Terms Relating To Vocal Music
161. An anthem is a sacred choral composition, usually based on
Biblical or liturgical words. It may or may not have an instrumental
accompaniment, and is usually written in four parts, but may have five,
six, eight, or more.
[Footnote 34: A liturgy is a prescribed form or method of conducting a
religious service, and the parts sung in such a service (as e.g., the
holy communion, baptism, etc.), are r
ferred to as the musical
The word anthem is derived from antifona (or antiphona),
meaning a psalm or hymn sung responsively, i.e.,
antiphonally, by two choirs, or by choir and congregation.
A full anthem is one containing no solo parts; a solo anthem is one
in which the solo part is predominant over the chorus, while a verse
anthem is one in which the chorus parts alternate with passages for
concerted solo voices (i.e., trios, quartets, etc.).
162. A capella (sometimes spelled cappella) or alla capella music
is part-singing (either sacred or secular) without accompaniment.
This term means literally in chapel style, and refers to the
fact that in the early days of the church all singing was
163. A motet is a sacred choral composition in contrapuntal style. It
has no solo parts, thus corresponding to the madrigal (q.v.) in secular
music. The motet is intended for a capella performance, but is often
given with organ accompaniment.
164. A choral is a hymn-tune of the German Protestant Church. It is
usually harmonized in four voices. The choral (sometimes spelled
chorale) is described as having a plain melody, a strong harmony, and
a stately rhythm. It differs from the ordinary English and American
hymn-tune in being usually sung at a much slower tempo, and in having a
pause at the end of each line of text.
165. The mass is the liturgy for the celebration of the Lord's Supper
in the service of the Roman Catholic Church. As used in the terminology
of music the word refers to the six hymns which are always included when
a composer writes a musical mass, and which form the basis of the
celebration of the Communion. These six hymns are as follows:
[Footnote 35: It should be understood that this statement refers to the
service called the high mass only, there being no music at all in
connection with the so-called low mass.]
Gloria (including the Gratias agimus, Qui tollis,
Quoniam, Cum Sancto Spirito).
Credo (including the Et Incarnatus, Crucifixus, and Et
Sanctus (including the Hosanna).
Agnus Dei (including the Dona nobis).
The requiem mass is the mass for the dead and differs
considerably from the ordinary mass. Both regular and requiem
masses have been written by many of the great composers
(Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Gounod), and in many cases these
masses are so complex that they are not practicable for the
actual service of the Church, and are therefore performed only
by large choral societies, as concert works.
166. A cantata is a vocal composition for chorus and soloists, the
text being either sacred or secular. The accompaniment may be written
for piano, organ, or orchestra.
When sacred in character the cantata differs from the
oratorio in being shorter and less dramatic, in not usually
having definite characters, and in being written for church
use, while the oratorio is intended for concert performance.
When secular in subject the cantata differs from the opera
in not usually having definite characters, and in being always
rendered without scenery or action.
Examples of the sacred cantata are: Stainer's The
Crucifixion, Clough-Leighter's The Righteous Branch, and
Gaul's The Holy City. Examples of the secular cantata are:
Bruch's Armenius, Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha.
167. An oratorio is a composition on a large scale for chorus,
soloists, and orchestra, the text usually dealing with some religious
subject. The oratorio, as noted above, is not intended for the church
service, but is written for concert performance.
168. An opera is a composition for vocal soloists, chorus, and
orchestra, with characters, action, scenery, and dramatic movement. It
is a drama set to music.
Grand opera is opera with a serious plot, in which
everything is sung, there being no spoken dialog at all.
Opera comique is a species of opera in which part of the
dialog is spoken and part sung. Opera comique is not
synonymous with comic opera, for the plot of opera comique
is as often serious as not. In fact the entire distinction
between the terms grand opera and opera comique is being
broken down, the latter term referring merely to operas first
given at the Opera Comique in Paris, and the former term to
those given at the Grand Opera House in the same city.
A comic opera is a humorous opera, the plot providing many
amusing situations and the whole ending happily. It
corresponds with the comedy in literature.
A light opera is one with an exceedingly trivial plot, in
which songs, dances, and pretty scenery contribute to the
amusement of the audience. The music is lively, but usually as
trivial as the plot.
The term music drama was used by Wagner in referring to his
own operas, and is also sometimes applied to other modern
operas in which the dramatic element is supposed to
predominate over the musical.
169. A libretto (lit.--little book) is the word-text of an opera,
oratorio, cantata, or some other similar work.
