Glossary of Musical Terms
Our glossary of musical terms lets you look up any musical term unfamiliar to you, and comes to us courtesy of our good friends at Naxos.
The word 'cembalo' is usually used to indicate the harpsichord.
A chaconne (= Italian: ciaconna; earlier English: chacony) is in origin a dance popular in Spain in the early 17th century. It came to signify a form in which there are a series of variations over a short repeated bass or chordal pattern. Famous examples of the form are found in Bach's Chaconne for unaccompanied violin in his D minor Partita or the earlier Chacony in G minor by Henry Purcell.
Chamber music is music for a small ensemble of instruments, intended for performance in a room or chamber, as opposed to a church or larger building.
A chamber orchestra has come to indicate an orchestra smaller in size than the usual symphony orchestra.
A chanson is a French song. The word is used to indicate songs from the troubadour compositions of the Middle Ages to the art-songs of the 19th and 20th centuries.
(see Plainchant and Gregorian Chant)
The word chapel (= Latin: cappella, capella; French: chapelle; German: Kapelle) signifies, in the ordinary sense, a place of worship. In music it may be used to indicate a group of musicians employed by the church or by the court, as in the English Chapel Royal, the group of musicians employed by the English monarch, or, in later continental terminology, any musical establishment.
A choir is a group of singers. The word is generally used to indicate such a group in a church, or the part of the church in which such a group is normally placed.
A chorale is a German Lutheran hymn-tune, a number of which were composed or arranged by Luther himself and adapted in later centuries to various harmonies, the most famous of all by Johann Sebastian Bach. The word is also used in America to signify a choir or chorus.
The chorale prelude, an introduction to a chorale, was developed in 17th century Germany as an organ composition based on a chorale melody. The form is found in the later 17th century in the work of Buxtehude and in the early 18th century most notably in the 45 chorale preludes of Johann Sebastian Bach.
A chord is the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes. The adjective is chordal. The study of harmony involves the correct placing of chords with relation to each other.
A chorus is a group of singers. The word is also used to indicate a refrain in a song.
Chromatic notes are those that do not belong to the diatonic scale. If an ascending scale is taken from the note C, in the form C, D, E, F, etc., chromatic notes would be C# (C sharp), D# (D sharp), etc., notes not found in the diatonic scale of C major, which has no sharps or flats.
A clarinet is a woodwind instrument with a single reed, as opposed to the oboe, which has a double reed. The clarinet was developed from the year 1800 onwards from the earlier chalumeau, which played notes only in the lower register. The new instrument added notes in the higher register. Clarinets are built in different keys, most commonly in B flat and in A.
Clarino was the word often used in the 17th and 18th centuries for trumpet. Now the word describes the upper register of the trumpet, much used in the baroque period, when the trumpet, lacking valves, could only produce successive notes in the highest register, an art that later fell into temporary disuse.
In the most general meaning of the word, classical music may designate fine music or serious music. More technically the word may refer to a period in the history of music, the later 18th century, the age of Haydn, Mozart andBeethoven. The classical may be differentiated from the so-called romantic, the relatively experimental and less formally restricted kinds of music that became current in the 19th century.
The clavichord is a small early keyboard instrument with a hammer-action. The strings are struck by a tangent, a small oblong strip of metal, eliciting a soft sound. The limited dynamic range of the clavichord make it unsuitable for public performance, but it was historically much favoured by composers such as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, second son of Johann Sebastian Bach and a leading keyboard-player in the middle of the 18th century.
The five lines generally used in musical notation have no precise meaning without the addition at the left-hand side of a clef, a sign that specifies the note to be indicated by one of the lines, from which other notes may be gauged. The so-called treble clef, familiar to pianists and violinists, otherwise known as a G clef, is used to show that the second line from the bottom is G. The so-called bass clef, otherwise known as an F clef, shows that the second line from the top is the F below middle C. C clefs are used on any line to show the position of the note known as middle C. Most frequently found are the alto clef, a C clef on the middle line of the stave (the group of five lines) and the tenor clef, a C clef on the second line from the top. The alto clef is the principal clef used for the viola, the tenor of the string family, while the tenor clef is used for the upper register of instruments like the cello and the bassoon. In plainchant, with its four-line stave, there are C clefs and F clefs which may appear on any line.
A coda (Italian: tail) is the ending of a piece of music. This may be very short, but in a composition on a large scale may be extended. The diminutive codetta may be used to indicate the closing part of a section of a composition.
Originally signifying colouring, the word coloratura is generally used to describe vocal music that is extensively ornamented and calls for ability in a very high register. A typical part for a coloratura soprano is that of the Queen of the Night in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflste).
A concertante part in a piece of music is a part that calls for some element of solo performance, as in a classical concerto. The word is found in the phrase Sinfonia concertante, which is used to indicate an orchestral composition with two or more solo instruments, a title used from the late 18th century onwards.
The concertino is the small group of solo instruments used in a concerto grosso in contrast to the whole body of the orchestra, consisting of ripieno players (see Concerto grosso). A concertino may also be a small concerto (see Concerto).
A concerto is a piece of instrumental music that contrasts a solo instrument or a small group of solo instruments with the main body of the orchestra. In the earlier 17th century the word had a more general significance, but in the early 18th century it came to mean primarily a work as described above.
The concerto grosso developed towards the end of the 17th century, particularly with the works in this form by Corelli, followed by Handel and many other composers. A small group of soloists, often two violins, cello and harpsichord, the concertino, is contrasted with the whole string orchestra, the concerto grosso, with its less skilled ripieno players. The concerto grosso may involve wind instruments as well as strings. The form has been revived by some 20th century composers, at least nominally.
Consort, used in earlier English, indicates a group of instruments, as, for example, a consort of viols in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. A broken consort is a consort of mixed instruments, strings and wind.