A term normally signifying any closed lyrical piece for solo voice (exceptionally for more than one voice) with or without instrumental accompaniment, either independent or forming part of an opera, oratorio, cantata or other large work. It has also been applied to instrumental music, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, implying a piece written on a vocal model, a subject suitable for variations or a piece of light dance music. Like Air in English, ‘aria’ can also mean just melody or tune on the one hand, or on the other, a more general ‘manner’, ‘way’ or ‘mode of proceeding’ in a technical or stylistic sense; in either case it may be joined with geographical labels (aria (alla) napoletana) or with aesthetic qualifiers (a piece with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ aria).
The collateral forms aer, aere are derived from the Latin aer (‘air, atmosphere’), which is a simple transliteration of the Greek. The expressions ‘aer ytalicus’ and ‘aer gallicus’ used by an anonymous 14th-century Italian theorist (see Ruf, ...