Music Glossary



getting faster


very slow


lively; moderately fast


moderately slow; at a leisurely walking pace


just a bit faster than andante


alternately sounding from opposite sides of a performing space.


a solo song with orchestral accompaniment, commonly found in operas and oratorios


an adaptation, refashioning or restructuring of a piece of music that uses the original thematic material as a point of departure but alters the rhythms, harmonies, sequence of musical events and instrumental or vocal forces of the original. Passages in the original may be omitted, extended or reordered. The terms “arrangement” and “transcription” are often used interchangeably but generally speaking, a transcription will employ different instruments and/or voices from the original but will follow the original sequence of musical events bar by bar and without changing the harmony or rhythm. In The Collection, see Handel’s Viola Concerto as transcribed by Henri Casadesus.


the complete, intentional absence of a tonal center, found in some music from the early twentieth century onward. Instead of a hierarchy of pitches, in which some are more important than others in defining the harmonic stability of a piece, every pitch is of equal importance in an atonal composition. Arnold Schoenberg and his disciples Alban Berg and Anton von Webern were the first well-known composers of atonal music.

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Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750):

Universally regarded as one of the supreme musical geniuses of all time, Johann Sebastian Bach created music that ranged from sublime simplicity to exuberant power. He is best known for his cantatas, fugues and two powerfully dramatic representations of the last days and crucifixion of Christ, the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion.


a form of classical dance demanding highly developed technique, grace and precision, executed according to specific gestures and flowing patterns. Traditional ballets are usually performed with elaborate costumes and music written by classical composers like Tchaikovsky (Swan Lake, The Nutcracker), Delibes (Coppélia) or Prokofiev (Cinderella).

Baroque period:

Musicologists borrowed the word “baroque” from the field of art history, which stretched across a period from about 1600 to 1750. The very word evokes images of awe-inspiring cathedrals, grandiose palaces, bold explorers, a driving quest for knowledge, canvases awash in rich colours, . . . and, of course, glorious music. The spirit of the Baroque was one of dynamism and adventure, pomp and monumentality, opulence and flamboyance. Painters like Rembrandt and Rubens set scenes of amazing intensity and scope. Thinkers like Kepler and Galileo looked high into the heavens and reformulated man's concepts of the universe, while Leeuwenhoek found a whole new universe under the microscope. James Cook explored uncharted seas of the planet while Descartes, Spinoza and Newton probed uncharted seas of the intellect. To experience this exciting age in music, we turn to men like Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Corelli and Telemann.

Surprisingly enough, the word barocca (from the Portuguese) was originally used to refer to something misshapen, grotesque or irregular in shape or designThe application of the term to the fine arts stems from the prevailing notion that architecture and painting of the age represented a debasement of the Renaissance style. Not until about l900 did this attitude change, and people began to realize the positive attributes of the “baroque” style.
During the Baroque period, many of the features we associate with western classical music today came into existence or became solidified: tonality, a growing interest in instrumental music (as opposed to an almost exclusive interest in vocal music during the Renaissance), the beginnings of the symphony orchestra, and, the development of genres such as the concerto, cantata, opera, oratorio , suite and sonata.


the basic pulse in music; the marking of metrical divisions by visual or audible means (tapping, counting out loud, pounding, etc.)

Beethoven, Ludwig van(1770-1827):

One of the most influential composers who ever lived. He radically transformed nearly every musical form in which he worked. His nine symphonies are among his greatest works, and became the models from which most composers ever since have based their symphonies. (See also: Composer Profile: Ludwig van Beethoven)

Brahms, Johannes (1833-1897):

One of the greatest composers of the Romantic period. Like Beethoven, he was born in Germany but spent most of his life in Vienna. Brahms wrote in forms of the Classical period but these forms had a Romantic temperament. His most famous music includes four symphonies, numerous Hungarian Dances and a Violin Concerto. (See also: Composer Profile: Johannes Brahms)

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a passage in a composition for soloist and orchestra where the soloist plays completely alone, often in a virtuosic manner. The original intent of a cadenza was to give the soloist an opportunity to demonstrate his skill at improvisation using melodic, harmonic and rhythmic material already presented. From the nineteenth century onward, composers usually wrote out their cadenzas. A cadenza often occurs near the end of the first movement of a concerto.


in a singing manner


a composition for vocal soloists (usually just one or two) and orchestra, often with chorus as well and divided into several sections or movements. The text may come from either sacred or secular sources.


a male soprano, castrated before puberty, with a brilliant, powerful and flexible voice. Castrati flourished during the Baroque period, and some enjoyed the fame pop stars do today.

