Song cycle

Collection of songs ordered in such a way as to convey at least the outline of a story or idea.

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Parlor song

So called because of its perferred place of performance in the 19th-century home, a ttype of song whose texts are invariably strophic and sentimental and whose music is melodically and harmonically straightforward.


French for “melody,” also used for the genre of song in France from the 19th century onward.

Die schone Mullerin

“The Beautiful Daughter of the Miller,” composed by Schubert is a series of 20 songs that tell the story of a journeyman miller who falls inlove with his master’s daughter but is spurned and commits suicide.

Character piece

Brief work for solo piano that seeks to portray the mood or “character” of a particular person, idea, situation. or emotion. These are sometimes specified, sometimes not. The character piece, which first appeared in the 19th century, tends to  be brief, sectional, and fairly simple in construction.

Lieder ohne Worte

Composed by Fanny Mendelssohn, a “Song without Words” written for piano, violin, and cello. The melody conforms to a poetic meter, trochaic tetrameter. Uses a modified strophic form.


Composed by Schumann, is a cycle of character pieces linked by a common theme of the Carnival. Many of the movements contain elements of intrigue, impersonation, excess, and nonsense. The entire cycle is based on a riddle, whoses key is given in the movement “Sphinxes.”


A polish peasant dance in triple meter, often with the accent on the second or third beat; also a type of character piece based on this metric patter.


Narrative poem, often set to music in the 19th century. Instrumental work that reflects the narrative character of its poetic counterparts.


a slow dance of Polish origin in triple time, consisting chiefly of an intricate march or procession

Tempo rubato

Literally, “robbed time“; practice of performing with subtle accelerations and decelerations of tempo not otherwise indicated in a score.

Etudes d’execution transcendante

Liszt wrote many etudes including the named set that require a technique transcending the ordinary.

Symphonic poem

Term coined by Liszt in 1854 to replace the generic name of what had previously been called the concert overture that would later develop into a distinct work of its own. Typically a one movement work for orchestra with some programmatic element.

Don Juan

Symphonic poem based on a poem by Nicholas Lenau and composed by Strauss.

Das lied von der Erde

“The Song of the Earth” is a symphonic song cycle for tenor and alto based on a German translation of Chinese poetry composed by Mahler.


artistic movt. of the eary 20th century that emphasized novelty at almost any cost, based on conviction that the New must be as different as possible from the old. Modernism in music frequently involved a rection of tonality, conventional forms, and established genres.


Musical style that flouridhed in the period 1890-1920, associated with the French composer Debussey and characterized by a blurring of distinct harmonies, rhythms, timbres, and forms.

Quartal harmony

Chords built on the interval of a 4th instead of a 3rd.

“mystic” chord

Promoted by Scriabin to give music an unusual ethereal tone. Consits of augmented and diminished 4th.

Octotonic scale

Scale that alternates between half and whole steps and contains within itself all possible intervals, from the minor 2nd to the major 7th.

Whole tone scale

Scale of 6 notes, each a whole tone apart.

The Unanswered Question

Programmatic orchestral work of Ives that demonstrates the conflict btwn. traditional and nontraditional harmonies.


aesthetic movt. of all the arts of the 20th cent. that conciously avoided the cultivated traditions of Western art. In music it gave importance to rhythmn the most basic elemnt of music and abandoned concepts like voiceleading, triadic harmony, and the Major and Minor forms of the diatonic scale.

Sergei Diagheliv

a producer an impresario of 20th century music that assembled teams of artists that he used to cultivate different styles of dance as he abandined the classical traditions for a more athletic style.


Musical nationalism was driven by a desire to assert cultural identity through a musical idiom connected to the people.


a pedagogical work written by Bartok. A set of 153 progressive works influenced by his work as a collector of traditional musics.


Melodic and harmonic idiom first cultovated in the early decades of the 20th century, characterized by the abscence of a tonal center.


Literally, “speech-voice” understood here in the sense of singing. A style of vocal declamation that lies midway btwn. speech and song, cultivated particularly in the early 19th century by composers like Berg.


Broad artistic movt. of the early 20th cent. that sought to give voice to the unconcious.

Pierrot Lunaire

a groupon 21 poems set music by schienburg for the soprano Albertine Zehme. One of the most widely admired works of musical expressionism an earliest atonal work to gain a wide following.

Set theory

A system proposed by Allen Forte for identifying and clarifying the relationship of the relatively small units that together provide the building blocks for a typical atonal composition.


From the Greek “dodeca” meaning 12. A method of serial compostion based on a series/row of 12 pitches drawn from the chromatic octave.


Style that emerged in the 1910’s and 20’s charaterized by a return to the tonal idiom, conventional genres and forms, the ideal of absolute music, consciseness of expression, and tendency toward transparent textures, light orchestration, and small ensembles.


is a word, phrase, number, or other sequence of characters which reads the same backward or forward.


Quality of cerain 12-tone rows in which the hexachord of a row can be combined with one of the hexachords of an I, R, or IR form of the same row without producing duplicate pitches.

integral serialism

System of serial compostion in which elements beyond pitch like rhythmn and dynamics are also subjected to serial treatment.

aleatory music

From the Latin “alea”, music of chance, leaving one or more elements of performance to randomly determined or indeterminate circumstances such as the roll of a die, sounds that happen to be present at the given moment, or actions determined at the whim of the performer.

musique concrete

French term for “concrete music,” used to denote music in which the sonic material to be manipulated is a recorded sound taken from everyday life. Also known as electroacoustic music.


Artistic movt. that emerged in the early 1960’s, relying on multiple repitions of small units that differ only slightly or are varied only gradually over long stretches of time.


Aesthetic attitude that emerged in the last third of the 20th cent., embracing the past (including modernism) but often in an eclectic manner, synthesizing a variety of approaches in a single work. Composered felt obligied neither to avoid to avoid nor use tonality or atonality, conventional forms, and established genres.