This glossary focuses on musical terms but also includes a few expressions frequently used in the text for government officials, religious concepts, and the like. The definitions given here are simplified and apply chiefly to usage of each expression as it relates to Bach’s music; for further information see the Oxford Dictionary of Music, Grove, or another general musical reference work.
ABA form, see Ternary form.
Adagio, Italian, literally “slow” or “unhurried,” in early Baroque scores often designating slow passages that can be performed with freedom (including improvised embellishments); during Bach’s lifetime increasingly used as a tempo mark for entire slow movements, by extension referring to slow movements as such.
Advent, the period preceding Christmas, beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas; a penitential season during which many churches in Bach’s day (including those at Leipzig) dispensed with elaborate music.
Affekt, German, “affect” (feeling or emotion); an expressive character such as “rage,” “grief,” or the like that prevails throughout an aria or instrumental movement, indicated by conventional musical symbols.
Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God,” last of the five parts of the Ordinary of the mass.
Alla breve, a time signature denoting a measure of two half notes, and by extension a composition so notated; in Bach’s day also used to designate music in an archaic style imitating that of Palestrina and other sixteenth-century composers.
Allemande, a French dance in common time and moderate tempo, one of the four dance types most commonly found as a movement in German keyboard suites.
Alt-Bachisches Archiv, see Old Bach Archive.
Ancien régime, the monarchical system of government prevalent in Europe until after the French Revolution (17891799).
Appoggiatura, a melodic ornament consisting of an accented note (often dissonant) preceding another consonant note which is played or sung less loudly; in France called port de voix, in Baroque Germany sometimes Accent.
Aria, an elaborate setting of a brief poem, often with extensive repetitions of music and text and incorporating instrumental passages (ritornellos), in Bach’s day used for duets and choruses as well as settings of this type of poem for solo voices; an older usage, still found occasionally with Bach, was for a short melody (often a dance in binary form) that was the basis for a series of variations.
Arioso, a relatively elaborate style of recitative approaching that of an aria.
Arpeggio, a broken chord, that is, notes of a single harmony played consecutively rather than simultaneously; a common form of figuration or passagework. An arpeggiando piece or passage is one composed mainly of arpeggios.
Audition, a formal test of a musician’s abilities, usually undertaken before a jury of experts; in Bach’s day organ auditions (also called “tests,” Proben) might include public demonstrations not only of organ playing but of composition and improvisation.
Augmentation (rhythmic), in Bach’s contrapuntal music, the restatement of a subject in double the original note values (i.e., at half the original speed).
Autograph, literally “self-written,” properly an adjective describing a manuscript partly or entirely in the hand of the author; by extension, such a manuscript itself. The modern use, to refer to a signature, is derived from the original meaning.
B-A-C-H, the letters of Bach’s last name understood as representing musical pitches in German nomenclature, that is, B-flat, A, C, and B-natural; occasionally employed as a motive in music by Bach and other composers.
Bar, in music, a vertical line dividing one measure from the next; by extension, the measure itself (especially in British English); see also Double bar.
Basso continuo, instrument or group of instruments furnishing the bass as well as improvised harmonies (chords), used in nearly all music for ensembles from around 1600 until the late eighteenth century (continuing well afterward in recitative and sacred music). The expression is often shortened to “continuo,” as in many of Bach’s scores; copies of the continuo part could be provided for players of cello, double bass (violone), bassoon, harpsichord, and organ. A fully notated continuo part takes the form of a figured bass (q.v.).
Bicinia, originally a composition for two voices without accompaniment; used for passages in an organ work of similar texture.
Binary form, a musical design comprising two sections, each of which is immediately repeated; used especially in instrumental music, especially the dance movements of a suite. See also Rounded binary form.
Bipartite, said of a musical design comprising two contrasting sections, used in this book for an aria whose text consist of two distinct sections set to different music.
Bourrée, lively French Baroque dance in duple meter.
Brisé, a musical texture (or the notation for it) found especially in French Baroque music for harpsichord or lute, in which details of the arpeggiation of chords are precisely written out.
Burgomaster, elected city official, corresponding roughly to mayor.
BWV, abbreviation for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, the thematic catalogue of Bach’s works first published in 1950 by Wolfgang Schmieder and subsequently revised; numbers from this catalogue are a standard way of referring to individual compositions, like opus numbers for other composers.
Cadence, a formal ending or conclusion to a musical phrase or section, especially as articulated by a pause in a melodic line coinciding with certain types of harmonic progressions; see also Deceptive cadence, Half cadence.
Cadenza, Italian for cadence, used in English for a cadence that is embellished extemporaneously by a vocal or instrumental soloist, especially at the end of an aria or concerto movement; by extension, any free or quasi-improvisational passage for a soloist.
Calvinism, Protestant denomination founded by John Calvin (15091564), more properly described as “Reformed”; distinguished doctrinally from Lutheranism by belief in “double” predestination to either damnation or salvation, liturgically by avoidance of elaborate music during worship.
Canon, a composition (or section of a composition) containing exact imitation between two or more parts; see also Perpetual, Puzzle canon.
Cantabile, Italian, “singing” or singable, used especially to describe instrumental parts or movements that are somehow vocal in character.
Cantata, originally a work with an Italian text for solo voice and one more instruments, now used for various types of multi-movement compositions for voices with instruments, including both sacred and secular works by Bach.
