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Alto(i) (It., ‘high’; Fr. alto; Ger. Alt)locked

  • Owen Jander
  •  and Ellen T. Harris


Term, derived from the Latin altus (the vocal part lying above the tenor), now applied to a singer whose voice lies in the region fd″. It first became common in partbooks (especially of secular music) printed in the second half of the 16th century. In the 16th–18th centuries alto parts were sung by men (falsettists, castratos or high tenors) in sacred music; only in secular music were they sung by women. The terms ‘alto’ and ‘contralto’, often used interchangeably, derive from the same source, the late 15th-century ...

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