aria, the set song, which it frames, and came generally to carry the dramatic dialogue of a plot. By the early 18th century recitative was largely stylised, with a conventional chordal accompaniment, usually provided on a keyboard instrument.
Recitativo accompagnato (accompanied recitative) or recitativo stromentato (recitative with instruments) is recitative with an orchestral accompaniment.
Recitativo secco (dry recitative) or recitativo semplice (simple recitative) is accompanied only by a keyboard or other chordal instrument in the form of a basso continuo.
The recorder (= German: Blockflöte; French: flûte à bec; Italian: flauto dolce), the straight flute, exists in a variety of sizes, the principal of which are the descant or soprano, the treble or alto, the tenor and the bass, the first and third of which have a range upwards from C and the second and fourth of which have a range upwards from F, with similar fingering. Other sizes of recorder include the smallest, the sopranino (an octave higher than the treble) and the great bass (an octave lower than the tenor). An even larger family of recorders existed in the later 16th century. The earlier recorder was used in consort music, while it was used rather as a solo instrument in music in the later 17th and early 18th centuries, with sonatas for the instrument by Handel and solo parts in the Second and Fourth of the ‘Brandenburg’ Concertos of J.S. Bach. The revival of the instrument in the 20th century has led to a number of new solo works for recorder.
Reeds, made either from traditional material or from plastic or metal, are used to produce a musical sound from their vibration by means of an air column. The clarinet uses a single reed, fastened to a hollow mouthpiece, while the oboe and bassoon use a double reed, one side vibrating against the other. The reed-pipes of the organ are generally made of metal, with a thin vibrating tongue to produce the sound. Similar laminae are used in the mouth-organ and harmonica. Some instruments, like the bagpipes or the crumhorn, use covered double reeds, set inside an air chamber.
The register of a voice or instrument is a distinct part of its range. The clarinet, for example, has a distinctive lower register known, from the origin of the instrument, as the chalumeau register, and an upper register of more flute-like timbre.
Registration is the choice of stops used by an organist or harpsichordist (a much more elaborate matter for the former).
The repetiteur or répétiteur is the musician employed to teach singers their parts and to accompany and advise them in rehearsal. Both musical and linguistic skills are needed for this sometimes demanding task.
The Catholic Mass for the Dead opens with the words Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine (‘Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord’), leading to the use of the word Requiem to denote a Mass for the Dead. Important settings of the Requiem include that by Mozart and the large-scale settings of the Requiem by Berlioz and Verdi. Brahms set a collection of Lutheran texts to form his A German Requiem, while Fauré set a liturgical text that used parts of the burial service.
The term ‘rescue opera’ has been used to describe operas such as Beethoven’s Fidelio, dealing with the subject of rescue, particularly, after 1789, from political victimisation.
The title rhapsody (= French: rapsodie) came into general use in music of the mid-19th century, notably with the Hungarian Rhapsodies of Liszt. It implies a work free in form and inspiration, often an expression of national temperament, as in the Slavonic Rhapsodies of Dvořák and the Rapsodie espagnole of Ravel.
Rhythm, an essential element in music in one way or another, is the arrangement of notes according to their relative duration and relative accentuation.
The rigaudon, a French folk-dance, is occasionally found in instrumental dance suites of the 17th and 18th centuries. It is normally in a brisk duple metre.
Ritardando (Italian: becoming slower), abbreviated often to rit., is frequently used as a direction to players.
Ritenuto (Italian: held back) directs a player to slow down at once.
The ritornello, a recurrent phrase or passage, is a feature of the Baroque, where an aria may be punctuated by the return of a short instrumental phrase. It became a frequent element in Baroque solo concertos by composers such as Vivaldi and works with operatic connotations.
Rococo, a term borrowed, as are so many other terms in musicology, from architecture and the visual arts, is used in particular to describe the light decorative French style as found in the work of Couperin and Rameau in the first half of the 18th century.
Romanticism in cultural history is a word that defies precise definition. In music it is most commonly applied to a period or the predominant features of that period, from the early 19th century until the early 20th. Features of Romanticism in music include an attention to feeling rather than to formal symmetry, expressed in a freer use of traditional forms, an expansion of the instrumental resources of music, and an extension of harmonic language. Influenced particularly by the arts of literature and painting, music also reflected other preoccupations, often the remote and exotic (whether historical or geographical or both). Early German Romantic opera, for example, is exemplified by Weber’s Der Freischütz, its plot involving woodmen and huntsmen and the mysterious midnight magic of the forest.
Rondo (= French: rondeau) form involves the use of a recurrent theme between a series of varied episodes. The rapid final movement of a Classical concerto or symphony is often in rondo form.
Rubato (Italian: stolen) is a direction to the player to employ a measure of freedom in performance. The phrase tempo rubato is also found.