Cantor, originally Latin (“singer”), in Bach’s day a schoolteacher responsible for instructing boys in the rudiments of music so that they could lead congregations in the singing of chorales (hymns).
Cantus firmus, Latin (“fixed song”), a borrowed melody incorporated into a polyphonic composition, in Bach’s music typically a chorale melody used as the basis of a chorus or an organ piece.
Capelle, used in modern German (as Kapelle) to refer to a dance band, in Bach’s day closer to its original literal meaning of “chapel,” that is, the musical personnel of a church or court.
Capellmeister, literally, chapel master; in Bach’s day, the highest-ranking member of a court’s or church’s musical personnel, from Italian maestro di capella; Kapellmeister in modern German.
Capriccio, either a multisectional contrapuntal keyboard piece or an extended cadenza for a soloist in a concerto.
Chaconne, originally a French Baroque dance in triple meter, apparently derived from the Italian ciacona; now used for any piece composed as variations on an ostinato, although not all chaconnes originally took that form; see also Passacaglia.
Chalumeau, single-reed woodwind instrument invented in the late seventeenth century, used especially by Telemann; the word is now used for the low register of the clarinet, an instrument that was developed from the chalumeau ca. 1720.
Chamber pitch (Kammerton), a pitch standard introduced in France during the later seventeenth century and used especially for chamber music at German courts during Bach’s lifetime, most often about a whole tone below choir pitch.
Chant, a type of sacred melody for unaccompanied voice(s), originally sung monophonically (without harmony) but in Bach’s day often harmonized extemporaneously. Today the most familiar type is the liturgical chant of the Roman Catholic church, called “Gregorian” after its supposed originator St. Gregory the Great, but the word can also be applied to various types of sung elements of Protestant worship.
Choir pitch (Chorton), a pitch standard used for church music in Germany during Bach’s lifetime, ranging from a half step below to somewhat above modern pitch.
Chorale, a Lutheran hymn (q.v.); see also Chorale aria (etc.) below.
Chorale aria, an aria incorporating a chorale melody as cantus firmus; the latter may be sung to its own words (distinct from those of the aria) or played instrumentally.
Chorale cantata, among Bach’s works, one in several movements whose text is based at least partly on a single chorale, the melody of which is also incorporated into at least the opening and closing movements.
Chorale fantasia, any of several types of extended compositions based on a single chorale melody; the expression is applied especially to certain large organ pieces and to the opening choruses in most of Bach’s chorale cantatas.
Chorale fugue, an organ fugue whose principal subject is derived from the opening phrase of a chorale melody.
Chorale motet, a keyboard piece that develops contrapuntally the successive phrases of a chorale melody (a variety of chorale fantasia).
Chorale prelude, a relatively short keyboard piece based on a chorale melody, which typically is presented integrally, as a cantus firmus.
Chorale trio, an organ piece played on two manuals and pedals, incorporating a chorale melody either as a cantus firmus played on one of the keyboards or as the basis for free development.
Chromatic, said of melodic lines, harmonic progressions, or modulations that juxtapose altered forms of the same pitch (such as C-natural and C-sharp); often used in Baroque vocal music to represent agitation, fear, or another “negative” affect.
Church piece (German Kirchenstück), eighteenth-century term sometimes used for Bach’s sacred cantatas.
Church year, the annual cycle of occasions for worship, naming the saint or theological principle that is the subject of readings, hymns, and sermons on each day; Luther revised the medieval Roman Catholic church year for Protestant use.
Clavichord, a stringed keyboard instrument on which the keys are attached to metal fixtures (called tangents) that both strike the strings and define their sounding length, thus determining pitch; the player therefore has control of dynamics (loudness) and can also produce a sort of vibrato (called Bebung). The mechanism made it possible to build inexpensive instruments on which each string could be used for as many as four notes, but this limited the usefulness of the clavichord for complex music such as Bach’s. Clavichords were in use throughout Bach’s life, but he never composed specifically for them, and only toward the end of his life were large, so-called unfretted, clavichords widely available with separate strings for every note.
Clavier, German (Clavier), in Bach’s day referring to any musical keyboard, in modern German (as Klavier) more specifically the piano.
Collegium musicum, Latin, literally “musical assembly,” at first an informal gathering of amateur musicians, for Bach an organization of both students and professionals that gave regularly scheduled concerts and also participated in civic events.
Concertato, Italian (“concerted”), used in Bach’s day to describe a soloist’s part in an instrumental or vocal work, now sometimes applied to any composition that includes soloists alongside a larger ensemble.
Concertist, one of the principal singers or players in an ensemble.
Concerto, Italian, originally meaning any ensemble or concert, now used in English to refer to a composition for one or more solo instruments together with an orchestra or other larger ensemble. In Bach’s day the “larger ensemble” might comprise only a handful of other instruments, or none at all (as in keyboard pieces that imitated orchestral concertos). The word was also still used, as in the earlier Baroque, for any large instrumental composition, with or without soloists, or even a work combining voices and instruments; Bach headed a few of his cantatas with the title Concerto.
Concerto grosso, Italian, literally “big concert,” originally used for certain concertos that resemble trio sonatas to which ripieno parts were added, now sometimes anachronistically for any concerto with multiple soloists.
Concerted music, modern term for elaborate church music, such as Bach’s cantatas.
Concertmaster, from German Konzertmeister, today the principal violinist in an ensemble (British “leader”), in Bach’s day used for the member of a Capelle ranking under the Capellmeister, typically responsible for training or rehearsing the instrumentalists.