Chamber music:

music conceived for one player per part, as opposed to orchestral music where several or many musicians play each string part. Most chamber music is composed for 2-5 players, though the number can climb as high as 15. A “chamber orchestra” is something of a contradiction in terms, and signifies an orchestra with several players per string part but in reduced numbers from a regular symphony orchestra. The “chamber” in chamber music is a holdover from the days when such music was played in intimate surroundings – a room (chamber) in a home or palace – rather than in a large hall, opera house or church.


a group of singers who perform together, with more than one singer per part. The standard "mixed choir" consists of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses. The word 'chorus' is virtually synonymous, though the latter term can also mean a passage in a composition sung by the choir (the “Hallelujah” Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, for example).


plentiful use of notes not belonging to a given scale. If you used only the notes belonging to the C-major scale, for instance, you would be avoiding chromaticism but be left with a boring composition. “Chromatic” comes from the Greek word khroma, meaning colour. In a sense, you “colour” the scale with alien pitches, injecting it with a greater range of melodic and harmonic interest, urgency and expressiveness.

Classical music:

usually signifying serious music intended for the concert hall, the term can also mean any kind of music with lasting value (hence, classical jazz, classical pop songs, etc.)

Classical period:

The Latin word classicus means of the highest rank. By extension, it is something that has enduring qualities, not subject to passing fads and notions of fashion. Hence, we use the term to refer to anything of permanent and lasting value. It may be a film, a recipe, a joke, a painting or a musical composition. Music of the mid-to-late eighteenth century cultivated the qualities ascribed to the art and architecture of ancient (“classical”) Greece and Rome: formal balance, proportion, clean lines and order. Clear textures, neatly balanced melodic phrases, and an overall disinclination to extend the boundaries of “taste” as it was then defined. “Don’t rock the boat” was pretty much the unstated guideline. Perhaps for these reasons, there were few truly great composers of this era, men who were not afraid to be original and different. (Haydn and Mozart stand out above all the rest.) When they were, the public often disapproved strongly.

In the early twentieth century, a movement called neoclassicism encouraged a return to the qualities of eighteenth century music, though still using twentieth-century harmonies! 


a symbol at the beginning of a line of music serving as a point of reference to indicate where all the pitches lie on the staff. Most instruments use the treble clef (G-clef), which is set on the note G. Second most commonly found is the bass clef (F-clef). There are also various other clefs, used by specific instruments or voice types.


literally a “tail” (Italian), this is an extra piece of music tacked on (without pause or separation) to a piece or movement. Most codas are short, but on occasion they can be quite substantial.


(1) A shorter, smaller-scaled version of a concerto, usually in a single movement or in several connected, contrasting sections. The German Konzertstück follows the same principle. (2) the solo group of instruments in a concerto grosso.


The leader of the first violin section of an orchestra. (In England the concertmaster is actually called the “leader.”) Duties include playing solos when they occur within the orchestral repertory (such as in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade), taking the soloist’s role in a concerto, deciding on the bowings for the entire string section so that everyone plays uniformly, and generally to act as a liaison between the conductor and the orchestra at large.


a composition for soloist(s) and orchestra, usually in three movements. Most concertos feature the piano or the violin, but they exist for all instruments, and sometimes for multiple instruments. Soloist and orchestra, either individually or together, present musical ideas which they develop and integrate into an overall dynamic confrontation.

Concerto Grosso:

a type of composition, common in the Baroque period, in which a small group of soloists (the concertino) is set in opposition to the full orchestra (ripieno). The operating principle of a concerto grosso lies in alternating passages of the two groups. During the Baroque period, when the genre reached its fullest development, concerti grossi were composed mostly for strings; a few examples are also found in the twentieth century.


the person who stands at the front of a band, orchestra, chorus or ensemble. The conductor’s duties include giving the signals when to start and stop, training the musicians to play together as a unit, imposing stylistic uniformity, and bringing his or her particular ideas of interpretation to bear on a performance. (See also: Careers Choices)


the simultaneous use of two or more independent lines of music. The word comes from the Latin punctus contra punctum, or “note against note.” By extension this also denotes melody against melody. Counterpoint and polyphony are virtually identical. The latter term is used more in reference to music of the Middle Ages and early Renaissance while counterpoint is used thereafter. The rhythmic and harmonic interaction of two or more musical lines can result in complex, fascinating textures. The opposite of contrapuntal writing would be a hymn, in which all the voices move as a collective unit rather than independently. It is worth noting that few cultures besides our own have music employing counterpoint.


the Italian term for "getting louder".

