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recitative, recitative song crossword
Recitative /ˌrɛsɪtəˈtiːv/, also known by its Italian name "recitativo" retʃitaˈtiːvo is a style of delivery much used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms of ordinary speech Recitative does not repeat lines as formally composed songs do It resembles sung ordinary speech more than a formal musical composition

Recitative can be distinguished on a continuum from more speech-like to more musical The mostly syllabic recitativo secco "dry", accompanied only by continuo is at one end of a spectrum through recitativo accompagnato using orchestra, the more melismatic arioso, and finally the full-blown aria or ensemble, where the pulse is entirely governed by the music

The term recitative or occasionally liturgical recitative is also applied to the simpler formulas of Gregorian chant, such as the tones used for the Epistle, Gospel, preface and collects; see accentus


  • 1 Origins
  • 2 Secco
  • 3 Accompagnato or obbligato
  • 4 Post-Wagner uses
  • 5 Instrumental recitative
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links


The first use of recitative in opera was preceded by the monodies of the Florentine Camerata in which Vincenzo Galilei, father of the astronomer Galileo Galilei, played an important role The elder Galilei, influenced by his correspondence with Girolamo Mei on the writings of the ancient Greeks and with Erycius Puteanus on the writings of Hucbald1 and wishing to recreate the old manner of storytelling and drama, pioneered the use of a single melodic line to tell the story, accompanied by simple chords from a harpsichord or lute

In the baroque era, recitatives were commonly rehearsed on their own by the stage director, the singers frequently supplying their own favourite baggage arias which might be by a different composer some of Mozart's so-called concert arias fall into this category This division of labour persisted in some of Rossini's most famous works; the recitatives for The Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola were composed by assistants2


Secco recitative, popularized in Florence though the proto-opera music dramas of Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini during the late 16th century, formed the substance of Claudio Monteverdi's operas during the 17th century, and continued to be used into the Romantic era by such composers as Gaetano Donizetti, reappearing in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress It also influenced areas of music outside opera from the outset; the recitatives of Johann Sebastian Bach, found in his passions and cantatas, are especially notable

In the early operas and cantatas of the Florentine school, secco recitative was accompanied by a variety of instruments, mostly plucked strings including the chitarrone, often with an organ to provide sustained tone Later, in the operas of Vivaldi and Händel, the accompaniment was standardised as a harpsichord and a bass viol or violoncello When the harpsichord went out of use in the early 19th century, many opera-houses did not replace it with a piano; instead the violoncello was left to carry on alone or with reinforcement from a double bass A 1919 recording of Rossini's Barber of Seville, issued by Italian HMV, gives a unique glimpse of this technique in action, as do cello methods of the period and some scores of Meyerbeer There are examples of the revival of the harpsichord for this purpose as early as the 1890s eg by Hans Richter for a production of Mozart's Don Giovanni at the London Royal Opera House, the instrument being supplied by Arnold Dolmetsch, but it was not until the 1950s that the 18th-century method was consistently observed once more

Accompagnato or obbligatoedit

Accompanied recitative, known as accompagnato or stromentato, employs the orchestra as an accompanying body As a result, it is less improvisational and declamatory than recitativo secco, and more song-like This form is often employed where the orchestra can underscore a particularly dramatic text, as in Thus saith the Lord from Händel's Messiah; Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were also fond of it A more inward intensification calls for an arioso; the opening of Comfort ye from the same work is a famous example, while the ending of it "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness" is secco

Sometimes a distinction is made between the more dramatic, expressive, or interjecting orchestral recitative recitativo obbligato or stromentato and a more passive and sustained accompanied recitative recitativo accompagnato3

Post-Wagner usesedit

Later operas, under the influence of Richard Wagner, favored through-composition, where recitatives, arias, choruses and other elements were seamlessly interwoven into a whole Many of Wagner's operas employ sections which are analogous to accompanied recitative

Recitative is also occasionally used in musicals, being put to ironic use in the finale of Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera It also appears in Carousel and Of Thee I Sing

George Gershwin used it in his opera Porgy and Bess, though sometimes the recitative in that work is changed to spoken dialogue Porgy and Bess has also been staged as a musical rather than as an opera

Instrumental recitativeedit

Recitative has also sometimes been used to refer to parts of purely instrumental works which resemble vocal recitatives One of the earliest examples is found in the slow movement of Vivaldi's violin concerto in D, RV 208 which is marked 'Recitative', although it is perhaps more virtuosic and flashy than most operatic recitative C P E Bach included instrumental recitative in his "Prussian" piano sonatas of 1742, composed at Frederick the Great's court in Berlin In 1761, Joseph Haydn took his post at Esterhazy Palace and soon after composed his Symphony No 7 "Le Midi" in concertante style ie with soloists In the second movement of that work, the violinist is the soloist in an instrumental recitative

Ludwig van Beethoven used the instrumental recitative in at least three works, including Piano Sonata No 17 The Tempest, Piano Sonata No 31, and perhaps most famously in the opening section of the Finale of his Ninth Symphony Here, Beethoven inscribed on the score in French "In the manner of a recitative, but in tempo" Leon Plantinga argues that the second movement of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto is also an instrumental recitative,4 although Owen Jander interprets it as a dialogue5 Other Romantic composers to employ instrumental recitative include Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov who composed a lyrical, virtuosic recitative for solo violin with harp accompaniment to represent the title character in his orchestral Scheherazade and Hector Berlioz whose choral symphony Roméo et Juliette contains a trombone recitative as part of its Introduction

Arnold Schoenberg labeled the last of his Five Pieces for Orchestra, Op 16, as "Das obligate Rezitativ" English: "The obbligato recitative", and also composed a piece for organ, Variations on a Recitative, Op 40 Other examples of instrumental recitative in twentieth century music include the third movement of Douglas Moore's Quintet for Clarinet and Strings 1946, the first of Richard Rodney Bennett's Five Impromptus for guitar 1968, the opening section of the last movement of Benjamin Britten's String Quartet No 3 1975, and the second of William Bolcom's 12 New Etudes for Piano 1977–86

See alsoedit

  • Melodrama
  • "Recitatif", a short story formatted after a recitative
  • Spoken word
  • Sprechgesang
  • Vocalese


  1. ^ Hope 1894, p 
  2. ^ Gossett 2006, p 249
  3. ^ "Orchestral recitative" In L Root, Deane Grove Music Online Oxford Music Online Oxford University Press  subscription required
  4. ^ Plantinga 1996, p 186
  5. ^ Jander 1985, pp 195–212
  • Gossett, Philip 2006, Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera, Chicago: University of Chicagho Press ISBN 9780226304885
  • Hope, Robert C 1894, Mediaeval Music: An Historical Sketch, Elliott Stock, 1894; Pranava Books, 2013 ISBN 978-1-40868-650-8
  • Jander, Owen 1985, "Beethoven's 'Orpheus in Hades': The Andante con moto of the Fourth Piano Concerto", in 19th-Century Music Vol 8, No 3 Spring 1985
  • Plantinga, Leon 1999, Beethoven's Concertos: History, Style, Performance, New York: W W Norton & Company, Inc ISBN 0-393-04691-5

External linksedit

  • Hirt, Aindrias Andy,"The Connection Between Fenian Lays, Liturgical Chant, Recitative, and Dán Díreach: a Pre-Medieval Narrative Song Tradition" on otagoacademiaedu

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