Consistory, church administration, in Bach’s day headed by officials appointed by the local ruler and exercising substantial legal and judicial powers.
Consonance, a stable interval or chord (harmony); the term is often used in antithesis to dissonance.
Continuo, see Basso continuo.
Corrente, Italian form of the courante, usually livelier than the latter and lacking its hemiolas.
Counterpoint, the simultaneous combination of independent melodic lines; the adjectival form is contrapuntal. See also Texture.
Countersubject, in a fugue, a melodic line that regularly accompanies the subject, distinct from a second subject in that it is introduced together with the principal (first) subject rather than in an exposition of its own.
Courante, French Baroque dance, originally quick but later moderate in tempo, in triple or compound duple meter (often alternating between the two, thus characterized by hemiolas).
Court, the personnel and institutions surrounding a ruler.
Credo, Latin (“I believe”), the third section in the Ordinary of the mass, comprising a statement of articles of faith.
Crucifixus, the section of the Credo that recounts the crucifixion of Jesus.
Da capo, Italian, literally “from the top (head),” used to describe arias in ternary form.
D’amore, Italian, literally “of love,” used for alto versions of several instruments, especially the oboe; see also Viola d’amore.
Deceptive cadence, a cadence that ends on an unexpected chord or bass note, typically used to avoid a firm ending and hence to extend a phrase or section of a composition.
Diminution (rhythmic), the restatement of a subject in half its original note values (i.e., at twice the original speed).
Dissonance, literally “bad sound,” an unstable interval or chord (harmony) that requires resolution in a consonance, in vocal music often used to create expressive tension on an affective word.
Dominant, modern term for the chord or tonality built on the fifth degree of a scale; thus G is the dominant of C, and a dominant chord typically precedes a tonic chord in a final cadence.
Dorian, originally an ancient Greek tribe or their dialect of the ancient Greek language, later one of the eight church modes, with scale on D; today used anachronistically for Baroque pieces in the minor mode whose key signature lacks one of the flats now considered normal.
Dotted rhythm, alternating long and short notes; so called from the notation, which consists of a long note followed by a dot, then a smaller undotted note (e.g., dotted quarter, eighth). Dotted rhythms characterize certain types of pieces, especially the opening section of a French overture.
Double bar, in musical notation, two vertical lines signifying the end of a section, especially in the middle of a binary form, where the addition of dots on either side of the double bar indicates that each section is to be repeated.
Double bass, a bowed string instrument roughly twice the size of and sounding an octave lower than a cello or bass viola da gamba, in Baroque music often designated violone.
Double fugue, a fugue with two subjects; the term is sometimes used for any fugue that incorporates a countersubject, but it is more usefully confined to fugues in which a second subject is introduced in an exposition of its own, then combined with the first subject.
Echo, in keyboard music, a phrase or passage that is immediately repeated at a lower (quieter) dynamic level.
Einbau, German (literally “installation” or “integration”), the contrapuntal combination of a ritornello with subsequently introduced music for one or more voices or solo instruments; an important structural feature in many of Bach’s arias, choruses, and concerto movements.
Elector, originally one of seven high-ranking rulers within the Holy Roman Empire who (in theory) elected the emperor. During Bach’s lifetime their number was eight, later nine; they included the electors of Saxony and Brandenburg.
Embellishment, used in this book for melodic decoration that is sufficiently elaborate that it must be written out in notes instead of indicated by symbols; see also Ornamentation.
Empfindsam, German (literally “sensitive,” “sentimental”), modern term for a highly expressive version of the galant style associated especially with C. P. E. Bach.
Entrée, originally an energetic French dance for a male soloist, often characterized by dotted rhythm.
Entwurf, German (“sketch”); Bach used the term to head a document addressed to the Leipzig city council in 1730, describing the conditions and requirements for musical performance in the churches.
Episode, a subsidiary passage in a fugue or concerto movement, alternating respectively with expositions or ritornellos.
Exemplar, an individual copy of a printed book or musical score; sometimes also used for the master or model (Vorlage) from which a scribe makes a manuscript copy.
Exposition, in a fugue, the opening section and any subsequent section in which the subject is presented imitatively in successive voices; the term is also used for the opening section of a sonata form, but that usage is not relevant for Bach’s music.
Fanfare, originally a traditional melodic pattern played on trumpet or horn to convey signals in warfare or hunting; by extension any short instrumental piece composed in imitation of the same, or a motive of this type within a larger composition. Fanfares typically incorporate arpeggios.
Fantasia, any of several types of composition, usually for solo keyboard, that involve free development or succession of musical ideas; for Bach’s predecessors often a type of strict contrapuntal piece, but in the eighteenth century more often almost the opposite, meant to sound like an improvisation and frequently juxtaposing contrasting types of passages. See also Chorale fantasia.
Figural music, elaborate music for voices and instruments, usually within the context of a church service (e.g., a sacred cantata).
Figuration, see Passagework.
Figured bass, form of notation used for a basso continuo part, consisting of a bass line above or below which are written numbers (figures) and accidentals (sharps, flats, and naturals); these signify chords or voice leading (q.v.) to be added improvisatorily by a keyboard instrument, lute, etc. See also Basso continuo.
Fifth, a musical interval; fifths can be perfect (e.g., CG), diminished (CG-flat), or augmented (CG-sharp).
