‘Sacred opera’ simply indicates opera on a religious subject and may range from Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di anima e di corpo (‘Representation of Soul and Body’) to Wagner’s Parsifal. It is not, however, an established category of opera, merely a descriptive term which may have occasional use.
The saltarello is a rapid Italian dance in triple metre, examples of which survive from the Middle Ages. The rhythm and energy of the dance are similar to those of the tarantella. A well-known example appears in the final movement of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ Symphony.
The sarabande is a slow dance in triple metre, generally found in the Baroque instrumental suite. The dance seems to have been Latin American in origin, imported from Latin America to Spain in the 16th century.
The saxophone, a single-reed instrument, was invented in the middle of the 19th century by Adolphe Sax. It is used widely in jazz, and has never been a permanent member of the symphony orchestra. Notable use is made of the saxophone by Ravel in his Boléro and in his orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition; other composers have also used the instrument for special effects.
A scale is a sequence of notes placed in ascending or descending order by step.
In 19th-century opera a scena is a dramatic scene that leads, in one way or another, to an aria or duet or more formal movement.
As part of an act, a scene may simply mark the arrival of a new character or indicate a dramatic division, with a possible change of ‘scene’ or place.
A scherzo is a light-hearted movement found from the early 17th century in various forms but used by Beethoven as an alternative to the minuet in symphonies, sonatas and other instrumental works. Chopin expanded the form considerably. The diminutive scherzino or scherzetto is occasionally found, while scherzando occurs as a direction to performers. The scherzo, like the minuet, is generally used to frame a trio section of contrasted material.
A musical score is written music that shows all parts. A conductor’s score, for example, may have as many as 30 different simultaneous instrumental parts on one page, normally having the woodwind at the top, followed below by the brass, the percussion and the strings. A distinction is made between a vocal score, which gives voice parts with a simplified two-stave version of any instrumental parts, and a full score, which includes all vocal and instrumental parts generally on separate staves. To score a work is to write it out in score. A symphony, for example, might be sketched in short score, on two staves, and later orchestrated or scored for the required instruments.
The seguidilla or seguidillas is a fairly quick triple-metre Spanish dance. There is a famous imitation of the form in Carmen’s seguidilla in the first act of Bizet’s opera Carmen.
While formal opera was slow to find a place in England, the semi-opera, a modern term describing a form of the later 17th century, allowed an amalgamation of a strong musical element with spoken drama. This is exemplified in works such as King Arthur by Purcell, with text by Dryden, in which music distinguishes spirits, magicians and goblins from the more human protagonist and his heroine.
Sempre (Italian: always) is found in directions to performers, as in sempre piano (‘always soft’).
Senza (Italian: without) is found in directions to performers, particularly in phrases such as senza sordino (‘without mute’).
A septet is a composition for seven players or the name for a group of seven players.
A serenade (= German: Serenade, Ständchen) is often similar in form to the divertimento. Etymologically a piece for evening performance, usually outdoors, the counterpart of the morning aubade, the title came to have a much more general meaning. However, it often suggests a piece of music in honour of someone or something, an extension of the traditional performance of a lover beneath the window of his mistress.
A serenata is a piece of vocal and instrumental music, sometimes with a measure of dramatic content, current in the 17th and 18th centuries and often designed for the immediate celebration of some event or anniversary. The word is used, for example, for Mozart’s Il re pastore (‘The Shepherd King’) and might indicate an occasional work of some theatrical elaboration.
Serialism is the important 20th-century compositional technique that uses, as a basis of unity, a series of the 12 semitones of the octave in a certain order, which may then be taken in retrograde form, in inversion, in retrograde inversion, and also in transposition. The technique, an extension of late-Romantic chromaticism, was formulated by Arnold Schoenberg in the 1920s; he was followed by his pupils Alban Berg and Anton Webern, and thereafter by many other composers. Problems arise for the listener in the difficulty of hearing the series, however visually apparent from the written score.
A sextet is a composition for six players or the name for a group of six players.
