Music Notation and Terminology


Terms Relating to Vocal Music

161. An anthem is a sacred choral composition, usually based on Biblical or liturgical[34] words. It may or may not have an instrumental accompaniment, and is usually written in four parts, but may have five, six, eight, or more.

The word anthem is derived from antifona (or antiphona), meaning a psalm or hymn sung responsively, i.e., antiphonally, by two choirs, or by choir and congregation.

A full anthem is one containing no solo parts; a solo anthem is one in which the solo part is predominant over the chorus, while a verse anthem is one in which the chorus parts alternate with passages for concerted solo voices (i.e., trios, quartets, etc.).

162. A capella (sometimes spelled cappella) or alla capella music is part-singing (either sacred or secular) without accompaniment.

This term means literally "in chapel style," and refers to the fact that in the early days of the church all singing was unaccompanied.

163. A motet is a sacred choral composition in contrapuntal style. It has no solo parts, thus corresponding to the madrigal (q.v.) in secular music. The motet is intended for a capella performance, but is often given with organ accompaniment.

164. A choral is a hymn-tune of the German Protestant Church. It is usually harmonized in four voices. The choral (sometimes spelled chorale) is described as having "a plain melody, a strong harmony, and a stately rhythm." It differs from the ordinary English and American hymn-tune in being usually sung at a much slower tempo, and in having a pause at the end of each line of text.

165. The mass is the liturgy for the celebration of the Lord's Supper in the service of the Roman Catholic Church. As used in the terminology of music the word refers to the six hymns which are always included when a composer writes a musical mass, and which form the basis of the celebration of the Communion.[35] These six hymns are as follows:


Gloria (including the Gratias agimus, Qui tollis, Quoniam, Cum Sancto Spirito).

Credo (including the Et Incarnatus, Crucifixus, and Et Resurrexit).

Sanctus (including the Hosanna).


Agnus Dei (including the Dona nobis).

The requiem mass is the "mass for the dead" and differs considerably from the ordinary mass. Both regular and requiem masses have been written by many of the great composers (Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Gounod), and in many cases these masses are so complex that they are not practicable for the actual service of the Church, and are therefore performed only by large choral societies, as concert works.

166. A cantata is a vocal composition for chorus and soloists, the text being either sacred or secular. The accompaniment may be written for piano, organ, or orchestra.

When sacred in character the cantata differs from the oratorio in being shorter and less dramatic, in not usually having definite characters, and in being written for church use, while the oratorio is intended for concert performance.

When secular in subject the cantata differs from the opera in not usually having definite characters, and in being always rendered without scenery or action.

Examples of the sacred cantata are: Stainer's "The Crucifixion," Clough-Leighter's "The Righteous Branch," and Gaul's "The Holy City." Examples of the secular cantata are: Bruch's "Armenius," Coleridge-Taylor's "Hiawatha."

167. An oratorio is a composition on a large scale for chorus, soloists, and orchestra, the text usually dealing with some religious subject. The oratorio, as noted above, is not intended for the church service, but is written for concert performance.

168. An opera is a composition for vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, with characters, action, scenery, and dramatic movement. It is a drama set to music.

Grand opera is opera with a serious plot, in which everything is sung, there being no spoken dialog at all.

Opera comique is a species of opera in which part of the dialog is spoken and part sung. Opera comique is not synonymous with comic opera, for the plot of opera comique is as often serious as not. In fact the entire distinction between the terms grand opera and opera comique is being broken down, the latter term referring merely to operas first given at the Opera Comique in Paris, and the former term to those given at the Grand Opera House in the same city.

A comic opera is a humorous opera, the plot providing many amusing situations and the whole ending happily. It corresponds with the comedy in literature.

A light opera is one with an exceedingly trivial plot, in which songs, dances, and pretty scenery contribute to the amusement of the audience. The music is lively, but usually as trivial as the plot.

The term music drama was used by Wagner in referring to his own operas, and is also sometimes applied to other modern operas in which the dramatic element is supposed to predominate over the musical.

169. A libretto (lit.—little book) is the word-text of an opera, oratorio, cantata, or some other similar work.

170. Recitative is a style of vocal solo common to operas, oratorios, and cantatas, especially those written some time ago. Its main characteristic is that the word-text is of paramount importance, both rhythm and tone-progression being governed by rhetorical rather than by musical considerations.

Recitative undoubtedly originated in the intoning of the priest in the ritualistic service of the Church, but when applied to the opera it became an important means of securing dramatic effects, especially in situations in which the action of the play moved along rapidly. Recitative is thus seen to be a species of musical declamation.