Figura corta, Italian (“little figure,” plural figure corte), used for a type of rhythmic motive consisting of a short note followed by two of half the value (as 8th16th16th).
Finale, modern term for the last movement of a sonata or concerto, or the final scene or sequence of scenes in an act from an opera or similar work.
Fortepiano, originally equivalent to piano or pianoforte, now used by convention for early forms of the piano.
French overture, a type of overture originally used in seventeenth-century French ballets and operas, subsequently as an autonomous type of instrumental piece; characterized by an opening section in dotted rhythm, then a more lively fugal section and (sometimes) a return to dotted rhythm.
Fughetta, a short fugue, or a fugal passage within a larger composition.
Fugue, originally any passage constructed through imitation, by Bach’s day more often a contrapuntal composition (or movement of a composition) based on a single recurring subject that is introduced imitatively in an opening exposition; see also Double fugue.
Galant, French, literally “gallant,” used in Bach’s day to mean “fashionable,” referring particularly to up-to-date music that incorporated elements of French court dances and Italian opera arias while avoiding counterpoint, now often denoting a style or a period of music history taken to be intermediary between the Baroque and the Classical.
Gamba, see Viola da gamba.
Gavotte, French Baroque dance whose music is in cut-time (alla breve) with a half- measure upbeat; originally slow or moderate in tempo and delicate in character, with Bach it is often energetic and lively.
Gigue (jig), a dance of greatly varying types, most often with music characterized by compound duple meter and, usually, a lively tempo. The French spelling is used to emphasize the origin of the version of the dance familiar to Bach; some examples, mostly early but including two by Bach, are in dotted rhythm and use duple or quadruple meter.
Gloria, the second section of the Ordinary of the mass.
Gospel, one of the four books of the New Testament recounting the life of Jesus, attributed to the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Half cadence, a cadence that ends on the dominant harmony or note, hence signifying only a temporary pause or the ending of an initial or interior section.
Harpsichord, stringed keyboard instrument in which each string is plucked by a plectrum, a small bit of flexible material (originally quill from a bird’s feather) set in a jack attached to a key; the player has no control over the dynamic level (loudness), but this mechanism allows great control of articulation and ornaments, and it ensures evenness in contrapuntal textures, making it ideal for Bach’s music.
Hemiola, alternation between triple and compound duple meters, in Baroque music especially characteristic of the courante.
Hymn, a sacred poem sung as part of a religious service, in Bach’s day usually strophic and sung by the congregation (led by a body of boy choristers); Lutheran hymns are also called chorales.
Hymnal, a collection of hymns, in Bach’s day often giving only the words, although printed editions incorporating music (as in modern practice) were growing more common.
Imitation, the immediate restatement of a melodic line in one voice or instrumental part after it has been introduced by another, which then continues with other matter, creating counterpoint.
Interval, distance between two notes (pitches) as measured by counting tones within a scale, e.g., AB is a second (also called a step), A to the next higher A is an octave (eight notes).
Introit, the opening portion of a mass, with text varying daily (hence a part of the Proper, not the Ordinary), still sung in Latin at Leipzig during Bach’s day, using polyphonic settings in archaic style.
Invention, from Latin inventio, used in rhetoric for the “invention” or discovery of ideas (Erfindung in German) and by Bach as the title of short contrapuntal keyboard pieces in two parts.
Inversion, the turning upside down of a melody (theme, subject, or motive), so that upward melodic motion becomes downward, etc.; or the transposition of one line in a contrapuntal texture above or below another, so that the relationship between the two parts is turned upside down.
Jahrgang, German, an annual cycle of poems, cantatas, etc., for reading or performance on the successive days of the church year.
Kammerton, see Chamber pitch.
Kyrie, the first part of the Ordinary of the mass, from the Greek words Kyrie eleison
(Lord, have mercy).
Libretto, the words of a vocal composition (originally the booklet in which they are printed).
Lied, from German Lied (song, plural Lieder), a strophic poem or its musical setting, used in Bach’s day for chorales as well as secular songs but now usually confined to the latter, especially as set to music by later composers, including C. P. E. Bach and musicians of the Classical and Romantic periods.
Litany, a prayer consisting of alternating invocations and supplications, originally sung to a simple formula resembling a psalm tone.
Lombardic, in music, term applied to recurring rhythmic motives consisting of a pair of notes, the first much shorter than the second (as 16th, dotted 8th).
Lute, plucked string instrument related to the guitar, existing in many various types; widespread during the Renaissance and early Baroque, it was going out of use during Bach’s day.
Lute-harpsichord (Lautenwerk), keyboard instrument with gut strings and (apparently) no dampers, hence sounding like a lute; no examples survive and modern “reconstructions” are speculative.
Madrigalian, in Baroque music, said of the newly written poetry in the libretto for a church cantata or other sacred vocal work.
Magnificat, a canticle spoken by Mary during her Visitation (according to the gospel of Luke); the words, which constitute a New Testament equivalent of a psalm, are read or sung at every Vespers service and frequently set to music.
Manual, a musical keyboard for the hands, as opposed to a pedalboard for the feet.
Manualiter, Latin adjective used to describe keyboard music (especially organ music) that lacks a separate part for the feet or pedals, in contrast to pedaliter music.
Manuscript, literally “written by hand,” properly an adjective describing anything so produced, including handwritten entries within a printed book; more often used as a noun for any handwritten document, including musical scores or parts.