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Debussy, Claude(1862-1918):

Early 20th-century French composer famous for his "impressionistic" music that features delicately blurred sounds and a special harmony based on the whole-tone scale.


the Italian term for "getting softer"

Development Section:

the central portion of a movement or composition in sonata form where themes, motifs and rhythms from the opening exposition section undergo fragmentation, extension, variation, harmonic conflict, transposition, juxtaposition and other procedures until the recapitulation begins.


a relative term denoting a note, chord or passage that sounds harsh, discordant, restless, unstable, unpleasant and in need of harmonic resolution. Different ears perceive different degrees of dissonance, but generally speaking, over the years the acceptable threshold of dissonance has risen. In Schoenberg’s theory of dodecaphony (“twelve-tone writing”) all pitches were considered equal, and the concept of consonance and dissonance vanished. As an example of what many people would consider dissonant, think of the explosive opening of the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.


a composition consisting of several movements of generally light, pleasing character. Divertimenti, most common in the late eighteenth century (the era of Mozart and Haydn) often contained dance movements. The word comes from the Italian divertire, meaning to entertain.


a method of composition in which all twelve pitches of the chromatic scale are treated equally (as opposed to “tonal” music in which there is an hierarchy of pitches in their relative importance) The composer invents a “tone row,” arranging the twelve pitches in an arbitrary but fixed and pre-determined order. The tone row becomes the composition’s musical substance, subject to continuous variation, transposition, fragmentation and development.

Double Stop:

on a string instrument, the simultaneous sounding of two pitches on two different strings. Triple stops and quadruple stops are also possible.

Dvořák, Antonín(1841-1904):

The most famous composer from Czechoslovakia, noted especially for the wonderful melodies he incorporated into his nine symphonies (the last of which is called the "New World" Symphony, written in America) and his Slavonic Dances. (See also: Composer Profile: Antonín Dvořák)


how loudly or softly the music should be played. Sometimes the dynamics change abruptly, sometimes gradually. The terms are usually in Italian (I.e. forte, piano, mezzo-piano, fortissimo, etc.)

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Elgar, Sir Edward(1857-1934):

The first great English composer since the early Baroque period. Elgar combined a feeling of national pride, nobility and spirituality in a popular style. His Pomp and Circumstance Marches are among his best-known works.


a study piece designed to improve some specific element of a musician’s technique: a difficult stretch of the hand, awkward leaps, control at high speed, maintenance of an even tone, a lyrical element, etc. It was Chopin's achievement to elevate the etude from its purely utilitarian function to high art, subtly uniting technical command with poetic expressiveness.


the main opening section (it may be preceded by an introductory passage) of a composition where the principle thematic material is presented or "exposed."

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the dynamic indication for "loud".


a composition, often for a keyboard instrument, in which several musical lines (or "voices" - usually three or four) enter in succession in different ranges with the same theme, which is then extensively developed in further entries of the theme. A subject in one voice is repeated in different registers by several additional voices in succession (usually for a total of four, though there are also three- and five-voice fugues). The subject is thereupon combined with countersubjects and undergoes development by fragmentation, inversion, expansion, contraction and other procedures in a continuous display of counterpoint. Fugues were most commonly written in the Baroque period and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) remains the most famous composer of this type of music.

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a slide between two pitches and encompassing all the intervening pitches. All string instruments of the orchestra can play a perfect glissando but among winds, only trombone can do so. Others can make only an approximation. (Abbrev. gliss.)