A sharp, represented by the sign #, added before a note, raises its pitch by a semitone. In general terms music that is sharp may be simply out of tune, at too high a pitch.
The siciliana or siciliano (= French: sicilienne) had its probable origin in a Sicilian shepherd dance or song. It came to be associated in the later 17th century with the pastoral, particularly in the Christmas concerto of the period. The siciliana is normally in compound dotted rhythm and is slow and sometimes melancholy in mood.
The side-drum or snare drum is military in origin. It is a small drum, played with two wooden sticks, with a band of gut strings or wires that can be stretched across the under-surface of the drum to add a rattling effect when it is struck.
Sinfonia (Italian: symphony) in earlier usage indicated a passage or piece of instrumental music, sometimes an introductory piece; it led to the Italian overture, known as the ‘sinfonia before the opera’: the origin of the Italian symphony.
The sinfonia concertante is a concerto that uses two or more solo instruments. The title was used in the later 18th century by Mozart, Haydn and their contemporaries, and has occasionally been used by composers since then.
A sinfonietta is a small symphony. The word is sometimes used to indicate a small orchestra.
The accepted modern sense of the genre called Singspiel is that of a German opera with spoken dialogue, such as Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail (‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’) and Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’), both described as operas by Mozart himself. The word Singspiel in German often had a more general meaning, frequently as a synonym for opera, although its specifically German linguistic nature is reflected in the use of the term under the Emperor Joseph II, in his attempts to establish German opera in Vienna.
Sonata originally designated music that was to be played rather than sung. The Baroque sonata developed in two parallel forms. The first, the sonata da chiesa or ‘church sonata’, was generally of four movements in the order slow–fast–slow–fast, the faster movements fugal in character. The second, the sonata da camera or ‘chamber sonata’, was in essence a dance suite. Sonatas of this kind might be played by a melodic instrument with basso continuo or with a realised keyboard part, or in the form of trio sonatas, with two melody instruments and basso continuo (therefore normally involving four players).
The Classical sonata, instrumental music again generally in several movements, might involve one or more instruments. There was in particular a development of the solo keyboard sonata, from Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach to Beethoven. Duo sonatas, generally using a keyboard instrument and a melody instrument, developed from an earlier form in which the melody instrument predominated to a form in which the keyboard assumed greater importance, with an optional accompaniment from a melody instrument. Greater degrees of equality between the two were achieved in the later violin sonatas of Mozart and the violin sonatas and cello sonatas of Beethoven.
The 19th century brought an expansion of the sonata and greater freedom in the treatment of existing forms, often with more considerable technical demands made on performers, as in the violin-and-piano sonatas and cello-and-piano sonatas of Brahms.
Sonata form, otherwise known with similar inaccuracy as ‘first movement form’ or ‘sonata-allegro form’, developed during the second half of the 18th century as a principal form in instrumental music, from Haydn onwards. The form is based on a triple division of a movement into exposition, development and recapitulation. The first section normally contains two contrasting subjects, the first in the tonic key and the second in the dominant key (or in the relative major of a minor-key movement). The section ends with a coda or codetta. The middle section, the development, offers varied treatment of themes or parts of themes that have already been heard. The recapitulation brings back the first and second subjects now in the tonic key. The movement ends with a coda. The form could be used for all kinds of instrumental music, from sonatas to symphonies, and is expanded and varied in a number of ways.
A sonatina is a little sonata, simpler in structure and shorter in length than a sonata.
The soprano voice is the highest female voice, required for many leading female operatic roles. The same word may be used for the male soprano, the castrato voice used in opera seria. The female soprano voice assumed increasing importance in the late 16th century and had a continuing influence on and importance in opera, as it developed. It is usual to distinguish different types of soprano, lyric, lyric-dramatic, lyric coloratura, and so on. Since it has been customary for principal roles in opera to be written for a particular singer, as Rossini for Colbran or Britten for Peter Pears, specific vocal requirements have become established for certain roles, and these generally reflect the qualities of their original creators.
Sostenuto (Italian: sustained) is a direction to performers to play smoothly.