Mass, the principal Christian worship service, comprising multiple sections or parts. Five of these have the same text on most days of the year and are called the Ordinary, comprising
Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei; musical settings of the Ordinary are themselves called “masses.” See also Organ mass.
Measure, a basic unit in the temporal or rhythmic structure of a composition, usually comprising two, three, or four beats and distinguished notationally by bar lines at either end.
Melisma, an extended series of notes sung to a single syllable, often used to emphasize or “paint” a word.
Messa di voce, Italian, literally “placement of the voice,” used in Baroque music for a gradual increase in the loudness (crescendo) of a sustained note, often followed by a decrease (decrescendo or diminuendo).
Meter, in music, the organization of beats within a measure, signified by a time signature written at the beginning of the score or part; standard types include duple (e.g., 2/4, 2/2), triple (3/8, 3/4, 3/2), and quadruple (4/4, 4/2), each also existing in compound forms (6/8, 6/4, 9/8, 12/8).
Minuet, French Baroque dance whose music is in triple meter, with moderate tempo. Mirror, in music, a composition that can be performed with every part inverted.
Missa, Latin for mass, used in this book for German settings of the Kyrie and Gloria.
Mode, a tone system or scale; tonal music is limited to two modes, major and minor, but earlier European music employed at least eight other modes (sometimes called church modes) that are often alluded to in Baroque music, including Bach’s.
Modulation, a change of key or tonality, especially one that is of sufficient formal or structural significance to lead to a cadence in a key other than the tonic.
Monodic, originally said of any work for a soloist with accompaniment, applied to organ music that combines an embellished chorale melody with a simple accompaniment.
Mordent, melodic ornament consisting of rapid alternation between a note and the tone one step (or half step) below it.
Motet, in Bach’s day (1) a sacred work for multiple voices, usually based on biblical or chorale texts and in a somewhat archaic style, typically without independent instrumental parts; (2) especially in Italy, a sacred cantata for solo voice and instruments. See also chorale motet.
Motive, modern term for a brief pattern of notes or rhythms that recurs and is developed within a given composition; Bach’s younger contemporaries used the term “idea” (Gedanke) to mean roughly the same thing.
Moto perpetuo, Italian (“perpetual motion”), modern term for a piece consisting largely or entirely of non-stop quick notes.
Motto, in Baroque music, the initial word or phrase of an aria text, sung and then immediately repeated (or repeated after the imposition of a shortened ritornello); an aria so composed is a “motto aria” (German Devisenarie, from “device” in the heraldic sense).
Movement, a self-contained section of a work such as a concerto or cantata.
Musical rhetoric, the use of specific compositional devices to reflect the structure, meaning, or declamation (rhythm and accentuation as spoken) of a verbal text; often erroneously conflated with text painting (word painting), which is only a subset of music-rhetorical devices.
Neapolitan, the flattened second degree of a scale, so called from its supposed popularity in late-Baroque music from Naples; the chord built on it is a piquant variation of the normal supertonic harmony.
Obbligato, Italian, literally “obligatory,” used in Bach’s chamber music for a a keyboard part that is fully written out, not notated only as a figured bass.
Octave, musical interval separating two notes of the same letter name but belonging to different registers, as middle C and the C above or below it; see also Short octave.
Old Bach Archive (Alt-Bachisches Archiv), a manuscript collection of vocal works by older members of the family, in the possession of J. S. Bach by the 1730s, later owned by C. P. E. Bach and edited and published in the twentieth century.
Opera seria, Italian, literally “serious opera,” used for what became the prevailing variety of eighteenth-century opera throughout Europe; originating at Venice in the late seventeenth century and in vogue into the early nineteenth, it favored librettos based on ancient history that eschewed comic subplots and any but noble characters, typically comprised almost entirely of alternating recitatives and arias.
Oratorio, an unstaged dramatic vocal work, usually on a sacred subject, in Bach’s day musically almost identical to opera or cantata.
Organ, a keyboard instrument equipped with metal or wooden pipes that produce sound when air from a bellows passes through them. German Baroque organs typically had multiple sets (ranks) of pipes, each producing a full range of notes of a given timbre or sound color (such as flutes, trumpets, or viola da gamba); large instruments had multiple keyboards operating different ranks, including a pedalboard for the feet.
Organ mass, a series of keyboard settings of various sections of a mass, intended to alternate with chanted presentation of the remaining sections; most common among works by French and Italian composers.
Ornamentation, in Baroque music, the decoration of a melodic line by formulaic figures (such as appoggiaturas, trills, and mordents); Bach and his contemporaries typically called for these through graphic symbols or abbreviations such as “tr.”
Ostinato, a short melodic pattern repeated numerous times as a basis for variations, especially one played as a bass line, as in a chaconne or passacaglia.
Overture (French, ouverture), in Bach’s day an instrumental piece that opened an opera or other theatrical work; by extension, the opening movement of a suite or other instrumental composition. The word often referred specifically to a French overture, and it could also be used to mean an entire suite that opens with such a movement.
Parallel, in the study of counterpoint, said of voice leading that involves movement of two (or more) parts separated by a constant interval. Parallel thirds or sixths produce a suave sound that was often cultivated in galant music of the eighteenth century, but parallel fifths and octaves have been considered crude and avoided since the fifteenth century, although they can be found occasionally in Bach’s music, usually as errors of either copying or editing.
Parody, in music, a vocal work that adapts an existing composition to new words (a common procedure in the Baroque, used by Bach to create his Latin masses and some cantatas).
