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Curtis Price

Instrumental (rarely vocal) music performed before and during the intervals of late 17th- and early 18th-century English plays and semi-operas. A full suite of act music comprises nine pieces: two pieces each of ‘first music’ and ‘second music’, played to entertain the audience waiting for the play to begin; an overture, usually in the French style, sounded after the prologue was spoken and just before the curtain was raised; and four ‘act tunes’ played immediately at the end of each act of a five-act play or semi-opera (except the last).

The earliest known suites of act music were composed by Matthew Locke in the 1660s for various unidentified productions of the Duke’s Company, London; the earliest surviving suite for an identifiable play is John Banister’s for The Indian Queen (1664). The first set to be published was Locke’s for the 1674 ‘operatic’ production of Dryden and Davenant’s The Tempest...



M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet

(Fr.). A French 18th-century stage work in one act, akin to the opéra-ballet and performed at the Académie Royale de Musique (the Opéra). Like the opéra-ballet, an acte de ballet includes airs, duets, choruses (particularly choeurs dansés) and sometimes other vocal music as well as instrumental dances. Being in a single act, it had a continuous, though slight, dramatic action: the plot was often designed to provide maximum opportunity for colourful scenic displays. Under the title ‘Fragments’, an evening’s performance at the Opéra might be made up of several actes de ballet by different authors or one with other short works; popular entrées from opéras-ballets were taken out of their original context and given as actes de ballet.

The earliest example is Zélindor, roi des silphes by François Rebel and François Francoeur (1745), termed a ‘divertissement’. As a designation in scores and librettos, acte de ballet is most frequently found in the works of Rameau: ...



John S. Powell


Pastorale in six scenes by Marc-Antoine Charpentier ; Paris, Hotel de Guise, 1683–5.

Actaeon (haute-contre) and a chorus of hunters are tracking game while Diane [Diana] (soprano) and her companions are bathing in a nearby spring. Actaeon takes leave of his party to find a quiet glade to sleep. Encountering the bathers, he attempts to hide but is immediately discovered. To prevent him from boasting of what he has seen, Diana transforms him into a stag. The hunters come looking for Actaeon to invite him to join their hunt, but Junon [Juno] (mezzo-soprano) appears and announces the death of Actaeon, who has been torn to pieces by his own hounds. A miniature tragédie lyrique, Actéon approaches other works by Charpentier, such as David et Jonathas and Médée, in its psychological dimensions. Charpentier’s music, through affective choices of key, orchestral colour and vocal style, faithfully reflects the rapid succession of moods within the drama’s short span. Especially moving is the poignant instrumental plaint that accompanies Actaeon’s transformation into a stag....



Edwin M. Ripin

revised by Peter Walls

(Fr. méchanique; Ger. Mechanik, Mechanismus; It. meccanica).

(1) The linkage between the fingers (or feet) and the sound-producing parts of an instrument. Hence, the mechanism by means of which the strings or pipes of a keyboard instrument are sounded when a key is depressed, e.g. tracker action, pneumatic action, electric action, etc. in organs (see Organ §II...



Andrew Porter


Action of a modern grand piano: on pressing the key the movement is transmitted via the pilot to the intermediate lever; the jack then acts on the roller of the hammer which rises towards the string. The moment the backward projection of the jack contacts the set-off button the jack moves back permitting the hammer to escape and to continue in free flight to strike the string and then begin its descent; it is then caught and retained by the check and repetition lever as long as the key remains depressed. If the key is partly released the hammer is freed from the check, and the roller is acted on directly by the repetition lever; it is thus possible to strike the key again by depressing the key a second time (the jack will re-engage with the roller only when the key has been fully released so that a full hammer stroke may be made)...


Action of a modern upright piano: the movement of the key is transmitted directly to the jack which in rising pushes the hammer forward towards the string until the backward projection of the jack reaches the set-off screw, thus allowing the jack to escape and the hammer to fall back from the string to be caught by the check; the return of the hammer is assisted by the tape which is so adjusted to jerk the hammer away from the string at the moment of impact...


Action of a piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori, 1726 (shown in fig.2)


Stefano Zenni

(b Turin, Italy, March 21, 1952). Italian tenor and baritone saxophonist, bass clarinetist, and leader. He first played jazz in the Turin area in the early 1970s. In 1974 he was a founding member, with the guitarist Claudio Lodati, the double bass player Enrico Fazio, and the drummer Fiorenzo Sordini, of the quartet Art Studio, for which all four members provide compositions and arrangements; the group plays throughout Europe in a style mixing free improvisation techniques, extended forms, and contrapuntal work. In 1984 Actis Dato formed his own quartet, consisting of the saxophonist Piero Ponzo, Fazio, and Sordini; it toured internationally through the 1990s, from the USA to Africa to Japan. He was also a member of the Democratic Orchestra (1982–5), Mitteleuropa Orchestra (1982–90), Pino Minafra’s quintet (1984–9) and Sud Ensemble (from 1994), and the Italian Instabile Orchestra (from 1990). In ...


