Classical Music

  1. Symphony literally means "a sounding together"; in the Baroque era, the word was often used to denote an overture to an opera, or instrumental sections within a vocal work. Since Haydn wrote his 104 symphonies, the word has come to mean an orchestral work of considerable length and weight, most often in three or four movements.
  2. A movement is a major, usually self-contained, unit of a larger work. The name probably derives from the fact that each different section usually has a different tempo marking, indicating its speed of progression.
  3. A concerto is an extended work for one or more solo instruments and orchestra, usually in three movements. Sometimes composers use this title for solo or purely orchestral pieces, when the intended effect is to mimic the scope and focus of a genuine concerto.
  4. There are basically two types of operas—comic operas and dramatic operas. Comic operas are just that—operas with a comic element to laugh at. In a comic opera virtually nobody dies. A dramatic opera is a serious tragedy where most of the leading characters are dead at the end.
  5. A melody is a succession of notes, varying in pitch and having a recognizable musical shape. A theme is a melody that forms a building block of a musical piece. Usually the composer will make sure listeners knows that it's a theme by repeating it, sometimes exactly, sometimes changed or developed. Themes can do a lot of wandering, but if you listen intently, your ear can follow them through any and all permutations. Better still, you'll be able to recognize and welcome each reappearance of a theme, just as you might greet a returning friend. Variations are what we call those changes to the basic melody.
  6. To understand the concept of rhythm, think of it like it's the pulse of the music: It creates the beat of the tom-tom and the ticking of the clock. Meter is essentially the regular appearance of a beat.
  7. The focal point of a melody, the center around which the tune flows, and usually the note on which it ends, is called the tonic. It's also the first degree, or keynote, of the scale in which it's written: A in the key of A Major or A minor, B in B Major or B minor, etc. The tune may wander far from that tonic note, but eventually it returns there, giving us a satisfying feeling of resolution, a comfortable "welcome home" after a long journey.
  8. A chromatic scale is a scale based on an octave of 12 semitones, as opposed to a seven-note diatonic scale. A major scale is one built on the following sequence of intervals: T-T-D-T-T-T-S where T=tone and S=semitone. A minor scale is built on the following sequence of intervals: T-S-T-T-S-T-T.
  9. There are four families of orchestral instruments: strings, winds, brass, and percussion.
  10. opranos are the highest of female voices, mezzo-sopranos the middle, and altos the lowest.
  11. Tenors are the highest of the male voices, baritones the middle, and basses the lowest.
  12. A cadenza is a solo vocal or instrumental section interpolated into a longer piece of music, usually to enable the soloist a display of virtuosity. Most concertos have a cadenza just before the end of the first movement, and sometimes the second movement as well.
  13. The conductor is the most important person in an orchestra: He or she keeps everyone playing at the right time and in the right way.
  14. The music of the Baroque period is characterized by a formal structure and an ornate and embellished texture.
  15. During the Romantic period, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love of humanity or homeland, all found their way into musical expression.

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