Gould, Glenn(1932-1982):

One of Canada's most famous pianists, specializing in Bach

Grieg, Edvard(1843-1907):

The greatest Norwegian composer. Elements of Norwegian folk music colour many of his compositions, giving them their unique and distinctive sound. His best-known works include a piano concerto, music for the play Peer Gynt, and many Lyric Pieces for piano.


a family of violinmakers from Cremona, Italy. Guiseppe Guarneri made Pinchas Zukerman's instrument in 1734

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Handel, George Frederic(1685-1759):

Born in the same year as Bach, Handel shares with Bach the distinction of being one of the two greatest composers of the late Baroque period. Most of his music is highly energetic and joyful, including the famous Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks.


as applied to string instruments, weak, thin, high-pitched notes that sound almost like a whistle (“overtones”) produced by lightly touching the string at the halfway point with one finger while pressing firmly with another.


the simultaneous sounding of different pitches, which combine into chords. (The Greek word harmonia means “joining of sounds.”). Each chord has a different configuration of pitches. Harmony may refer either to the local vertical arrangement of sounds or to the overall progression of chords throughout a piece of music. Some chords sounds gentle and pleasant, others may sound harsh or unpleasant (these are usually referred to as “dissonant”).


a plucked string instrument with a long history going back to biblical times. The modern harp used in the symphony orchestra has dozens of strings and is so large it stands on the floor rather than being held in the player's lap.

Haydn, Joseph(1732-1809):

Along with Mozart, Haydn was one of the two greatest composers of the Classical period. He is best remembered as the composer who first brought both the symphony and the string quartet to a high level of formal mastery (he did not invent either, as is sometimes claimed). Drama, elegance, and many surprises are found in his music. He wrote over 100 symphonies and almost as many string quartets. (See also: Composer Profile: Joseph Haydn)

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to make up music on the spur of the moment according to the musician's whim; in other words, the musician does not follow notes on a printed page, but rather relies on his or her own imagination to create music that bears a spiritual relation to the original source.

Incidental Music:

music, usually consisting of numerous short pieces, originally composed to accompany a play or other theatrical presentation. Most incidental music is instrumental, but vocal or choral pieces may also be incorporated. Excerpts are sometimes later collected into suites. Famous examples include Grieg’s music for Peer Gynt and Mendelssohn’s for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


a short musical interlude between acts or sections of a longer work


the distance between two pitches. The interval from C to D (adjacent white keys on the keyboard), for example, is a second. From C to E is a third, C to F a fourth, etc. More specific distances may be indicated by “major” or “minor” (a minor third, for example) or on occasion “diminished” or “augmented.”

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a kind of music that developed in the southern United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Elements of music from western Africa, American gospel singing and European harmony all went into forming the various types of jazz, which include ragtime, blues, Dixieland, swing, be-bop, and cool. Jazz relies heavily on improvisation, and is characterized by much use of syncopated rhythms.

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the tonal orientation of a piece, a movement, or a passage as indicated by its tonic note or chord (think of the “tonic” as “home base”). Examples: Symphony in C major; Violin Concerto in E minor. Obviously, remaining in a single key throughout would become wearisome to the ear, so composers devise ways and means of periodically straying from the tonic and finding their way back. Hence, a piece or a movement will normally pass through several other keys within the context of a “home” key.

Key Signature:

the arrangement of symbols called “sharps” and “flats” at the beginning of a composition, movement or section thereof indicating the key in which it is to be played. No sharps or flats indicates C major (or its relative, A minor). One sharp means G major or E minor. Rarely do we find more than four sharps (E major or C-sharp minor) or flats (A-flat major or F minor) but such cases do occur.

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very, very slow; even slower than adagio


in a smootly connected manner


art songs (as opposed to folk or popular songs) by German composers. Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Strauss are famous composers of Lieder (singular: Lied).

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a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists using the liturgical text of the Roman Catholic Church. Composers usually set the five main sections of the Ordinary of the mass (that is, those intoned at every celebration): Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus (with Benedictus) and Agnus Dei. A Requiem mass (the mass for the dead) omits the Gloria and incorporates other passages relevant to commemorating the specific event.


a succession of tones set to a rhythmic pattern and organized in a coherent relationship. A melody has a clear beginning, middle and end. It reaches a climactic point and recedes. It has a contour - smooth, jagged, straight or crooked - or shape all its own. It consists of separate elements like phrases, motifs and cadences, just like a sentence in everyday speech.

Mendelssohn, Felix(1809-1847):

A German composer, virtuoso pianist and one of the first important conductors in the history of this profession. His music is classical in style but often romantic in spirit, as seen in his music to accompany Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream.


how notes of the same value are grouped into regular patterns of stressed and unstressed pulses. This is indicated by a time signature at the beginning of a piece or section, and is expressed as a fraction. The lower figure is always 2 or a multiple of 2 (4, 8, 16, etc.) while the upper figure can range from 1 to 6 and even higher. 3 over 4 (“three-four time”) indicates three quarter notes per measure (as we find in a waltz) ; 6 over 8 indicates six eighth notes per measure. See also Rhythm.


a mechanical device invented early in the 19th century to help musicians keep strict time when playing. The number of "clicks" per minute can be varied from 40 to 208 on the most commonly used models.


an elegant ballroom dance common in the 18th century, characterized by small, dainty steps danced in leisurely, triple meter.