In the early examples of recitative there was scarcely any accompaniment, often only one instrument (like the cello) being employed to play a sort of obbligato melody: when full chords were played they were not written out in the score, but were merely indicated in a more or less general way by certain signs and figures. (See "thorough-bass," , Sec. 200.)

But about the middle of the seventeenth century a slightly different style of recitative was invented, and in this type the orchestra was employed much more freely in the accompaniment, especially in the parts between the phrases of the text, but to some extent also to support the voice while singing. This new style was called recitativo stromento (i.e., accompanied recitative), while the original type was called recitativo secco (i.e., dry recitative).

During the last century the style of recitative has been still further developed by Gluck and Wagner, both of whom used the orchestra as an independent entity, with interesting melodies, harmonies and rhythms all its own, while the vocal part is a sort of obbligato to this accompaniment. But even in this latest phase of recitative, it is the word-text that decides the style of both melody and rhythm in the voice part. Fig. 61 shows an example of dry recitative, taken from "The Messiah."




171. Aria is likewise a style of vocal solo found in operas, etc., but its predominating characteristic is diametrically opposed to that of the recitative. In the aria the word-text is usually entirely subordinate to the melody, and the latter is often very ornate, containing trills, runs, etc.

The rendition of this ornate style of music is often referred to as "coloratura singing," but it should be noted that not all arias are coloratura in style.

The familiar solos from The Messiah—"Rejoice Greatly," and "The trumpet shall sound" are good examples of the aria style.

172. A lied (Ger. = song) is a vocal solo in which the text, the melody, and the accompaniment contribute more or less equally to the effect of the whole.

Strictly speaking the word lied means "a poem to be sung," and this meaning will explain at once the difference between the lied on the one hand, and the Italian recitative and aria on the other, for in the lied the text is of great importance, but the music is also interesting, while in the recitative the text was important but the music very slight, and in the aria the text was usually inconsequential while the music held the center of interest.

The most pronounced characteristic of the lied is the fact that it usually portrays a single mood, sentiment, or picture, thus differing from the ballad, which is narrative in style. It will be noted that this "single mood, or sentiment, or picture" was originally conceived by the poet who wrote the word-text, and that the composer in writing music to this text has first tried to get at the thought of the poet, and has then attempted to compose music which would intensify and make more vivid that thought. This intensification of the poet's thought comes as often through the rhythm, harmony, and dynamics of the accompaniment as through the expressiveness of the voice part.

The style of song-writing in which each verse is sung to the same tune is called the "strophe form," while that in which each verse has a different melody is often referred to as the "continuous" or "through-composed" form (Ger. durch-componiert).

173. A ballad was originally a short, simple song, the words being in narrative style, i.e., the word-text telling a story. In the earlier ballads each verse of the poem was usually sung to the same tune (strophe form), but in the art-ballad as developed by Loewe and others the continuous style of composition is employed, this giving the composer greater opportunities of making vivid through his music the events described by the poem. These later ballads are in consequence neither "short" nor "simple" but compare in structure with the lied itself.

174. A folk-song is a short song sung by and usually originating among the common people. Its dominant characteristic is usually simplicity, this applying to word-text, melody, and accompaniment (if there is one). The text of the folk-song is usually based on some event connected with ordinary life, but there are also many examples in which historical and legendary happenings are dealt with. Auld Lang Syne, and Comin' thru the Rye, are examples of folk-songs.

There has been some difference of opinion as to whether a song, the composer of which is known, can ever constitute a real folk-song: recent writers seem to be taking the sensible view of the matter, viz.: that if a song has the characteristics of a folk- rather than an art-song, and if it remains popular for some time among the common people, then it is just as much a folk-song whether the composer happens to be known or not.

175. A madrigal is a secular vocal composition having from three to eight parts. It is in contrapuntal style, like the motet, and is usually sung a capella.

176. A glee is a vocal composition in three or more parts, being usually more simple in style than the madrigal, and sometimes having more than one movement. The glee may be either gay or sad in mood, and seems to be a composition peculiar to the English people.

177. A part-song is a composition for two or more voices, (usually four) to be sung a capella. It is written in monophonic rather than in polyphonic style, thus differing from the madrigal and glee. Morley's "Now is the Month of Maying" is an example of the part-song, as is also Sullivan's "O Hush Thee, My Baby." The term part-song is often loosely applied to glees, madrigals, etc.

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