Glossary of important terms you should know


Originally a song that tells a story. In Romantic music it is often used to mean instrumental works with a narrative quality.

Bel Canto

An Italian term for "beautiful singing" used to describe an early 19th-century operatic style which emphasized vocal purity and agility.


From the Italian for "falling," it is the conclusion of a musical phrase analogous to the end of a sentence in written prose.

Chamber Music

Music written for small groups of instruments (trios, quartets, et al) with or without voice whose intimate nature was considered appropriate for performance in small halls and/or salons.


Music that highlights the use of the complete chromatic scale--the 12 notes of the traditional Western octave--and emphasizes intervals and relationships outside the "normal" diatonic patterns.

Chromatic Harmony

Harmony that moves in chromatic intervals, rather than along traditional tonal patterns. The chromaticism may be in the inner voices of the chords.


From the Italian for "concert." By the 19th century, it was a word used to describe extensive works for solo instrument (usually piano or violin) or occasionally other instruments with an orchestral accompaniment.


A musical feeling or condition of harmonic resolution or rest--it has a contrasting meaning with the word dissonance.

Cyclic Construction

Compositions that are tied together by means of reintroducing important themes from earlier sections into later sections.


Music--especially individual chords or melodic lines--that readily fits into a key or tonality.


Literally a musical relationship (usually a chord) which lies outside of tonal harmony; in effect, it is the state of tension or unrest in music which contrasts with consonance, the lack of such tension.


Name given to the body of 18th-century philosophy emphasizing the triumph of Reason; it also refers to the period of prominence of such philosophies.


French for "study," originaIly the name of short pieces written to teach the mastery of specific technical difficulties in learning an instrument. In the 19th century often used for short brilliant works for a solo instrument, especially piano.


Name given to certain instrumental works whose form does not fit within pre-established patterns.

Grand Opera

Term for opera of early to mid-19th century that emphasized pomp and elaborate stage devices. Paris was the heart of Grand Opera style.


World view in which Man, his needs, perceptions, and dignity, is considered to be the central focus of Philosophy and Life. The Italian Renaissance and the 18th century were eras dominated by humanism.


An artistic movement of the late 19th century, especially prominent in France and among painters. It emphasized the evocation of the sensory experience of natural phenomena.


From German for "leading motive"; a term originally used to describe short melodic themes in Wagner's Music Dramas that represent specific elements (person, idea, et al) in the drama.


Italian for "little book," the name usually given to the text of an opera.


German for "song"; usually used to mean art songs (as opposed to folk songs), usually for voice and piano. PIural is Lieder.


A small-scaled composition, usually far piano, based on a synthesis of Polish dance forms. It was introduced by Chopin.


In tonal music it is the process of moving from one key to another.


Name given for short pieces, usually for piano, meant to evoke the "feeling" of the night. Invented by Field, the form is most often associated with Chopin.


A composition which freely combines easily recognizable themes from another famous work (or works).


French for "Polish," it is a typically Polish dance of military character, or a composition that suggests elements of such a dance.

Prima Donna

Italian for "first lady," it is used specifically to denote the female lead singer in an opera production. Often used to describe performers of a highly temperamental, capricious, and egotistical manner.


French for "rebirth," the era, especially in Italy, lasting roughly from 1400 to 1600, during which there was an enormous revival of interest in ancient Greece and Rome, in education, in humanism, and in the arts.


From the Italian for "joke," a fast, often light-hearted piece, used by Beethoven to replace the traditional Minuet. Later composers (e.g., Chopin) retained the basic form of the original but greatly modified its character.


From Italian for "played" (i.e., not sung). In the 18th and 19th centuries, it referred to a large-scale work, usually in several parts or movements, for solo instruments or solo instruments with accompaniment.

Sonata Form

General structural scheme, developed in mid-18th century and mastered by Haydn, by which large-scale movements (not only of sonatas, but of symphonies, quartets, etc.) are organized by a relationship of keys and themes having an exposition, development, recapitulation and often a coda.

Strophic Form

Songs or Lieder that are arranged in verses whose music is repeated more or less exactly with each verse.

Symphonic Poem (is a type of program music)

Term used originally by Liszt for an orchestral form organized around a dramatic program or story. This genre was also developed by Berlioz and referred to as a Tone Poem.


A musical composition that takes a pre-existing work and more or less exactly resets it in a new format, e.g. for different instruments. Transcriptions may be of the composer's own works or the works of others.


From Italian for "realism." Late 19th-century operatic style, especially Italian, which emphasized highly emotional situations drawn from "real-life" settings.


From Italian for "virtuous"; the word was used to describe instrumentalists of particular brilliance and accomplishment.


A dance, introduced in the late 18th century, which became highly popular in the 19th century due largely to its intimacy, grace, and freedom of movement as opposed to the more formal, stiffer dances typical of the 18th century. It was also considered an artistic metaphor for the intellectual notion of "freedom".


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