In ancient Greek music, the basic unit of analysis. A series of four notes, bounded by the interval of a perfect fourth.
Greater Perfect System
The two octave span comprised of four tetrachords, with an added note at the bottom. Base of the Ancient Greek modes.
Gregorian Chant
Church music sung as a single vocal line in free rhythm and a restricted scale (plainsong), in a style developed for the medieval Latin liturgy.
Mass Proper
Introit, Gradual, Alleluia/Tract, Sequence, Offertory, Communion. Scriptural texts that change daily with the liturgical calendar.
Mass Ordinary
Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei. Text remains the same for every mass.
The Divine Office
The cycle of daily worship services, other than mass.
Church Modes
Also called Gregorian modes. Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Hypodorian, Hypophrygian, Hypolydian, Hypomixolydian.
A system of associating each note of a scale with a particular syllable, especially to teach singing.
A short sentence sung or recited before or after a psalm or canticle. Typically by alternating choirs (antiphonal).
A French medieval lyric poet composing and singing in Provencal in the 11th to 13th centuries, especially on the theme of courtly love.
Occitan female troubadours of the 12th and 13th centuries, active from around 1170 to approximately 1260.
A German lyric poet and singer of the 12th–14th centuries who performed songs of courtly love.
(in medieval music) A form of early polyphony based on an existing plainsong.
Magnus liber organi
A compilation of the medieval music known as organum. Attributed to the masters of the Notre Dame school of music during the 12th and 13th centuries, most notably Leonin and Perotin.
A highly varied choral musical composition. One of the pre-eminent polyphonic forms of Renaissance music.
Rhythmic Modes

Long-short (trochee)

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Short-long (iamb)

Long-short-short (dactyl)

Short-short-long (anapaest)

Long-long (spondee)

Short-short-short (tribrach)

Ars nova
A period of musical flowering in 14th century France. Also title of treatise by Phillipe de Vitry, promoting “New Art.”
A musical technique that arranges a fixed pattern of pitches with a repeating rhythmic pattern.
Ars subtilior
A musical style characterized by rhythmic and notational complexity, centered on Paris, Avignon in southern France, also in northern Spain at the end of the fourteenth century.
Paralleled the achievements in the other arts in many ways, for example, in pioneering new forms of expression, especially in secular song in the vernacular language, Italian. 1300s
Squarcialupi codex
An illuminated manuscript compiled in Florence, Italy in the early 15th century. It is the single largest primary source of music of the 14th-century Italian Trecento
A spasmodic or interrupted effect in medieval and contemporary music, produced by dividing a melody between two parts, notes in one part coinciding with rests in the other.
Contenance angloise
A distinctive style of polyphony developed in fifteenth-century England. It used full, rich harmonies based on the third and sixth. It was highly influential in the fashionable Burgundian court of Philip the Good and as a result on European music of the era in general.
French for false bass – a technique of musical harmonisation used in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, particularly by composers of the Burgundian School.
Les Six
Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honegger, Georges Auric, Louis Durey, and Germaine Tailleferre. Music represents a strong reaction to Wagner and Strauss’ lush orchestration and chromaticism.
Concerto Grosso
A musical composition for a group of solo instruments (concertino) accompanied by an orchestra (ripieno). The term is used mainly of baroque works.
A work or movement, often the last movement of a sonata, having one principal subject that is stated at least three times in the same key and to which return is made after the introduction of each subordinate theme.
A medium-length narrative piece of music for voices with instrumental accompaniment, typically with solos, chorus, and orchestra.
A large-scale musical work for orchestra and voices, typically a narrative on a religious theme, performed without the use of costumes, scenery, or action.
Opera seria
An opera, typically one of the 18th century in Italian, on a serious, usually classical or mythological theme.
Opera comique
An opera on a lighthearted theme, typically in French and with spoken dialogue.
Opera buffa

A comic opera, typically in Italian, especially one with characters drawn from everyday life.


A musical composition (or part of one) consisting of or resembling a harmonized version of a simple, stately hymn tune.
A short instrumental refrain or interlude in a vocal work.
A French song.
A short connecting instrumental movement in an opera or other musical work.
A style of dramatic vocalization intermediate between speech and song.
English or Italian songs of the late 16th and early 17th c., in a free style strongly influenced by the text.
A form of Italian comic or amorous song, especially from the 15th and 16th centuries.
Choral composition with English words, used in Anglican and other English-speaking church services.
Musica ficta
(in early contrapuntal music) the introduction by a performer of sharps, flats, or other accidentals to avoid unacceptable intervals.
Basso continuo
(in baroque music) an accompanying part that includes a bass line and harmonies, typically played on a keyboard instrument and with other instruments such as cello or bass viol.
Style brise
A general term for irregular arpeggiated texture in instrumental music of the Baroque period. It is commonly used in discussion of music for lute, keyboard instruments, or the viol.
The French term for ornament or embellishment.
Sonata da chiesa
(Italian for church sonata) is an instrumental composition dating from the Baroque period, generally consisting of four movements.
Sonata da camera
‘chamber sonata’ and is used to describe a group of instrumental pieces set into three or four different movements, beginning with a prelude, or small sonata, acting as an introduction for the following movements.
Basso ostinato
A type of variation form in which a bass line, or harmonic pattern (see Chaconne; also common in Elizabethan England as Grounde) is repeated as the basis of a piece underneath variations.
An elaborate instrumental composition in fugal or canonic style, typically of the 16th to 18th centuries.
A style of musical composition and poetry developed in 18th-century Germany, intended to express “true and natural” feelings, and featuring sudden contrasts of mood. “Tender/Sensitive Style”
Aria da capo
A musical form that was prevalent in the Baroque era. It is sung by a soloist with the accompaniment of instruments, often a small orchestra.
Concerto delle donne
A type of virtuosic professional female vocal ensemble that flourished in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Absolute music
Music that is not explicitly “about” anything; in contrast to program music, it is non-representational.
Program music
Music that is intended to evoke images or convey the impression of events.
Character piece
A calque of the German Charakterstuck, a term, not very precisely defined, used for a broad range of 19th century piano music based on a single idea or program.
Idee fixe
An idea or desire that dominates the mind; an obsession.
Bel canto
A lyrical style of operatic singing using a full rich broad tone and smooth phrasing.