Part, if not used to mean a section of a composition, then the line of music sung or played by each individual performer, or the written or printed notation from which each performer reads.
Partimento, a type of pedagogic keyboard piece notated largely or entirely in figured bass, used in the eighteenth century to teach improvisation and composition.
Partita, Italian, originally used for one in a series of variations, now more often either for an entire set of variations or as a synonym for suite.
Passacaglia, originally an Italian dance or its French equivalent (passacaille), subsequently used for variations on an ostinato bass; Baroque examples (including the one for organ by Bach) usually retain elements of the original dance character, such as its triple meter. Its historical relationship to the chaconne remains uncertain, and there is no clear distinction between the two genres despite modern assertions to the contrary.
Passagework, used in this book synonymously with figuration for a type of lively melodic line constructed usually out of recurring formulaic patterns; particularly associated with the solo passages of quick arias and concerto movements, as well as the improvisatory sections of a toccata or prelude.
Passion, a sacred vocal work or oratorio traditionally performed on Good Friday, recounting the arrest and crucifixion of Jesus, from Latin patior (I suffer); some modern writers distinguish an oratorio passion, with text drawn at least in part from the gospels, from a passion oratorio whose libretto is entirely madrigalian. Also, in Baroque aesthetics, an Affekt (q.v.).
Pastiche, a vocal work created from movements drawn from previously composed compositions, distinct from parody in that text and music are essentially unchanged.
Pastorale, a slow type of gigue, often incorporating a pedal point to represent the sound of bagpipes, a reference to vernacular music-making, as by shepherds (pastori) celebrating Christmas.
Pedal, in Baroque music, a key for the feet on an organ or other keyboard instrument, typically one of some two dozen keys comprising a pedalboard, used for playing chiefly bass lines.
Pedaliter, Latin adjective used to describe keyboard music with a separate part for the feet, playing on pedals, as opposed to manualiter music.
Pedal point, a passage constructed around an unchanging sustained note, usually in the bass and especially as a climactic passage near the end of a fugue; so called from the use of a pedal to hold out the note in organ music.
Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter, one of the major feast days in the Christian Church year.
Perfidia, term occasionally applied to passagework in a toccata or concerto composed out of numerous statements of the same motive, typically one based on an arpeggio.
Permutation fugue, a type of fugue consisting largely or entirely of a subject and multiple countersubjects that alternate in a regular way with one another in each part or voice, thus resembling a canon; examples occur in Reinken’s Hortus musicus and Bach’s early cantatas.
Per omnes versus, Latin (“through all stanzas”), said of a chorale cantata that sets the complete text (all stanzas) of a given Lutheran hymn, with no intervening madrigalian texts.
Perpetual canon, a canon that lacks a final cadence, instead repeating until the performers decide to stop; most shorter canons from Bach’s time, including his own, are of this type.
Phrygian, originally an ancient Balkan tribe or ethnic group, or its language, later applied to the two church modes with scale on E, now used anachronistically for a type of half cadence in which the bass descends by half step.
Pietism, Protestant religious movement of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that emphasized personal piety and avoidance of complex ritual and other ostentatious forms of worship, including the elaborate music favored by Bach and his patrons.
Pitch, the relative highness or lowness (frequency) of a musical note, also used for the standard to which instruments tuned at a given time or place.
Polonaise, a dance, Polish in origin, during Bach’s day with music resembling a minuet that forms cadences on the second beat.
Polyphony, music for multiple voices or instruments, each with its own independent part; the term is sometimes used more specifically to refer to the type of vocal music composed by Palestrina and others during the sixteenth century. See also Texture.
Praeludium, Latin, equivalent to prelude, sometimes used more specifically for the type of large multi-sectional organ piece that by Bach’s day usually took the form of a prelude and fugue.
Prefect, at Leipzig, a student chosen to assist in directing choral rehearsals and performances.
Prelude, literally a piece that introduces or precedes another, in Bach’s day often improvised, so that the German verb praeludiren could mean “to improvise.” Written-out preludes were often short, relatively simple keyboard pieces used for teaching, although for Bach they could also be large, complex virtuoso compositions. See also Chorale prelude, Praeludium, Prelude and fugue.
Prelude and fugue, modern term for a keyboard piece comprising two paired movements, a descendant of the seventeenth-century multi-sectional organ praeludium. In Bach’s music it is not always clear whether the two movements were composed at the same time or that the pairing is the composer’s, but they are always in the same key, and in most instances they are of comparable length and style.
Psalm, one of the Hebrew sacred poems constituting the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, frequently set to music in whole or part, in Latin or German translation.
Psalm tone, one of several melodic formulas used for chanting the psalms.
Puzzle canon, a canon whose notation is incomplete, requiring the performer or performers to work out a solution, often based on a verbal title or rubric.
Quodlibet, Latin (“whatever pleases”), originally a type of philosophical debate, in music a type of composition that incorporates quotations of popular melodies, often within a contrapuntal texture.
Rank, a set of strings or pipes on a harpsichord or organ of distinctive sonority and pitch; most such instruments possess several ranks of different types that can be played separately or together through the use of stops (which turn a rank on or off).
Recapitulation, the restatement of a substantial musical passage or section in a later part of a given movement, today used especially for the third section of a movement in sonata form, in this book for any transposed repetition of previously heard music.
