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date: 18 October 2019

Recitative (Fr. récitatif; Ger. Rezitativ; It. recitativo)locked

  • Dale E. Monson,
  • Jack Westrup
  •  and Julian Budden


(Fr. récitatif; Ger. Rezitativ; It. recitativo)

A type of vocal writing, normally for a single voice, with the intent of mimicking dramatic speech in song. In practice its nature has varied widely by era, nationality, origin and context.

Dale E. Monson and Jack Westrup

Recitativo is properly an adjective. As a noun, short for stile recitativo, it occurs as early as 1626 (Domenico Mazzocchi, La catena d’Adone). It derives from the verb recitare, ‘to recite’, which was also used in the 16th century for vocal performance, for example in Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del cortegiano (1528), where the phrase ‘cantare alla viola per recitare’ occurs. The liberalization of poetic forms and blank verse in late 16th-century Italy fostered approximations of the affects of dramatic speech through pitch and rhythm in many different places and circumstances. These attempts, by groups such as the Florentine Camerata, had a number of typical traits: the text was generally not repeated, the rate of harmonic change varied with the affect of the text, an overall slow harmonic rhythm unfolded over a generally static bass line (which gave the impression of declamatory freedom, though chord progressions were still clearly derived from the madrigal), the poetic accents were reinforced by harmonic change, and particularly affective passages or individual words were often supported with strong dissonance (another madrigal borrowing). These sections were not initially known as recitative, although this is implied by Agazzari (...

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