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MUSIC 1300: Appendix 2: Glossary
A site for students and teachers of MUSIC 1300, a course in Music Appreciation at Brooklyn College, CUNY
Note: Click on "More" to see the Glossary entries for the textbook. Click on the hyperlinked text to see entries from Grove Music Online (The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, Encyclopedia of Popular Music)
Absolute music: instrumental music whose materials and structure have been conceived without influence from or reference to text, stories, pictures, or other nonmusical sources or meanings. Sonata, concerto, symphony, and string quartet are among the common titles assigned by composers to such works. Compare program music.
A number for solo voice and orchestra most commonly associated with opera and oratorio. Arias are vehicles through which characters tell us about themselves and express their feelings and emotions. The text of an aria is often poetic and is set to a highly developed melody. Words and phrases may be repeated. The orchestra accompanies, but instruments may also function as wordless characters that counterpoint and converse with the voice.
Notated (written down) musical setting of a text authored by a known composer who consciously seeks to develop expressive connections between poetry and music. By contrast, folk songs are usually transmitted by oral tradition and their creators are unknown.
The termination of a musical statement, analogous to a point of punctuation in prose. A complete or full cadence is characterized by the finality of a period or exclamation point at the end of an independent clause while the need for completion of a dependent clause, denoted by a comma or semicolon in prose, is the musical equivalent of an incomplete or half cadence.
Passage near the end of an aria or concerto movement performed by the soloist without the orchestra. The material of the cadenza is intended to show off the virtuosity of the soloist and in some periods was improvised.
In jazz, gospel, and other music influenced by African practices, alternation between two performing entities, most commonly a single performer and a group. See Chapter 6: American Vernacular Music and Chapter 7: Jazz.
From the Italian “cantare” to sing, a genre of vocal music based on either a secular or religious text set as recitatives and arias, and sometimes choruses. Cantatas may have dramatic qualities but are unstaged and are much shorter than operas and oratorios.
An approach to creating a unique musical work in which the composer intentionally relinquishes control over pitches, durations, and other essential musical elements. The performer(s) determines what will be played and how it will be played by such means as tossing dice or coins.
Monophonic setting of a sacred text. Chanting by a soloist or a choir in unison is practiced in many religious traditions, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The intoning of sacred texts provides a manner of delivery that is differentiated from ordinary speech and can heighten the mystery and spiritual atmosphere of religious ritual.
A choral ensemble, especially one that performs religious music, as in a church choir or a gospel choir. When applied to instruments, choir is usually synonymous with “section,” as in woodwind choir, brass choir.
Chorus: when referring to performers, a chorus is a vocal ensemble. Choruses vary greatly in size, from chamber-like groups of eight to twelve to a hundred or more singers. The performance of choral music most commonly requires sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses (see Chapter 2: Musical Instruments and Ensembles, section on Human Voice as Instrument) but there is also important choral literature for women, men, children, and boys. The other use of the word chorus denotes a section of a musical work, either the refrain of a song or, in a jazz composition, the harmonic/melodic theme and its varied repetitions.
Common practice period: the time in European art music between 1600 and 1900 when composers spoke, and audiences understood, a common musical language based on tonality (keys) and standard instrumental forms. The Baroque period began this era with refinements to the tonal system still in progress, in the Classical period tonal music and instrumental forms (such as sonata form) reached their highest level of development, and in the Romantic period these systems broke down as composers began to sacrifice formal purity in exchange for personal expression in their music.
An orchestral work in which the players are divided into two groups, one consisting of one or more soloists, the other being the full orchestra (called the tutti, meaning all the players). The term concerto derives from an Italian word that means both to join together in a cooperative manner and also to contend competitively. Much of the effect of the concerto derives from the virtuosity of the soloist and from contrasts of dynamics, mass of sound, and tone color made possible by the division into differently constituted groups.
see Chapter 1: Elements of Sound and Music. Consonance, dissonance: simultaneous pitches that are experienced as pleasing or harmonious within a particular musical context are described as consonant while those experienced as harsh or clashing are described as dissonant.
In Baroque music, both the bass line that provides the harmonic foundation and the instruments that perform it. At least two players are generally required for the
performance the continuo part: a cellist for the written-out bass line, and a harpsichordist or organist who plays the bass line with the left hand and improvises harmonies
with the right hand. The continuo section is somewhat analogous to the rhythm section in jazz.
In a general sense, the manipulation of musical material through such procedures as altering the melodic and rhythmic contours of a theme, stating motives derived from a theme in imitation or repeated at different pitch levels, stating the theme in different keys, and so on. In a more restricted sense, the section in a sonata form where musical ideas from the exposition are manipulated and elaborated.
Degrees of loud and soft. Commonly used Italian terms are forte (loud), piano (soft), crescendo (getting gradually louder), and decrescendo (getting gradually softer). See Chapter 1: Elements of Sound and Music.
From the French for “together,” a group that performs together. Examples include an orchestra, band, opera, and chorus as well as groups with ensemble in their title, such as jazz ensemble, brass ensemble, and new music ensemble. In opera, an ensemble involves three or more soloists simultaneously singing different words and melodies, each conveying his or her view of a particular dramatic situation. See Chapter 2: Musical Instruments and Ensembles.
From the Greek “ethno” (culture, people), the scientific study of music of oral tradition, encompassing tribal and folk music, and of the art music produced by various world cultures. The discipline, whose origins date back to the 1880s, draws on methodologies of musicology, the scholarly study of Western art music, and anthropology, whose subject is mankind and human culture.
Music where the outcome is unknown until the piece is realized. Although the term did not exist when Charles Ives was active as a composer, due to his several musical innovations he is seen today as the father of American experimental music. Important experimental composers include Henry Cowell, John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Annea Lockwood, Meredith Monk, Pauline Oliveros, and Laurie Anderson.
An early 20th-century movement that sought to reveal through art the irrational, subconscious reality and repressed primordial impulses postulated and analyzed in the writings of Freud. See Chapter 5: European and American Art Music since 1900.
Non-traditional performance of an instrument (extended instrumental technique) or use of the voice (extended vocal technique) in order to extend its range and/or expand its timbre palette. This term is most often associated with American experimental music. It should be noted that a non-traditional performance technique in one culture may be a traditional performance method in another.
A song of unknown authorship that has been transmitted through oral tradition and usually exists in various versions as a result of being passed on over time. Compare art song. See Chapter 6: American Vernacular Music.