MUSICAL TERMS GLOSSARY

Don't know a cadenza from a coda? The Madison Symphony Orchestra is pleased to provide the following musical glossary to help you understand terms used in our Program Notes and to enhance your overall concert experience.

accelerando - gradually get faster
adagio - slow
adagietto - a little faster than adagio
allegretto - moderately fast
allegro - fast
andante - moderately slow
andantino - a little quicker than andante
antiphonal - a method of performance in which one group answers another
arco - with the bow
arpeggio - tones of a chord played consecutively rather than simultaneously
assai - very quickly
attacca - move to the next movement without pause
bravura - brilliant and virtuoso-like
cadenza - section for solo instrument without orchestral accompaniment
canon - a melody stated in one instrument and repeated exactly in others, like a round
cantabile - in a singing manner
chromaticism - music built on consecutive half-steps
coda - concluding section of a work
coloratura - elaborate embellishment of vocal music
con brio - with life
con fuoco - with fury
con moto - with motion
contrapuntal - see counterpoint
counterpoint - two, three four or more melodic lines played at the same time
crescendo - get louder gradually
development - elaboration of musical materials
diminuendo - growing softer gradually
divertimento - a style of light instrumental music for chamber ensemble or soloist
dolce - sweetly
espressivo - with much expression
exposition - original statement of themes and/or melodies
forte - loud
fortissimo - very loud
fugato - a fugue-like passage
fugue - a composition in which the statement of the first theme is imitated a few measures later by another instrument and then becomes the harmony to the second voice; often four or five voices are used, thus creating a tight weave of harmony
gigue - or jig in English, a rapid, high-spirited dance
giocoso - joyous
glissando - sliding or bending the pitch
grave - very slowly
grazioso - graciously
lamentoso - sadly
larghetto - on the slow side
largo - very slow
lento - slow
leitmotif - musical themes that represent literary characters
maestoso - majestic
ma non troppo - not too much
marcia funebre - funeral march
melisma - a passage of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in Gregorian chant
menuetto - a French dance in triple meter, popular in the 17th and 18th centuries
moderato - moderately
motif - a short melodic or rhythmic figure that repeats as a unifying factor
nocturne - A musical composition that has a romantic or dreamy character with nocturnal associations
nottorno - nocturne, night piece
opera buffa - a comic opera
opera seria - a serious opera
ostinato - continuously repeated pattern
passacaglia - a melodic theme that repeats throughout the piece
passionato - passionately
pianissimo - very softly
piano - softly in volume
piu mosso - faster, more motion
pizzicato - plucking the strings with the fingers
polyphonic - several parts heard together
polyrhythmic - several rhythms played simultaneously
presto - extremely fast
program - instrumental music inspired by or depicting a story
recapitulation - restatement of the original theme, usually toward the end of a movement
ritardando - gradually slowing down
ritornello - a repeating instrumental passage
romanze - a lyrical, usually sentimental song
rondo - a form of music where ideas return in a regular pattern
scherzo - a light, quick and humorous piece or movement
sempre - always
sforzando - sudden accent
sonata allegro - a form of music where the themes are originally stated, developed and then restated
sostenuto - sustained
sotto voce - half-voice or quietly
staccato - short
subito - suddenly
syncopated - accented away from the normal strong beats
ternary - in three parts
toccata - a piece designed to display virtuosity
tremolo - quick repetition of the same note
triad - a three note chord
tutti - everyone, all
unison - the same note, the same melody
vivace - quick, lively