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.
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.
A continuo part, a regular feature of much instrumental music in the 17th and 18th centuries, was played by a keyboard-player or performer on a chordal instrument such as a lute or harp, reading from the bass line of a composition, generally with numbers to indicate the choice of chords, which would then be filled out, with other melodic and contrapuntal embellishments. The continuo or basso continuo was a necessary part of instrumental music, but gradually fell into disuse towards the end of the 18th century, while remaining an important element in the accompaniment of operatic recitative.
The cor anglais is the English horn, a tenor oboe that sounds a fifth lower than it is written.
The cornet is a valved brass instrument, resembling a trumpet but with a wider bore. It was used in the second quarter of the 19th century before the full development of the valved trumpet, but is now principally found in brass bands.
The cornetto or cornett is a wind instrument made of wood or ivory, or nowadays reproduced in fibre-glass. It has a cup-shaped mouthpiece, like brass instruments, but finger-holes, like a recorder, and was much used in the 17th and earlier 18th centuries, often to support or even replace treble voices. The bass of the cornetto family is the serpent, once found in village church bands in England and now revived.
Counterpoint is the combination of two or more melodic lines, the second or later additional melodies described as counterpoints to the first. If harmony is regarded as vertical, as it is in conventional notation, signifying the simultaneous sounding of notes in chords, counterpoint may be regarded as horizontal. The adjective from counterpoint is contrapuntal. The phrase modal counterpoint is used to indicate 16th century counterpoint or Palestrina counterpoint and the phrase tonal counterpoint is used to indicate the later baroque counterpoint of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries.
A countertenor voice is that of a male alto. Sometimes a distinction is made between the two, the second indicating the English falsetto tradition and the first a natural voice of similar range.
The French courante, a triple-time dance movement found frequently in the baroque dance suite, generally follows the allemande, the opening German dance. It is sometimes not distinguished from the Italian corrente, although the corrente is generally simpler in texture and rhythm than its French counterpart.
Crescendo (Italian: growing, becoming louder) is frequently used as a dynamic instruction to performers.
A song cycle is a set of songs intended to be performed as a group, as in Schumann's Dichterliebe (The Poet's Love) or Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey). The 19th century Czech composer Smetana wrote a cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast (My Country).
Cymbals (= Italian: piatti, German: Becken, French: cymbales) are pairs of round metal plates, generally made of an alloy of tin and copper, which may be struck together. A single cymbal may be suspended and struck with a hard or soft stick. The instrument is of ancient origin, but its more modern use occurs first principally in the later 18th century, as part of the Turkish music used, for example, by Mozart in The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entfhrung aus dem Serail). It found much fuller and more varied use in the 19th and 20th centuries.