A simple aria with a repetitive rhythm.


A short operatic aria in simple style without repeated sections.
A play interspersed with songs and orchestral music accompanying the action.
Total work of art, ideal work of art, universal artwork, synthesis of the arts, comprehensive artwork, all-embracing art form or total artwork) is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so.
A recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.
Symphonic poem
A piece of orchestral music, usually in a single continuous movement, which illustrates or evokes the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other (non-musical) source.
Realism in the arts, especially late 19th-century Italian opera.
An American form of entertainment developed in the 19th century. It was a form of entertainment that required payment to attend.
Orchestral Song
A late romantic genre of classical music for solo voices and orchestra.
A short opera, usually on a light or humorous theme and typically having spoken dialogue.
The increasing use of pentatonic (“black-key scale”) techniques in nineteenth-century Western art-music.
A style of painting, music, or drama in which the artist or writer seeks to express emotional experience rather than impressions of the external world.
Music that lacks a tonal center, or key.
12-tone Serialism
a method of musical composition devised by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) and associated with the “Second Viennese School” composers, who were the primary users of the technique in the first decades of its existence. The technique is a means of ensuring that all 12 notes of the chromatic scale are sounded as often as one another in a piece of music while preventing the emphasis of any one note[3] through the use of tone rows, orderings of the 12 pitch classes.
A musical technique that involves splitting a musical line or melody between several instruments, rather than assigning it to just one instrument (or set of instruments), thereby adding color (timbre) and texture to the melodic line.
The revival of a classical style or treatment in art, literature, architecture, or music.
The simultaneous use of two or more keys in a musical composition.
Socialist Realism
The theory of art, literature, and music officially sanctioned by the state in some communist countries (especially in the Soviet Union under Stalin), by which artistic work was supposed to reflect and promote the ideals of a socialist society.
“utility music,” for music that exists not only for its own sake, but which was composed for some specific, identifiable purpose.
Darmstadt School
Refers to a group of composers who attended the Darmstadt International Summer Courses for New Music from the early 1950s to the early 1960s in Darmstadt, Germany.
Musique Concrete
Music constructed by mixing recorded sounds, first developed by experimental composers in the 1940s.
“the ability of a piece to be performed in substantially different ways” John Cage
An avant-garde movement in music characterized by the repetition of very short phrases that change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect.
The group of composers that comprised Arnold Schoenberg and his pupils and close associates in early 20th century Vienna, where he lived and taught, sporadically, between 1903 and 1925. Alban Berg, Anton Webern.
The Mighty Handful
Cesar Cui, Aleksandr Borodin, Mily Balakirev, Modest Mussorgsky, and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. The Five, who in the 1860s banded together in an attempt to create a truly national school of Russian music, free of the stifling influence of Italian opera, German lieder, and other western European forms.
Heilegenstadt Testament
A letter written by Ludwig van Beethoven to his brothers Carl and Johann at Heiligenstadt (today part of Vienna) on 6 October 1802.
Council of Trent
Held between 1545 and 1563 in Trento (Trent) and Bologna, northern Italy, was one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most important ecumenical councils. Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, it has been described as the embodiment of the Counter-Reformation.
Le nouve musiche
A collection of monodies and songs for solo voice and basso continuo by the composer Giulio Caccini, published in Florence in July 1602.
Cori spezzati
A commonly encountered term for the separated choirs.
An ode sung by a single actor in a Greek tragedy.
Seconda prattica
Literally “second practice”, is the counterpart to prima pratica and is more commonly referred to as Stile moderno. Coined by Claudio Monteverdi to distance his music from that of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Gioseffo Zarlino, and describes early music of the Baroque period which encouraged more freedom from the rigorous limitations of dissonances and counterpoint characteristic of the prima pratica.
A musical composition for a solo instrument or instruments accompanied by an orchestra, especially one conceived on a relatively large scale.
Tragedie en musique
A genre of French opera introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lully and used by his followers until the second half of the eighteenth century.
French ouverture
A musical form widely used in the Baroque period. Its basic formal division is into two parts, which are usually enclosed by double bars and repeat signs.
A Spanish traditional form of musical comedy.
of, relating to, or denoting a light and elegant style of 18th-century music.
An elaborate musical composition for full orchestra, typically in four movements, at least one of which is traditionally in sonata form.
Mannheim School
Refers to both the orchestral techniques pioneered by the court orchestra of Mannheim in the latter half of the 18th century as well as the group of composers who wrote such music for the orchestra of Mannheim and others.
Sturm und Drang
A literary and artistic movement in Germany in the late 18th century, influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and characterized by the expression of emotional unrest and a rejection of neoclassical literary norms.