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Subscriber: null; date: 15 November 2019

Obbligato(i) (It.: ‘necessary’)locked

  • David Fuller

An adjective or noun referring to an essential instrumental part. The term is often used for a part ranking in importance just below the principal melody and not to be omitted. Obbligato is the opposite of Ad libitum when the latter qualifies the mention of a part in a title. On the title-page of Corelli's Concerti Grossi op.6, for example, the concertino parts are designated ‘obligato’ while the ripieno parts are described as ‘ad arbitrio, che si potranno radoppiare’ (as you wish, when you are able to double the parts). Used in connection with a keyboard part in the 18th century, obbligato designated a fully written-out part instead of a figured bass. Sometimes obbligato means simply independent, as in C.P.E. Bach's Orchester Sinfonien mit zwölf obligaten Stimmen (1780).

In music for voice with instruments, ‘obbligato’ refers to a prominent instrumental part in an aria or other number. The archetype of the obbligato part is the instrumental solo which, with a basso continuo, constitutes the accompaniment of vast numbers of late Baroque arias. The direct antecedents of the late Baroque phenomenon are to be found in the concertato style of the early 17th century. Schütz's Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore (Symphoniae sacrae, i, 1629) for soprano, tenor, bass and continuo, with obbligato ‘cornetto, o violino’ is an early example, and the trumpet arias in later 17th-century opera carry on the development. Examples in Mozart's operas include one for horn in Mitridate (1770), one with flute, oboe, violin and cello in Die Entführung (1782) and the arias with clarinet and basset-horn in La clemenza di Tito (1791). An especially ornate violin obbligato appears in the Benedictus of Beethoven's Mass in D. Such parts were often less formal in the 19th century, but prominent obbligato writing for flute in particular is not unusual in Romantic opera – for example in the cadenza of the traditional version of the Mad Scene in Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) – and the cello and english horn are often assigned an obbligato role in melancholy contexts.