Recitative, musically plain setting of words chiefly for dialogue and narration, as opposed to a more elaborate aria; recitative in which the voice is joined only by continuo is “simple” (semplice) or “secco,” with strings or other instruments is called “accompanied” (accompagnato).
Recorder, wooden type of flute used in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries, held vertically rather than horizontally and with a block- or beak-shaped mouthpiece; modern plastic types are sometimes used for teaching children but are inadequate for Bach’s music.
Reformed, said of the Calvinist (q.v.) branch of Protestantism.
Registration, a player’s selection (through the use of stops) of particular ranks of strings or pipes for performance on a harpsichord or organ.
Reprise, a recurring line or stanza of a poem, often alternating with other lines or stanzas; in Bach’s day also used for either of the two repeated sections of a binary form.
Residence, a town or city in which a ruler resides, typically with a palace and government facilities.
Rhetoric, the art of effective or persuasive speech, especially as expounded by ancient Greek and Roman authors whose writings were central texts for education during Bach’s lifetime; see also Musical rhetoric.
Ricercar, in the Baroque, a strict contrapuntal piece for keyboard in stile antico; early examples by Frescobaldi and Froberger still circulated during Bach’s day.
Ripieno, Italian (cognate with replete), one or more singers or players joining the concertist on each part of a work, often optional; sometimes used today (anachronistically) for the “tutti” or orchestral forces in an aria or concerto.
Ritornello, an opening instrumental passage that recurs subsequently within an aria or chorus, or, by extension, a comparable passage in a movement from a concerto or other instrumental work; see also Ritornello form.
Ritornello form, a design for a vocal or instrumental movement in which a recurring ritornello for all the instruments alternates with episodes for one or more voices or instrumental soloists.
Rondeau, in French Baroque music, a composition that alternates between an initial phrase and several contrasting phrases or couplets; only roughly similar to the rondo of Classical music, although the French term was sometimes applied to the latter.
Rounded binary form, a binary form in which some portion of the first section is repeated in the latter part of the second, seen as a predecessor of sonata form.
Sanctus (“holy”), the fourth part of the Ordinary of the mass.
Sarabande, French Baroque dance, originally quick but in Bach’s day often quite slow, in triple meter and usually with an accent or impulse on the second beat.
Score, the complete notation for a musical composition, distinct from a part (that is, a line for an individual singer or player); in a score the music for the various parts is written on separate staves arranged one above the other.
Sequence, the repetition of a musical passage at a higher or lower pitch level; also, in Roman Catholic church music, one of several special chants with a text made up of couplets.
Serenata (Italian, literally “serenade”), in Bach’s time a multi-movement vocal work typically composed to celebrate the birthday of a ruler or similar festive occasion, described today as a type of secular cantata.
Short octave, on certain keyboard instruments, the omission of rarely used notes in the lowest part of the keyboard in order to reduce the size of the instrument and save money; the result is that several keys play notes different from what one might otherwise expect, and the physical distance between the bottom key and the one sounding a note an octave higher is shorter than usual.
Siciliana, slow form of gigue supposedly derived from Sicily and popular in the early eighteenth century as a slow movement in concertos and sonatas, also used in many arias. This is the feminine form of the word; the masculine is also used (siciliano).
Sinfonia, in Baroque music, any instrumental movement or passage within a vocal work, also used (rarely) for an independent instrumental composition. Bach also used the term for fifteen short contrapuntal keyboard pieces, now known as three-part inventions.
Sixth, a musical interval; sixths can be major (e.g., AF-sharp) or minor (AF-natural).
Sonata, in Bach’s day usually a multi-movement composition for one or more instruments, although one occasionally encounters an older usage for a single introductory instrumental movement in a vocal work. A sonata for a single melody instrument such as the violin could be called a “solo”; see also Trio sonata.
Sonata form (sometimes sonata-allegro form), a design for a single movement in a sonata, concerto, or other instrumental work, most often comprising three substantial sections: the first begins and ends in different keys (typically tonic and dominant), whereas the last remains in the tonic while otherwise repeating much of the first section; distinct from binary form in that the portion that follows any double bar is subdivided, and from ternary form in that the first section ends in a different key from the tonic. The term is typically applied to music after Bach, and there are many varieties and elaborations of this basic design, but many movements in his instrumental works follow the pattern described here.
Song of Songs, one of the poetical books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, also known as Canticles or the Song of Solomon; it consists of love songs or wedding verses interpreted allegorically as representing divine love for Israel (Christians understand it as referring to Jesus’ love for the church). Verses from the Song of Songs were favorite texts for many composers, but they were set rarely by Bach although many chorales, and the librettos of many of his cantatas, allude to them.
Stanza, a section of a poem with rhyhme scheme and prosody that recur in subsequent sections, equivalent to strophe; today sometimes described as a “verse,” which more properly refers to an individual line of a poem.
Stile antico, Italian, literally “former style,” used in the eighteenth century for contrapuntal music more or less in the manner of Palestrina and other composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Stop, a mechanical device used to turn on or off a rank of strings or pipes on a harpsichord or organ; by extension, the rank itself.
Stretto, a contrapuntal device in which a subject is imitated by a second voice before it has been fully stated by the first; used especially in the later passages of some fugues.
Strings, elements of a musical instrument comprised of drawn metal or treated animal tissue (gut); the term is also used to refer to the violins, violas, cellos, and (sometimes) double bass as a group within an ensemble. The latter are bowed string instruments; harpsichords and clavichords are stringed keyboard instruments; the lute is the one plucked string instrument occasionally called for by Bach.
