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Useful Terms

The Score
A form of printed or written music from which a performer plays. A full score displays all parts. In modern orchestral scores, the orchestra is ordered in groups from the top down - woodwind, brass, percussion and strings. Each group is subdivided in roughly descending order of pitch range. The solo part of a concerto is written above the first violin line; vocal parts may be shown above the first violins, or, traditionally, between the violas and cellos. Score "parts" consist only of one instrument's music (e.g. the violin part or the clarinet part). The conductor uses the full (or, orchestral) score.

Concerto
The modern concerto is a composition for solo instrument with orchestra. It originally meant "to join together," and the term encompassed works for chorus with orchestra and chamber ensemble with orchestra. By the early 18th century, however, the concerto became a piece where the soloist was in opposition to the orchestra. It is this form that we most often hear today.

Movement
A section or part of a piece of music. For example, symphonies traditionally have four movements (though there are exceptions).

Overture
A term derived from the Italian "overtura." It refers to a piece of instrumental music that precedes an opera, oratorio or play. Some composers (such as Wagner) prefer the term "prelude" (Vorspiel in German). Overtures are most often thematically connected to the music that follows them. An overture is often referred to as the "curtain raiser," since it is usually programmed at the beginning of the concert. This term can also be assigned to an independent instrumental work.

Sinfonia
In Italian, "symphony." Beginning in the 16th century, this term was applied to music in order to introduce dramatic works. During the Baroque period (c.17th- early-18th centuries), "Sinfonia" was given to an orchestral piece, which served as a three-movement introduction (fast-slow-fast) to an opera, suite or cantata. Essentially, it is an early form of the Italian overture. During the 18th century, it was increasingly designated to the concert symphony. The term was revived in the 20th century for works shorter or less earnest  than those in the "symphony" category.

Sonata
A piece of music, almost invariably instrumental, usually in several movements for a soloist or small ensemble. Examples include a piano sonata or a cello and piano sonata.

Suite
An ordered set of instrumental pieces that are in some way related and meant to be performed as a group. After 1750, the sonata, symphony and concerto began to replace the suite. In the 19th century, the term suite was increasingly used for an orchestral section from a larger work, such as a ballet or opera, or for a sequence of pieces loosely connected by a descriptive program (i.e. Holst's The Planets).

Symphony
An extended work for orchestra, usually in three or four movements. It is traditionally regarded as the central form of orchestral composition. In the 17th century, it was used for concerted motets, introductory movements to opera (see Overture), instrumental introductions, sections within arias and ensembles, and ensemble pieces that may be classified as sonatas or concertos (see Sinfonia).

 

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