Glossary of Musical Terms

Glossary A - M

Agnus Dei - The fifth part of the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass.

Antiphonal - A performance style in which an ensemble is divided into two or more groups, performing alternately as separate groups and in unison.

Ballade - A French poetic style and chanson type of the Middle Ages and Renaissance usually having a text dealing with courtly love.

Cantana - A poem set to music to be performed by voices and instruments, which usually has several movements, airs, recitatives, and choruses.

Chanson - French polyphonic song of the Middle Ages and Renaissance set to either courtly or popular poetry.

Chorale - A hymn of the Lutheran church, usually written for four voice harmony. Many chorales were written by J. S. Bach, which serve as a basis for the rules of partwriting. The melody is usually in the top voice, with supporting harmony in the lower voices.

Credo - The third of the principal movements of the Mass.

Garland - An anthology, as of ballads or poems.

Gloria - The first word of "Gloria in excelsis Deo", the second item in the ordinary of the Mass.

Interval - The distance between two pitches, (The specific quality of a sound that makes it a recognizable tone. Pitch defines the location of a tone in relation to others, thus giving it a sense of being high or low).

Isorhythm - A medieval principal of construction which was used most often in motets. This construction is based on a repeating rhythmic pattern in one or more of the voices.

Kyrie - The first part of the ordinary of the Mass. This is the only Greek surviving in the Roman Mass.

Melismatic - A passage containing a melsima, that is, a group of many notes (usually at least five or six) sung melodically to a single syllable, is said to be melismatic.

Mode - A series of notes into which the octave is divided according to specific systems. These systems or modes are used as the basis for composing music. The major and minor scales are modes, as well as the gypsy scale, the Gregorian modes, rhythmic modes, etc.

Motet - A polyphonic vocal style of composition. The motet was popular in the Middle Ages, when it consisted of a tenor foundation upon which other tunes were added. The texts of these voices could be sacred or secular, Latin or French, and usually had little to do with each other, with the result that the composition lacked unity and direction. During the 14th century, isorhythm came into use and other rhythmic refinements, somewhat unifying the sound and texture of the motet. By the Renaissance, the separate voices of the motet had adopted the same text (by this time the texts were religious almost without exception) and each voice was considered a part of the whole rather than a whole in itself, thus finally giving the motet unity and grace.

Mozarabic– Of or relating to the Mozarabs, their language, or their culture.

Musicologist– One who focuses on the historical and scientific study of music.

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