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date: 23 January 2020

Word-painting (Ger. Wortmalerei)locked

  • Tim Carter


(Ger. Wortmalerei)

The use of musical gesture(s) in a work with an actual or implied text to reflect, often pictorially, the literal or figurative meaning of a word or phrase. A common example is a falling line for ‘descendit de caelis’ (‘He came down from heaven’). The term is more usually applied to vocal music, although a programmatic instrumental piece might in some sense exploit the technique. Word-painting is often distinguished from mood- or tone-painting (the German Tonmalerei), which is concerned with the musical representation of a work's broader emotional or other worlds, although the categories are not always clear: a Bach aria or a Schubert song, for example, can take a melodic or accompanimental motif generated by word-painting and base the entire musical material on it so as to express the dominant affection or image of the text (grief, joy, stream, spinning-wheel). It is one class of figures (Hypotyposis...

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A. Einstein: The Italian Madrigal (Princeton, NJ, 1949/R)
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
Musical Quarterly