“Modern” or “contemporary” music is difficult to define. Does it mean music that sounds modern? “Modern” to whose ears? Music that was written in the twentieth century? Music written within the past few years? Are “modern” and “contemporary” the same thing? For better or for worse, many historians call “modern music” all music of the twentieth and twentieth-first centuries. Maybe a better way would be to define “modern” music as that which seems to have been recently written, and “contemporary” music as that which has actually been composed within the past thirty years or so.

Some characteristics of modern music are highly advanced harmony, much use of polyrhythms, vastly increased use of percussion instruments, wildly erratic melodic lines (or no lines at all), lack of a tonal center (for example, C major or A minor), barbaric force, highly unusual groups of instruments, and the depiction of bizarre, even mind-boggling scenarios.
    A bewildering number of isms have been invented to describe different kinds of twentieth century music: expressionism, neoclassicism, primitivism, serialism, futurism, neo-romanticism, minimalism - and even those don't begin to cover it all. So really, it begins to look like the foremost feature of modern music might be the enormous diversity of it all!
    Yet, if forced to come up with a single defining quality of music in the twentieth century, we might point to the desire of many composers (there are always exceptions, of course – Rachmaninoff, for example) to turn their backs on emotional expression and instead to manipulate sound as abstract material. Rhythm, harmony, and sometimes even melody still play their roles, but now form, structure, shape and texture take precedence - music as aural architecture, if you like. Composers even wrote pieces with titles like Lines and Points, Structures, Sonic Contours or Density 21.5.
                The history of music is reflected in the constant search for new ways of organizing sound, and in a sense, what many composers focused on in the twentieth century was a reaction to the hyper-expressive romanticism of the nineteenth century, which in turn was a reaction to the emphasis on form and structure of the eighteenth century, which in turn …. Plus que ça change, plus que c'est la même chose! What direction will music take in the twenty-first century? That’s for you to discover!


a short phrase or series of notes (but something less than a theme or melody) that form an essential part of the musical fabric, recurring frequently or even continuously throughout a piece. The first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony constitute a famous example of a motif.

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus(1756-1791):

Possibly the best-known and most beloved composer of all time. He exemplified the terms child prodigy and genius to an extent greater than anyone else did, writing piano pieces at the age of five and full-length operas at 12. The sheer beauty, graceful charm and deep expressiveness of his music have endeared it to millions of people around the world. (See also: Composer Profile: Wolfgang Amadeaus Mozart)


a person who specializes in the study of music history and related fields. (See also: Careers Choices)


a device used to dampen or muffle the sound. String players clamp on a small object that grips the strings like a clamp with wide prongs; brass players insert a funnel-shaped object into the bell of the instrument; woodwind players do not use mutes.

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literally, a night piece; a (usually) quiet, meditative composition evoking or inspired by some nocturnal event or activity.


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an important, essential (“obligatory”) part for a solo instrument accompanying a singer in an aria. The part is often so prominent that it amounts to a second soloist intertwined with the first. Obbligato parts were especially common in Baroque music (See Baroque period).


a theatrical work for singers and orchestra. Sets, costumes, props, lighting and acting all play a role. “Opera” is Italian for the plural of opus, meaning simply work. Most operas consist of a series of individual numbers (arias, duets, choruses, instrumental interludes, etc.) or “works,” strung together into a theatrical entity. Operatic style has varied greatly with time and place, but the fundamentally it has alternated between clear, straight-forward declamation of the text and florid, rapturous outpourings of lyricism with much text repetition and ornamental flourishes.


the number assigned to a piece of music indicating its chronological order of publication (note: order of publication, not necessarily order of composition). Usually abbreviated as 'Op.' Opus numbers are not always a reliable way to determine when a work was written. Sometimes an early work will be published only at the end of a composer’s lifetime. For some composers, we don’t use opus numbers at all (Mahler and Bruckner, for example); some, like Richard Strauss, used them only up to a point, then stopped. In special cases, we use the catalogue numbers devised by individuals like Köchel for Mozart (K. numbers), Deutsch for Schubert (D. numbers) or Ryom for Vivaldi (RV numbers).


