Glossary of Musical Terms


Rallentando (Italian: becoming slower) is a direction to a performer to play gradually slower.


Recitative is used in vocal works, particularly opera and oratorio, usually for a solo voice, in relatively free rhythm. In this respect recitative is distinct from the formal aria. Recitative might be accompanied by basso continuo, harpsichord or other chordal instruments and a bass instrument (recitativo secco or dry recitative), or accompanied by a larger number of instruments (recitativo accompagnato, accompanied recitative). Recitative is often used for narrative or for the forwarding of the plot in opera.


The recorder (= German: Blockflste; French: flte bec; Italian: flauto dolce), the straight flute, exists in a variety of sizes, the principal of which are the descant or soprano, the treble or alto, the tenor and the bass, the first and third of which have a range upwards from C and the second and fourth of which have a range upwards from F, with similar fingering. Other sizes of recorder include the smallest, the sopranino, an octave higher than the treble and the great bass, an octave lower than the tenor. An even larger family of recorders existed in the later 16th century.


Reeds, made either from traditional material or from plastic or metal, are used to produce a musical sound from their vibration by means of an air column. The clarinet uses a single reed, fastened to a hollow mouthpiece, while the oboe and bassoon use a double reed, one side vibrating against the other. The reed-pipes of the organ are generally made of metal, with a thin vibrating tongue to produce the sound. Similar laminae are used in the mouth-organ and harmonica. Some instruments, like the bagpipes or the crumhorn, use covered double reeds, set inside an air chamber.


The register of a voice or instrument is a distinct part of its range. The clarinet, for example, has a distinctive lower register known, from the origin of the instrument, as the chalumeau register, and an upper register of more flute-like timbre.


Registration is the choice of stops used by an organist or harpsichordist, a much more elaborate matter for the former.

Requiem Mass

The Catholic Mass for the Dead opens with the words Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine (Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord), leading to the use of the word Requiem for the Mass for the Dead. Important settings of the Requiem include that by Mozart and the large scale settings of the Requiem by Berlioz and by Verdi. Brahms set a collection of Lutheran texts to form his German Requiem, while Faur set a liturgical text that used parts of the burial service.


The title rhapsody (= French: rapsodie) came into general use in music of the mid-19th century, notably with the Hungarian Rhapsodies of Liszt. It implies a work free in form and inspiration, often an expression of national temperament, as in the Slavonic Rhapsodies of Dvork and the Rapsodie espagnole of Ravel.


Rhythm, an essential element in music in one way or another, is the arrangement of notes according to their relative duration and relative accentuation.


The French folk-dance, the rigaudon, is occasionally found in instrumental dance suites of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was normally in a brisk duple metre.


Ritardando (Italian: becoming slower) abbreviated often to rit., is often used as a direction to players.


Ritenuto (Italian: held back) directs a player to slow down at once.


The ritornello, a recurrent phrase or passage, is a feature of baroque form, where an aria may be punctuated by re-appearances of a short instrumental phrase. It became a frequent element in baroque solo concertos by composers such as Vivaldi, and works with operatic connotations.


Rococo, a term borrowed, as are so many other terms in musicology, from architecture and the visual arts, is used in particular to describe the light decorative French style as found in the work of Couperin and Rameau in the first half of the 18th century.


Romanticism in cultural history is a word that defies precise definition. In music it is most commonly applied to a period or the predominant features of that period, from the early 19th century until the early 20th. Features of romanticism in music include an attention to feeling rather than to formal symmetry, expressed in a freer use of traditional forms, an expansion of the instrumental resources of music and an extension of harmonic language.


Rondo (= French: rondeau) form involves the use of a recurrent theme between a series of varied episodes, often used for the rapid final movement of a classical concerto or symphony.


Rubato, (Italian: stolen time), Short for tempo rubato. A direction to perform music more expressively, faster or slower than strict adherence to the beat would indicate.