Francesco Bussi


(b Naples, Aug 25, 1829; d Portici, nr Naples, Feb 2, 1909). Italian composer and pianist. He studied the piano and composition in his native town, where he spent his entire life. His prolific output of fluently written, light and brilliant pieces (more than 400 works) won great success with the conventional middle class in Naples, which was culturally behind the times and inclined towards the flimsy, often frivolous genre of salon pieces: Acton's works became an indispensable part of the piano repertory of all daughters ‘of good family’ in Bourbon Naples. An amiable figure but of little distinction, he had no following of his own as a teacher, unlike his Neapolitan colleagues Costantino Palumbo and Alfonso Rendano.




Howard E. Smither

A term used from the mid-17th century to the early 18th in Protestant Germany, particularly in the areas of Saxony and Thuringia, for sacred dramatic compositions based on biblical stories. The actus musicus is similar in function and general structure to the Lutheran historia, that is, both were performed within the context of the liturgy and both are musical and textual elaborations of a biblical story. The actus musicus differs from the historia in its greater use of non-biblical interpolations and its greater emphasis on the dramatic element. While both genres are important as antecedents of the oratorio of Protestant Germany, the actus musicus is related more closely to the oratorio and less closely to the liturgy than is the historia. See Oratorio §7.

MGG1 (B. Baselt) MGG2 (‘Historia’; G. Konradt) B. Baselt: ‘Actus musicus und Historie um 1700 in Mitteldeutschland’, Wissenschaftliche Beiträge der Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, ser. G, 8/1 (1968), 77–103...


Liz Thomson


(b Maynardville, TN, Sept 15, 1903; d Nashville, TN, Nov 23, 1992). American country singer-songwriter and publisher. He was first influenced by traditional music heard at home, much of it British, and by music at the church where his father was the pastor. His Southern Baptist heritage became evident in the mournful, wailing style of his vocals. A keen sportsman, he was denied a professional athletic career through ill-health, but learnt to play his father’s fiddle. His early career was in so-called medicine shows, and radio appearances with local musicians led to the formation of his first group, the Tennessee Crackerjacks. His first record followed in 1937, and he made his début on ‘The Grand Old Opry’ radio show, subsequently becoming a regular contributor as Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys. His recording of the Carter family classic Wabash Cannonball earned him a gold disc and led to nationwide tours as well as work in Hollywood....


Catherine Collins

revised by Barry Kernfeld

[AlejandroNeciosup-Acuña, Alejandro]

(bPativilca, Peru, Dec 12, 1944). Peruviandrummer and percussionist. He learned trumpet and piano with his father, but was self-taught as a drummer. At the age of 16 he became a studio musician in Lima and in 1964 he was engaged by the dance-band leader Perez Prado to work in Las Vegas. From 1966 to 1974 he played in bands and worked as a studio musician in Puerto Rico. After moving to Las Vegas in 1975 he joined Weather Report, first as a percussionist (October 1975 to April 1976), then as the drummer (April 1976 to October 1977); he recorded two albums with the group, one of which was the highly successful Heavy Weather (1976, Col. PC34418). He also worked with Al Jarreau and Lee Ritenour, joined the Christian fusion group Koinonia (1980), and recorded with (among others) Clare Fischer (...


David Fuller

(Lat.: ‘at the pleasure’ [of the performer])

Used in titles, particularly in the later 18th century, to indicate that one or more instruments may be left out, e.g. Tapray: Simphonie concertante pour le clavecin et le piano-forte avec orchestre ad libitum (1783), and in scores, as a direction to the player to improvise or ornament. Handel's Organ Concertos op.7 furnish several examples: embellishment of a written line (no.2, Overture), elaboration of a fermata (same movement), continuation of a solo passage (no.1, first movement), improvisation of an adagio on a harmonic skeleton (no.5), and improvisation of a whole movement ...



Masakata Kanazawa

(‘Revenge’) [An Actor’s Revenge]

Opera in two acts by Minoru Miki to a libretto by James Kirkup after Otokichi Mikami; London, Old Vic, 5 October 1979.

In a Zen monastery, Yukinojō (tenor), once a popular kabuki actor specializing in female roles, reminisces over his past with remorse, seeing a vision of his beloved Namiji (soprano). He was destined to avenge his parents’ death by killing Lord Dobe (bass), a corrupt magistrate, and his henchman Kawaguchiya (tenor). He accomplished the deed successfully and also caused the downfall of Hiromiya (bass), a dishonest rice dealer, but it was done at the price of the life of Namiji, Lord Dobe’s daughter, promised to the Shogun (tenor). The music consists principally of declamatory solo singing with few ensembles, and exploits the tone colours of individual instruments. The orchestra is small and includes three Japanese instruments: koto, shamisen and percussion. The writing is spare but dramatically effective. At the première the role of Yukinojō was performed by two artists: a singer and a dancer....


David Fallows

(It., diminutive of adagio).

A tempo designation suggesting something more lighthearted than Adagio as in Poulenc’s Les biches and Stravinsky's Piano Sonata (1924). But its most famous use is in Mahler's Fifth Symphony, where the fourth movement, for strings and harp, has the title Adagietto and the tempo designation sehr langsam; there it is used to mean a relatively brief slow movement with a fairly light texture. Unlike ...