The spinet is a small form of harpsichord.
The spinto tenor or soprano has a voice capable of incisive dramatic performance. The Italian word means ‘pushed’.
Sprechgesang (speech song) or Sprechstimme (speech voice) describes the technique of musically notated speech, as used notably by Schoenberg in Pierrot lunaire and elsewhere. He is followed in this by his pupil Berg in the operas Wozzeck and Lulu, and the practice has been interestingly explored by one or two recent Chinese composers, who have thus been able to secure greater clarity of meaning in the setting of a tonal language.
The stave or staff indicates the set of lines used for the notation of notes of different pitches. The five-line stave is in general use, with a four-line stave used for plainchant. Staves of other numbers of lines were once used. The system, with coloured lines for C and for F, followed principles suggested first by Guido of Arezzo in the 11th century. Staff notation is the system of notation that uses the stave.
The stile concitato (agitated or excited style) was developed by Monteverdi as a means of expressing anger, in accordance with ancient Greek philosophical principles, to be added to two other states of mind, that of the humble supplicant and that of the moderate man. He intended the stile concitato, exemplified in his Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (‘Combat of Tancredi and Clorinda’), to represent, in its rapidly repeated notes, the mode associated by Plato, in The Republic, with bravery.
The stile rappresentativo (theatre style) is the style developed by Monteverdi and his contemporaries in the late 16th century in the seconda prattica (second practice), the new Baroque style of rhetorical recitative and arioso. The seconda prattica of the early Baroque, with its use of monody and basso continuo, was to be distinguished from the so-called prima prattica (first practice) of composers in a traditional polyphonic style, like Palestrina (stile antico).
The stop on an organ is the device that brings into operation a particular set of pipes.
In a fugue stretto is the device by which a second voice enters with the subject overlapping a first voice, rather than starting after the completion of the subject by the first voice. The word is sometimes used to indicate a faster speed, particularly at the climax of a movement.
String instruments are chordophones, instruments that sound by the vibration of a string of a certain tension. The string section of the modern orchestra uses first and second violins, violas, cellos and double basses. A string trio consists of violin, viola and cello; a string quartet consists of two violins, viola and cello; and a string quintet consists either of two violins, two violas and cello, as in the case of Mozart’s work in this form, or of two violins, viola and two cellos, as in the case of Schubert’s famous C major String Quintet and the quintets of Boccherini. Other numbers and combinations of string instruments are possible in other ensembles.
A subject is a theme or group of themes.
A suite is an instrumental piece consisting of several shorter pieces. The Baroque suite generally contains a series of dance movements, in particular the allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue. Later suites of all kinds exist, some formed from extracts of a larger work—an opera, ballet or incidental music.
Originally indicating a generally instrumental section or composition, as in the case of the brief instrumental introduction to Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo, the symphony came to be the principal serious orchestral form of the later 18th century and thereafter. This later form of the symphony (= Italian: sinfonia) has its immediate origin in the three-movement Italian overture to opera found in the work of Alessandro Scarlatti in the late 17th and early 18th century. The Italian overture opens with a fast movement, followed by a slow movement and a final fast dance-movement in triple metre. The function of the symphony as an overture continued into the second half of the 18th century, to be replaced more generally by its new function as an isolated orchestral form. The Classical symphony of Haydn and Mozart is generally in four movements, opening with a sonata-form allegro, followed by a slow movement, a minuet and trio, and a rondo finale. With Beethoven the symphony grew in size and ambition, an example followed later by Brahms, Bruckner and others. In the 19th century and into the 20th century the symphony, now much expanded, remained the most respected and demanding form that a composer might tackle. A symphony may loosely be defined as an orchestral composition generally in several movements.
Tafelmusik (German: table-music; = French: musique de table), indicates music used to accompany banquets. Telemann provides a well-known example in three sets of Musique de table, more commonly seen now under the German title Tafelmusik.