a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra and vocal soloists in several sections. The text may come from a biblical, sacred or secular text. Some oratorios, such as Handel’s Messiah, are contemplative in nature, but many are dramatic, and might essentially be considered operas without staging.



a large instrumental ensemble in which the string parts are assigned to multiple players. An orchestra may consist only of strings but usually there are woodwind, brass and percussion as well. An orchestra can range in size from twenty to over a hundred players. (See also "How the Modern Orchestra Took Shape")


the craft of assigning melodic and harmonic elements of a composition to specific instruments in accordance with the individual properties and timbres of each instrument. Often composers write out their orchestral music in a kind of shorthand, then go back and orchestrate it. Music originally written for a solo instrument or a small ensemble can also be orchestrated. Another way of understanding orchestration is to think of a black-and-white sketch that is later filled in with colour.


a constantly recurring short melodic or rhythmic pattern, usually found in an accompanimental or subordinate role


(1) A purely instrumental introduction to an opera, ballet score or incidental music. (2) a short orchestral composition in one movement, often with a title suggesting a literary figure or an event. (3) the first movement or section of a multi-movement suite.

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Perfect pitch:

an auditory condition that allows a person to identify a note or key without contextual reference. Perfect pitch is a natural condition found in a few individuals; it cannot be taught or developed. You have it or you don’t. While it can be a desirable asset to musicians, it is by no means necessary, and most musicians do not have it.


another name for an orchestra, sometimes used in conjunction with the latter word, such as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The city of Boston has a Boston Symphony Orchestra and a Boston Philharmonic. Both ensembles consist of essentially the same kinds and numbers of instruments but the personnel are different.


softly. Also, of course, the familiar keyboard instrument with 88 keys. The latter is actually just an abbreviation of the word pianoforte (literally “soft-loud”), referring to the instrument’s ability to play both dynamic extremes as well as gradations in between.


plucking the strings with the fingers (as opposed to using a bow)


the simultaneous use of two or more musical lines that are rhythmically independent of each other.


the use of more than one tonality at the same time. Bitonality is the use of two tonalities. (See Tonality)


(1) Essentially the same as the first meaning of overture but often intended as a piece to set the mood for what is to follow. (The preludes to Verdi’s opera La Traviata and to Wagner’s Lohengrin are prime examples.) Sometimes a prelude runs without pause into the main body of the composition. (2) In the nineteenth century, the prelude, like the overture, also came to signify a short, independent composition for keyboard (Chopin’s Preludes, for example).

Program Music:

instrumental music inspired by some extra-musical element – a story, a character, a landscape, a literary figure or an event. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Strauss’s Don Quixote are typical examples.

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an early type of jazz, in vogue from about 1895 to 1920, usually written out rather than improvised. Most ragtime was played on the piano. Scott Joplin was the most famous composer of ragtime.

Ravel, Maurice(1875-1937):

French composer often linked with Debussy for his Impressionist music, but actually more Classically oriented (See Classical period). Dance rhythms and Spanish influences are found in many of his works, such as Bolero and the Rapsodie espagnol 


the third and final section (after the exposition and development sections) of a piece or movement where the opening material returns more or less in the same order as originally heard and the home key is reconfirmed after the harmonic instability of the development section.


a vocal passage in spoken, declamatory style, often preceding an aria. Usually there is just one syllable of text to one note of music (unlike arias, where a single syllable may be stretched out over several notes). Until the time of Beethoven (early nineteenth century), recitatives were usually accompanied only by the organ or harpsichord. The pacing and inflection are closely related to speech, so the lyrical element is often lacking.


“Renaissance” means re-birth, and refers specifically to the flowering of all the arts again (not just music) after a long period of dormancy, a period spanning roughly the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Renaissance was driven mostly by the rediscovery of the literature, art and architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. The astronomer Copernicus, the playwright Shakespeare and the painters Da Vinci and Michelangelo were major figures of the Renaissance. It was a golden age for vocal and choral music. It was also the golden age of polyphonic music – music of richly intertwining, imitative and overlapping lines. As there was relatively little purely instrumental music composed during the Renaissance, and none for the orchestra as we know it today, there are no compositions from this period in the NACO’s repertory selections on


a highly-charged instrumental composition consisting of several linked sections in an irregular, free or improvisatory manner. The word comes from the ancient Greek rhapsode, a specially trained singer or reciter of epic poems. Liszt’s nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies are representative examples, as is Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.


the progression of note values in time, as superimposed over the meter. The note values may consist of a regularly recurring pattern (think of the tune for “Happy Birthday,” for example) or they may be arranged in more random fashion, as for example in the theme of Canada’s national anthem.