Strophic, said of poetry (or its musical setting) organized in stanzas or strophes, as in a chorale.
Stylus fantasticus, Latin, literally “fantastic style,” that is, a manner characterized by improvisatory passagework and sudden changes of tempo, meter, or other musical features; used especially of toccatas and other keyboard genres cultivated by Bach’s German predecessors.
Subdominant, modern term for the chord or tonality built on the fourth degree of a scale; thus F is the subdominant of C, and a subdominant chord typically precedes a dominant chord in a final or full cadence.
Subject, in a fugue, the main theme, introduced in imitation at the beginning.
Suite, in Baroque music, a series of dance movements in the same key, sometimes preceded by an overture or comparable movement.
Temperament, adjustment of a theoretically correct tuning system to allow playing in multiple keys, relevant especially to keyboard instruments; varieties include mean-tone, used chiefly before 1700 and suitable for music confined to a small range of tonalities; equal temperament, prevalent since 1800, in which all scales are equally tempered (that is, slightly out of tune); and various circulating or well-tempered systems favored especially in the eighteenth century for playing in all keys while leaving some scales more in tune than others.
Tempo, the speed of a musical composition, often signified by an Italian expression written above the opening notes of a score or part, such as Allegro or Andante.
Ternary form, a musical design comprising two sections, the first of which is repeated verbatim after the second; also known as “da capo” or “ABA” form.
Tessitura, the prevailing pitch range or compass of a composition, or the full span of notes that a particular voice or singer can produce.
Text painting, see Word painting.
Texture, in music, a term describing the general character of the voice leading in a composition; musical texture can be monophonic (a single unaccompanied voice, as in chant) or polyphonic (multiple distinct parts), the latter in turn either homophonic (multiple parts with more or less homogeneous rhythm, as in a simple chorale harmonization) or contrapuntal (comprising parts that are independent melodically and rhythmically).
Third, a musical interval; thirds can be major (e.g., CE-natural) or minor (CE-flat).
Through-composed, said of musical forms that contain no substantial repeated passages or sections.
Time signature, in musical notation, an indication that specifies how many notes of a given rhythmic value are contained within each measure, often given in the form of a fraction; see Meter.
Toccata, a genre of keyboard music which, in Bach’s day, typically opens with an improvisatory or preludial passage followed by one or more contrasting sections, usually concluding in a fugue; distinct from a praeludium in that the individual sections are less likely to comprise self-contained movements.
Tonal, said of music that is in a major or minor key (or tonality); virtually all European art music composed 16001900 is tonal.
Tonic, the first note of a major or minor scale, or the chord (harmony) built on it, and by extension the main or “home” key of a composition.
Tremolo, now used to mean either the rapid repetition of a single note in string music, or vocal vibrato; in Bach’s day the same term could be the equivalent of trill, or it could refer to a more measured repetition of a single note, sometimes played with a single bow (“bow vibrato”).
Trill, melodic ornament consisting of rapid alternation between a note and the tone one step (or half step) above it.
Trio sonata, a multi-movement instrumental work for two melody instruments accompanied by basso continuo, in Bach’s day often abbreviated to “trio”; in modern usage the expression is sometimes used for Bach’s organ sonatas.
Turba, Latin (“crowd,” “tumult”), used for choral settings of words in the gospels attributed to groups of people (soldiers, “people,” etc.).
Tutti, “all” (Italian), used for passages in a concerto for the entire ensemble.
Variation, the repetition of a melody with added embellishment, altered accompaniment, additional counterpoint, or other modification; also used in the plural (“variations”) for a type of composition consisting of variously altered repetitions of a tune, often a chorale.
Vespers, from Latin vesper (evening), a religious service, originally part of the Roman Catholic office (as opposed to mass); in Lutheran practice Vespers takes place in the afternoon, and at Leipzig during Bach’s time it could include a repetition of the cantata performed earlier on the same day at the other of the two chief churches.
Viola, the alto or tenor member of the violin family, in Bach’s day occasionally referred to as violetta or viola da braccio, as opposed to the viola da gamba.
Viola da gamba, an instrument with six or seven strings, played with a bow, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries made in forms ranging from soprano to bass but in Bach’s day chiefly confined to the bass type, limited in his own compositions to occasional use as a solo instrument; quieter than members of the violin family and unlike them tuned mainly in fourths and equipped with frets, like the guitar and lute.
Viola d’amore, a bowed string instrument of tenor range with multiple strings, some of which are usually behind the fingerboard and are neither bowed nor fingered, instead sounding sympathetically to produce a distinctive effect; employed as a solo instrument in a few of Bach’s vocal compositions.
Violoncello, bowed string instrument, the bass of the violin family, usually shortened to cello. The Italian word means literally “small violone,” and during Bach’s youth it may still have referred to various types of instruments, not necessarily played in a seated position like the modern cello.
Violone, Italian, literally “big string instrument,” in Bach’s music usually a double bass, although he may occasionally have used the word for other bass-line string instruments, as did his contemporaries.
Voice, in counterpoint, any individual melodic line (whether instrumental or vocal), often called “part.”
Voice leading, in counterpoint, the motion or movement of individual parts or voices from one sonority to the next.
Word painting, use of a specific motive or other type of musical idea to reflect the meaning of a word or phrase, as when the middle syllable of the word bestehen (“withstand”) is sung to a long sustained note.