The tambourine is a small single-headed hand-drum with jingles in its wooden frame. It is an instrument of some antiquity, but first found an occasional place in the symphony orchestra only in the 19th century when it came to be used for exotic effects, as in the Capriccio espagnol and Sheherazade of Rimsky-Korsakov, where it gives a touch of the Spanish and the Middle Eastern respectively.
The tam-tam is a gong, an instrument of Chinese origin in its Western orchestral form. It is first found in this context towards the end of the 18th century, when it is used for dramatic effect. Gustav Holst makes use of the tam-tam in ‘Mars’, from The Planets, and sets of gongs of a more obviously oriental kind are used by Puccini in his operas Madama Butterfly and Turandot.
Tanto (Italian: so much) is occasionally found in tempo indications, as in allegro ma non tanto, similar in meaning, if slightly weaker, than allegro ma non troppo (‘fast but not too much’).
The tarantella is a folk-dance from the Southern Italian town of Taranto. A dance in 6/8 metre of some rapidity, it has been connected, by a process of false etymology, with the tarantula spider and either the effects of its bite or a means of its cure. There are well-known examples in piano pieces by Chopin and by Liszt.
The Te Deum (Latin: We praise Thee, O Lord) is a canticle sung in thanksgiving and forming a part of the Divine Office, where it appears after Matins on Sundays and major feast days. It later formed part of the Church of England morning service. Well-known examples are found in two settings by Handel, the Utrecht Te Deum and the Dettingen Te Deum, with more elaborate settings in the 19th century from Berlioz and Bruckner.
Temperaments are the various alterations of strict tuning necessary for practical purposes. Equal temperament, now in general use, involves the division of the octave into 12 equal semitones, a procedure that necessitates some modification of intervals from their true form, according to the ratios of physics. Equal temperament, exemplified in Johann Sebastian Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues for the Well-Tempered Clavier, won gradual acceptance in the 18th century, replacing earlier systems of tuning. It has been plausibly suggested that the system of equal temperament was borrowed from China, where its mathematical basis was published towards the end of the 16th century.
Tempo (Italian: time) means the speed at which a piece of music is played. Sometimes the exact tempo is given at the beginning of a piece of music with the number of beats to a minute, as measured by a metronome. More often tempo indications give the performer more latitude, although the Hungarian composer Belá Bartók, for example, gives exact timings, often of each section of a work. In much earlier music the tempo is implicit in the notation or in the type of music.
The tenor voice is the high male voice, above that of the baritone. While the protagonist in Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo is a tenor, the voice was subsequently used primarily in lesser, character parts, only later assuming again a leading position, as the castrato lost favour. By the 19th century the tenor had taken the lead, coupled with the soprano in scenes of love and conflict. Musical and technical demands have led to the establishing of various categories of tenor, heroic, lyric, dramatic, spinto or even, at the highest, altino. The tenor altino is the highest form of tenor, able to use a treble register, but not, it is claimed, through the use of falsetto. An example of this last is seen in the role of the Astrologer in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Golden Cockerel. Here it is used to very special effect and is rare elsewhere in opera. Other categories of tenor include the Heldentenor (heroic tenor) of Wagner, in Italian described as tenore robusto, the tenore di forza (strong tenor), the tenore di grazia (the graceful tenor), as, for example, the young lover Alfredo in Verdi’s opera La traviata (‘The Fallen Woman’), and the maligned tenore spinto (pushed tenor), in which the strenuous may overwhelm the lyrical.
Ternary form is a tripartite musical structure in which the third part is an exact or modified repetition of the first. Standard examples of ternary form can be heard in the minuet-and-trio movements of Haydn and Mozart or in the more expanded scherzo-and-trio movements of Beethoven.
A theme is a complete tune or melody which is of fundamental importance in a piece of music. Thematic metamorphosis or thematic transformation describes a process used by Liszt and others in which a theme may undergo transformation to provide material to sustain other movements or sections of a work, where new and apparently unrelated themes might otherwise have been used.
The theremin, an electronic instrument invented by Léon Thérémin, a scientist of French origin who lived and worked in Russia, has the original feature of being played without the performer touching it. Frequencies and dynamics are controlled by the movement of the player’s hands in the air, with pitch varying according to the distance of the right hand from an antenna and dynamics varying by the similar use of the left hand.