Romantic period:

period in music spanning nearly the entire nineteenth century. There were many aspects to musical romanticism, but if you were limited to naming just one, it would probably be the composers’ desire to get the listener involved emotionally and to express human feelings in highly personal ways. Composers prided themselves on their individuality. The worst thing you could say about a Romantic composer was that his music sounded like someone else's.   

If you could name two qualities, the second would probably be the use of musical pictoralism, especially in music that tells a story, music inspired by a painting or music that depicts a scene or a person. (this is called program music.) Fantasy worlds, dreams, fairy tales, foreign lands (especially far-off Asia) and nationalism (music meant to evoke feelings for one's homeland, often incorporating folksongs and dances) all played important roles in the creation of music in the Romantic period. Compositions got longer, orchestras got bigger, imaginations soared. But by the time the twentieth century dawned, some people felt they were drowning in musical excess. Time for another change! Most of our most famous composers belong to the romantic era: Beethoven, Schubert, Weber, Schumann, Chopin, Berlioz, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Dvořák, Bruckner, Richard Strauss, Johann Strauss and Mahler among many others.  (Until the twentieth century, there were few women composers, and none of great importance during the Romantic period.)


a musical form in which the principal theme alternates with a succession of subsidiary themes in the pattern of ABACADA … (2) a composition based on this form. The composer need not adhere strictly to this formula. Often used as the last movement of a sonata or concerto.

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an ordered arrangement of ascending and descending pitches, usually consisting of whole steps and half steps. The C-major scale (beginning on the note C) and the A-minor scale (beginning on A) are formed from the white keys only on a piano keyboard. All other scales include one or more black keys.


Italian for "joke" or “jest,” a scherzo is a movement in rapid triple meter. It can stand alone but is usually found as one of the inner movements of a four-movement symphony, sonata or string quartet. Beginning with Beethoven, it often replaced the minuet movement. Most are lighthearted and energetic in spirit, but scherzi can also be demonic (as in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) or even macabre (Mahler’s Fourth).


used generally in reference to compositions written for several or many different musicians, this constitutes every part the composer wrote for every individual player, all lined up vertically on the page. A musician will have only his or her own part to read (previously copied from the full score) but the conductor must see everything at once; hence, this is what he (or she) uses to direct an orchestra, band, chorus or other ensemble. In other words, the conductor must be able to read a score vertically and horizontally simultaneously – quite a feat that requires much training.


an instrumental composition in several movements, which, like the divertimento, is meant to be of a light, pleasing character. The title comes from the Italian sereno, a poetic evocation for a cloudless, evening sky. Hence, by extension, a serenade was intended, at least in principle, for outdoor use at night. Again like the divertimento (composers often used these titles interchangeably), the serenade reached its zenith of popularity in the late eighteenth century. Mozart’s celebrated Eine kleine Nachtmusik is actually a serenade.


a composition, often in three movements and usually written for either a single instrument or for a string or wind instrument plus piano. The formal layout of a sonata may be free (the Italian word from which it is derived, sonare, means simply “to sound”), but the standard pattern for most sonatas of the past 250 years or so tends to consist of a first movement in sonata form (see below), a slow second movement of lyrical cast and a shorter, quite lively third movement.

Sonata Form:

a large-scale organizational plan for a piece or movement (most often the first movement of a multi-movement composition) in which two (or occasionally three) tonalities are established in the opening exposition section, subjected to harmonic development, then reconstituted in the recapitulation in a manner that resolves their conflict of tonalities. Each tonal area is usually associated with its own theme.


short and detached notes with "air space" in between; the opposite of legato

Stradivari, Antonio:

(1644?-1737): Born in Cremona Italy, Antonio Stradivari remains probably the most famous violinmaker of all time. Stradivarius is the Latin version of his name, which he used to sign each of his instruments.

