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Peter Branscombe

(Ger.: ‘song-play’)

A kind of dramatic entertainment developed in Germany in the early 19th century in which songs are introduced into a play. It differs from the older Singspiel principally in its inclusion of songs that as lyric poems already enjoyed some currency; the melodies (normally with simple instrumentation) were new, though some of the songs from such works later came to be regarded as folksongs. Ensembles and choruses were not at first admitted, and the music had an almost entirely lyrical rather than a dramatic character. Despite statements to the contrary, the Liederspiel differs generically from the French vaudeville and the British ballad opera, in both of which the melodies were normally familiar airs specially provided with new words, whereas normally in the Liederspiel the words were pre-existing and the melodies new.

The first Liederspiel was Lieb' und Treue, by J.F. Reichardt, staged at the Berlin Royal Opera House on 31 March 1800...



Meredith Ellis Little

(Fr. menuet; Ger. Menuett; It. minuetto; Sp. minuete, minué)

A French dance. In a moderate or slow triple metre, it was one of the most popular social dances in aristocratic society from the mid-17th century to the late 18th. It was used as an optional movement in Baroque suites, and frequently appeared in movements of late 18th-century multi-movement forms such as the sonata, the string quartet, and the symphony, where it was usually paired with a Trio (see also Scherzo).

Though the origin of the minuet is unknown, it was danced in the court of Louis XIV at least by the 1660s. Praetorius (Terpsichore, 1612) is now thought to have erred in claiming it to be a descendant of the branle de Poitou, a claim that was nonetheless repeated over a century later by Pierre Rameau (Le maître à danser, 1725), with the addition of the plausible detail that Pierre Beauchamp, Louis XIV’s dancing-master, had effected the transformation. There is virtually no point of resemblance between the two dances; some of the minuets included in the Philidor Collection consist of the three-bar phrases characteristic of the ...


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 (...


Jan Larue, Eugene K. Wolf, Mark Evan Bonds, Stephen Walsh, and Charles Wilson

(Fr. simphonie, symphonie; Ger. Sinfonie, Symphonie; It. sinfonia)

A term now normally taken to signify an extended work for orchestra. The symphony became the chief vehicle of orchestral music in the late 18th century, and from the time of Beethoven came to be regarded as its highest and most exalted form. The adjective ‘symphonic’ applied to a work implies that it is extended and thoroughly developed.

The word ‘symphony’ derives from the Greek syn (‘together’) and phōnē (‘sounding’), through the Latin Symphonia, a term used during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It is essentially in this derivation that the term was used by Giovanni Gabrieli (Sacrae symphoniae, 1597), Heinrich Schütz (Symphoniae sacrae, 1629) and others for concerted motets, usually for voices and instruments. In the 17th century the term ‘symphony’ or (more commonly) ‘sinfonia’ was applied to introductory movements to operas, oratorios and cantatas (see Overture), to the instrumental introductions and ritornellos of arias and ensembles (...


Howard E. Smither

An extended musical setting of a sacred text made up of dramatic, narrative and contemplative elements. Except for a greater emphasis on the chorus throughout much of its history, the musical forms and styles of the oratorio tend to approximate to those of opera in any given period, and the normal manner of performance is that of a concert (without scenery, costumes or action). The oratorio was most extensively cultivated in the 17th and 18th centuries but has continued to be a significant genre.

Distant antecedents of the oratorio may be found in the musical settings of sacred narrative and dramatic texts in the Middle Ages: the liturgical drama, the Divine Office for saints' feasts, the Passion and the dialogue lauda. Medieval miracle and mystery plays, as well as rappresentazioni sacre, are also related to the oratorio, but the real beginnings of the genre are to be found in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods, where an ever-increasing interest in settings of dramatic and narrative texts gave rise first to opera and then to oratorio. Such texts were widely used for polyphonic madrigals in the 16th century (e.g. Andrea Gabrieli, ...