Terms Relating To Vocal Music

161. An anthem is a sacred choral composition, usually based on

Biblical or liturgical[34] 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.[35] 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

musical considerations.

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,

runs, etc.

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.