Time or metre, unlike the word tempo, which means speed or pace, are used in music for the metrical divisions or bar-lengths of a piece of music. These are indicated by two numbers at the beginning of a work or at the introduction of a changed time by two numbers that form a time signature. The higher of the two numbers shows how many beats there are in a bar while the lower number shows what kind of note the beat is. In this way a duple time-signature of 2/4 means that each bar consists of two quarter-notes or crotchets. An indication of compound time such as 6/8 shows that there are six quavers or eighth-notes in each bar, although in faster speeds these will be in two groups of three. Prime higher numbers such as five or seven necessitate asymmetrical groupings of notes.
Timpani, kettledrums, unlike most other drums, have a definite pitch, tuned nowadays by pedals, but in earlier times by taps that served the same purpose, tightening or slackening the skin to produce higher or lower notes. In the later 18th century pairs of timpani were generally used in conjunction with pairs of trumpets, both instruments being of military origin. Beethoven made novel use of the timpani, as in his Violin Concerto, where they play an important part. Other composers made still greater use of the timpani, most eccentrically Berlioz, who calls for sixteen timpani and ten players in his Grande Messe des morts (Requiem).
A toccata is an instrumental piece, often designed to display the technical proficiency of a performer and found particularly in keyboard music from the 15th century onwards. There are notable examples in the organ music of J.S. Bach, with some toccatas containing a series of movements.
Tombeau (French: tomb, tomb-stone) is a title used by French composers in tributes offered to deceased predecessors or contemporaries. Ravel had recourse to this Baroque title in his 1914 Le Tombeau de Couperin.
A tone poem (= German: Tondichtung) is a symphonic poem, an orchestral composition that seeks to express extra-musical ideas in music. The term Tondichtung was preferred by Richard Strauss, a master of the form.
The tragédie en musique (tragedy in music) or tragédie lyrique (lyric tragedy) indicates the French operas of serious subject developed by Lully and continued by Rameau. The second term, although accurate, was not generally used in the period of either composer. The form flourished in parallel with the French classical theatre, although the need for spectacle involved the abandonment of the Aristotelian dramatic unities of place and time. The genre had certain formal requirements that were generally followed with some care, each scene bringing an element of dance and spectacle suited to the plot, the whole decidedly influenced by the very strong French traditions of spoken drama. Gluck introduced changes in the direction of a simpler realism. The form, as described, came to an end with the Revolution.
Music may be transcribed or arranged for instruments other than those for which it was originally designed. Well-known transcriptions are found among the short pieces arranged for violin and piano by the famous violinist Fritz Kreisler.
Music that is transposed has the original key changed, a process all too necessary in accompanying singers and for whom a transposition of the music down a tone or two may be necessary. Some instruments are known as transposing instruments because the notes they play sound higher or lower than the apparent written pitch.
The orchestral flute (= Italian: flauto traverso) is transverse, held horizontally, as opposed to the recorder, which is held vertically.
The treble voice is a voice in the higher register. The word is generally used for the unbroken voice of boys, although the register may be similar to that of the female soprano. Treble instruments are instruments of higher register and the G clef in use for this register is commonly known as the treble clef. Originally the treble or triplum was the third part added above a duplum or second additional part, lying above the lowest part, the tenor, of the medieval motet.
Tremolo (Italian: trembling) indicates the quick repetition of a note, particularly in string playing. This is impossible on the keyboard with a single note, but tremolo effects can be achieved by playing in rapid alternation two notes of a chord.
The triangle is now part of the orchestral percussion section. It is an instrument of indefinite pitch made from a steel bar bent into the shape of an equilateral triangle and is played by being struck with a steel beater or, for softer effects, a wooden stick. It was used occasionally in opera in the earlier 18th century but came into its own with the Turkish music of, for example, Mozart’s opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’). Its appearance in Liszt’s E flat Piano Concerto in 1853 caused some amusement among hostile critics. Tremolo effects are occasionally demanded.
