Musical Terms


Cantata: A short oratorio with a sacred or secular subject, performed by either solo singers or chorus and orchestra.

Chamber Music: Instrumental music for two or more equal parts, dating from the time of Franz Joseph Haydn.

Concerto: A work in which an instrument is blended with orchestra or contrasted as a soloist.

Development: The second section of sonata form, which treats previously heard thematic material.

Folk Song: Songs by unknown composers, found in different countries and cultures and passed down orally, performed without accompaniment.

Lieder ("songs"): Sing. Lied. German solo vocal composition with piano accompaniment, using a poem as its text.

Opera: Drama set to music. A musical form beginning in about 1600 CE in Florence. The libretto (the text of an opera usually emphasizing an integrated plot connecting a series of episodes) may be serious or comic, although neither form necessarily excludes elements of the other. Opera differs from operetta in its musical complexity and usually in its subject matter. It differs also from oratorio, which is customarily based on a religious subject and is performed without scenery, costumes, or stage action. Although both opera and operetta may have spoken dialogue, in opera the dialogue usually has musical accompaniment, such as the harpsichord continuo in the operas of Mozart and Rossini.

Oratorio: A sacred musical composition for solo vocalists, chorus, and orchestra. Performed without scenery or costumes and emphasizing narration; secular works also scored for a combination of solo singers, chorus, and orchestra.

Overture: Orchestral composition that opens an opera, oratorio, or play.

Sonata ("to sound"): Instrumental composition in several movements for piano solo or instrumental combination with piano accompaniment. Originated in the 16th century to mean any work played and not sung.

Sonata Form: Composition based on key relationships in three sections: exposition, development, and recapitulation, with a short ending section called a Coda.

Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress"): Used to describe German literature and musical style from around 1760-80 to show an intense expression of emotion. Associated with the music of Haydn and C.P.E. Bach.

Symphony ("a sounding together"): Large-scale orchestral composition, usually in four movements. Some examples of the 19th and 20th centuries have explicit programs (Programmatic Symphony).

Syncopation: In music, the accentuation of a beat that normally would be weak according to the rhythmic division of the measure. Although the normally strong beat is not usually effaced by the process, there are occasions (e.g., the second theme in the final movement of Schumannís Piano Concerto in A Minor) when the natural rhythmic structure is entirely altered, the syncopation being so elaborate and persistent that the actual metrical structure is obliterated aurally. Occasional syncopation is present in music of all types and in all periods. It predominates, however, in African music and therefore in African-American music through which it became the principal element in ragtime jazz.

Variation: Type of composition in which a popular and famous tune, or an original theme, is used as the basis for varied versions of the melody. This kind of piece alters a given musical idea.