170. Recitative is a style of vocal solo common to operas, oratorios,
and cantatas, especially those written some time ago. Its main
characteristic is that the word-text is of paramount importance, both
rhythm and tone-progression being governed by rhetorical rather than by
Recitative undoubtedly originated in the intoning of the
priest in the ritualistic service of the Church, but when
applied to the opera it became an important means of securing
dramatic effects, especially in situations in which the action
of the play moved along rapidly. Recitative is thus seen to
be a species of musical declamation.
In the early examples of recitative there was scarcely any
accompaniment, often only one instrument (like the cello)
being employed to play a sort of obbligato melody: when full
chords were played they were not written out in the score, but
were merely indicated in a more or less general way by certain
signs and figures. (See thorough-bass, p. 85, Sec. 200.)
But about the middle of the seventeenth century a slightly
different style of recitative was invented, and in this type
the orchestra was employed much more freely in the
accompaniment, especially in the parts between the phrases of
the text, but to some extent also to support the voice while
singing. This new style was called recitativo stromento
(i.e., accompanied recitative), while the original type was
called recitativo secco (i.e., dry recitative).
During the last century the style of recitative has been
still further developed by Gluck and Wagner, both of whom used
the orchestra as an independent entity, with interesting
melodies, harmonies and rhythms all its own, while the vocal
part is a sort of obbligato to this accompaniment. But even in
this latest phase of recitative, it is the word-text that
decides the style of both melody and rhythm in the voice part.
Fig. 61 shows an example of dry recitative, taken from The
171. Aria is likewise a style of vocal solo found in operas, etc., but
its predominating characteristic is diametrically opposed to that of the
recitative. In the aria the word-text is usually entirely subordinate
to the melody, and the latter is often very ornate, containing trills,
The rendition of this ornate style of music is often referred to as
coloratura singing, but it should be noted that not all arias are
coloratura in style.
The familiar solos from The Messiah--Rejoice Greatly, and
The trumpet shall sound are good examples of the aria style.
172. A lied (Ger. = song) is a vocal solo in which the text, the
melody, and the accompaniment contribute more or less equally to the
effect of the whole.
Strictly speaking the word lied means a poem to be sung,
and this meaning will explain at once the difference between
the lied on the one hand, and the Italian recitative and
aria on the other, for in the lied the text is of great
importance, but the music is also interesting, while in the
recitative the text was important but the music very slight,
and in the aria the text was usually inconsequential while the
music held the center of interest.
The most pronounced characteristic of the lied is the fact that it
usually portrays a single mood, sentiment, or picture, thus differing
from the ballad, which is narrative in style. It will be noted that this
single mood, or sentiment, or picture was originally conceived by the
poet who wrote the word-text, and that the composer in writing music to
this text has first tried to get at the thought of the poet, and has
then attempted to compose music which would intensify and make more
vivid that thought. This intensification of the poet's thought comes as
often through the rhythm, harmony, and dynamics of the accompaniment as
through the expressiveness of the voice part.
The style of song-writing in which each verse is sung to the
same tune is called the strophe form, while that in which
each verse has a different melody is often referred to as the
continuous or through-composed form (Ger.
173. A ballad was originally a short, simple song, the words being in
narrative style, i.e., the word-text telling a story. In the earlier
ballads each verse of the poem was usually sung to the same tune
(strophe form), but in the art-ballad as developed by Loewe and others
the continuous style of composition is employed, this giving the
composer greater opportunities of making vivid through his music the
events described by the poem. These later ballads are in consequence
neither short nor simple but compare in structure with the lied
174. A folk-song is a short song sung by and usually originating among
the common people. Its dominant characteristic is usually simplicity,
this applying to word-text, melody, and accompaniment (if there is one).
The text of the folk-song is usually based on some event connected
with ordinary life, but there are also many examples in which historical
and legendary happenings are dealt with. Auld Lang Syne, and Comin' thru
the Rye, are examples of folk-songs.
There has been some difference of opinion as to whether a
song, the composer of which is known, can ever constitute a
real folk-song: recent writers seem to be taking the
sensible view of the matter, viz.: that if a song has the
characteristics of a folk- rather than an art-song, and if it
remains popular for some time among the common people, then it
is just as much a folk-song whether the composer happens to
be known or not.
175. A madrigal is a secular vocal composition having from three to
eight parts. It is in contrapuntal style, like the motet, and is usually
sung a capella.
176. A glee is a vocal composition in three or more parts, being
usually more simple in style than the madrigal, and sometimes having
more than one movement. The glee may be either gay or sad in mood, and
seems to be a composition peculiar to the English people.
177. A part-song is a composition for two or more voices, (usually
four) to be sung a capella. It is written in monophonic rather than in
polyphonic style, thus differing from the madrigal and glee. Morley's
Now is the Month of Maying is an example of the part-song, as is
also Sullivan's O Hush Thee, My Baby. The term part-song is often
loosely applied to glees, madrigals, etc.