A trill is a musical ornament made by the more or less rapid alternation of a note and the note above, in the Classical period generally starting on the latter.
A trio is a composition designed for three players or the name of a group of three players. The word also indicates the central contrasting section framed by a repeated minuet or scherzo.
The trio sonata, the most popular of middle- and late-Baroque instrumental forms, is a sonata for two melody instruments and basso continuo (usually a bass instrument and a chordal instrument), and consequently usually calls for four players. Trio sonatas are found at their best in the work of Corelli at the end of the 17th century. These consist of two sets of a dozen church sonatas (sonate da chiesa) and two sets of a dozen chamber sonatas (sonate da camera). There are distinguished later examples by Telemann, Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach (although the six organ trio sonatas by Bach interweave three strands of melody, one for each hand and one for the feet, and are, of course, for one player).
The trombone made its first appearance in the middle of the 15th century. It is a brass instrument with a cup-shaped mouthpiece and a slide that enables the player to shorten or lengthen the tube and hence the notes of a particular harmonic series. The early trombone was known in English as a sackbut. The instrument had ceremonial associations and in the later 18th century was only occasionally used in the orchestra, notably by Mozart in his masonic opera Die Zauberflöte (‘The Magic Flute’) and in his Requiem. With Beethoven the trombone became an accepted if not indispensable part of the orchestra.
Troppo (Italian: too much) is found in tempo indications, warning a player not to overdo an effect, as in allegro ma non troppo ‘fast but not too much’.
Troubadours were the court poets and composers of Southern France in the 12th and 13th centuries. The trouvères flourished particularly in the 13th century to the north of the country. Their surviving music forms an important body of secular song from this period.
The trumpet has a long ancestry. The modern trumpet, a standard member of the brass section of the orchestra, differs from its predecessors in its use of three valves, by which the length of the tube can be changed to produce the notes of the harmonic series from different fundamentals. Baroque trumpeters came to specialise in the use of the upper or clarino register of the valveless natural trumpet, a register in which adjacent notes were possible. Experiments during the 18th century led to the short-lived keyed trumpet, which could play adjacent notes in the lower register as well. This was used by Haydn in his 1796 Trumpet Concerto. The valve trumpet came into relatively common use in the second quarter of the 19th century. Trumpets are built in various keys, although the B flat and C trumpets are now most often found.
The tuba provides the bass of the orchestral brass section, with varying numbers of valves to allow the shortening and lengthening of the tube. It was developed in the second quarter of the 19th century.
Tubular bells, tuned metal tubes suspended from a vertical frame, are used in the percussion section of the modern orchestra for special effects, making their earlier appearance primarily in opera.
The tuning fork, an English invention of the early 18th century, is a two-pronged metal device used to give a note of fixed pitch when it is struck against a hard surface. Its musical use is for the tuning of other instruments to a standard pitch.
Alla turca (Italian: in the Turkish manner) is found in descriptive titles of music towards the end of the 18th century and thereafter, as in Mozart’s well-known Rondo alla turca (‘Rondo in the Turkish Style’). Turkish music, at that period, was superficially imitated, principally by the use of triangle, cymbals and bass drum, added to a supposedly typical melody of martial character, derived remotely from the Janissary band.
Tutti (Italian: all) is used in orchestral music to distinguish the part of a solo instrument from that of the rest of the section or orchestra. In English this Italian plural adjective has come to be used as a noun, as in the phrase ‘an orchestral tutti’, meaning a passage played by the whole orchestra, or at least not specifically by solo instruments.
Twelve-note composition is composition by the use of the 12 semitones of the octave in a predetermined order or series, which may be inverted, written in retrograde form or in retrograde inversion, and transposed. The system of composition, developed by Arnold Schoenberg in the early 20th century, has had a strong influence on the course of music of the 20th century (see ‘Serialism’).
Unison is the simultaneous sounding of the same note by two or more singers or players. Unison songs are not in different parts: all singers sing the tune together.