Symphonic Poem:

another term for Tone Poem: an orchestral work in one movement but often divided into several continuous contrasting sections of contrasting character. A symphonic poem is derived from an extra-musical source, such as a literary work, a historical figure, a story, a painting, a landscape or even a philosophical or religious premise. Examples of symphonic poems are The Poem of Ecstasy (by Scriabin), Don Juan (Strauss), Romeo and Juliet (Tchaikovsky) and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas).



a composition for orchestra usually lasting anywhere from about twenty to fifty minutes and often in four movements in the following order: a weighty first movement in sonata form; an intensely lyrical, highly expressive slow movement; a relatively short third movement often cast as a minuet, waltz, scherzo or march; and a fast, rhythmically charged finale that brings the work to an exciting conclusion. There are of course dozens, even hundreds of exceptions and variants, but a good number of the most famous symphonies in the repertory conform to this model. The word “symphony” is also applied to a large body of musicians [see Orchestra].


the rhythmic device of emphasizing the unstressed or weak beats instead of the normally accented strong beats. Another way to think of syncopation is the regular stressing of notes “between the beats.” Try tapping your foot while humming and ask someone to pat your back in between taps of your foot. Your hum will become syncopated.

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Tchaikovsky, Piotr Ilyich(1840-1893):

Russian composer famous for his intensely emotional moods, grand sweep, heartfelt melodies and dazzling orchestration. Typical of all these qualities are the 1812 Overture, the Pathetique Symphony and the tone poem Romeo and Juliet. (See also: Composer Profile: Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky)


the speed of the music. Most composers use Italian words to describe the tempo: adagio, for example, means very slow; andante is moderate; allegro is lively and presto very fast.


the principal melodic subject from which a composer constructs a piece of music, fragmenting it, reconstituting it, transposing it, subjecting it to harmonic variants, and otherwise using it in purposeful ways. A composition may have several or even many themes.


the specific quality of sound each instrument makes. A flute sounds different from a violin or from a trumpet, even if it is playing the identical pitch.


the system of major and minor keys that serves as the basis of most western music from the time of Vivaldi onward. The tonic chord of each key serves as its harmonic focus and provides a sense of stability from which the music departs and to which it returns. Not all music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is tonal.

Tone Colour:

the same as timbre, though more often used in English to when referring to combinations of timbres. You can mix timbres just as you can mix colours in painting. If you combine red and yellow you get orange. If you combine a flute and a violin, you get a particular tone colour. Music of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is often conceived in terms of particular colours used to evoke moods, natural phenomena or character.

Tone Poem:

another word for symphonic poem.


(1) the first note of a scale; (2) the fundamental note or root of a chord; (3) the home key of a composition.


the refashioning of a piece of music for a different instrument or group of instruments (or voices) than its original form. For example, a piece for organ might be transcribed for full orchestra, or a work for string quartet might be transcribed for a quartet of saxophones. Also see Arrangement


restatement of a theme, passage or entire piece in a higher or lower key.


(1) A composition for three players, either three of the same kind or a mixture. The most common form of the trio is for piano, violin and cello – this is known as a piano trio. (2) The central, contrasting section of a minuet or scherzo movement.

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a variety show meant to be presented in a music hall, with popular songs, dances, mimes, actors and stand-up comics.

Verdi, Giuseppe(1813-1901):

The most famous composer of Italian opera in the latter half of the 19th century. Believable characters, direct emotional appeal and a wealth of memorable melodies are all features of Verdi's operas, among which Rigoletto, La Traviata and Aïda are his best-known.


a musician who is proficient to an extraordinarily high degree, especially in technical agility.

Vivaldi, Antonio(1678-1741):

Best-known Italian composer of the Baroque period. He wrote an enormous amount of music, including concertos for nearly every instrument in use at the time, especially the violin. His most famous work, The Four Seasons, is actually a series of four violin concertos which incorporate descriptive musical elements relevant to each season. (See also: Composer Profile: Antonio Vivaldi)

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Wagner, Richard(1813-1883):

The most famous composer of German opera in the 19th century. Wagner's operas are conceived on a grand scale and usually deal with deeply spiritual and philosophical issues set to music of passionate intensity. His harmonic style became the basis of much 20th-century music. Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Tristan and Isolde are among his operas.


a ballroom dance that became immensely popular in the 19th century, especially in Vienna. Triple meter and a strong emphasis on the first beat ("UM-pah-pah") characterize it. Johann Strauss II wrote many memorable waltzes, including On the Beautiful Blue Danube.

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Zukerman, Pinchas:

Pinchas Zukerman is an Israeli-born violinist, violist, and conductor. He is the Music Director of the National Arts Centre Orchestra. (See also: Pinchas Zukerman)

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