A piece which falls into two clear and distinct sections (AB)


Where individual parts move together, with the same rhythm simultaneously

Polyphony / Polyphonic

Where individual parts move independently of each other, starting and stopping at different times

Fugue / Fugal

A strict form of music where one part begins with a clear motif, or subject, which is then repeated by other parts in turn joining the texture; similar to a round

Imitation / Imitative

Where individual parts deliberately imitate each other at a short distance


The interval of three adjacent tones (augmented 4th). Historically known in music since the middle ages as ‘diabola in musica’ (The devil in music), and used as a musical sound to represent fear/evil
Secco Literally dry – recitation for solo voice with minimal accompaniment from the harpsichord and cello
Melisma / Melismatic A passage of vocal or choral music where one word or syllable is set to several or many notes
Ritornello In this context, a persistent repeating phrase in a movement
Triadic Based on the triad – the 1/3/5 notes of a scale which form the basic key chord

Sequence / Sequential

Where a fragment of melody and harmony is repeated several times, each time becoming successively higher or lower in pitch

Pedal / Pedal Point

A sustained note in the texture, like a drone (usually the bass), whilst melody and harmony move freely above


Where the natural emphasis of the time signature is temporarily displaced for effect; e.g. where two bars of three time suddenly sound like three bars of two time, or vice versa
Cadence The final two or three chords of a musical phrase or sentence


The opposite of secco when used to describe recitative; recitative with a more fulsome and ornate accompaniment


A traditional folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, typically with a lilting 6/8 rhythm reminiscent of a Gondolier’s stroke
Parodied / to Parody To copy, arrange, borrow, plagiarise music already written – either by oneself or another person
Countersubject A second melody played concurrently to the main theme or subject – especially in a fugue
Gigue A movement from a typical Baroque Dance Suite, such as the ‘Water Music’, in compound time
Chromaticism Where the music moves up or down by very small intervals, usually just a semitone at a time


A dance of medium to slow tempo, in compound time originating from Sicily. The lilting rhythms often give it the character of a slow gigue


The average pitch of the notes. Whilst some movements may have the odd high note, if the notes are consistently or frequently higher than normal, the movement is said to have a high tessitura


A pattern of notes or rhythm which is successively repeated several times
Da Capo Aria An aria with an A section, a contrasting B section, and a repeat of the A section (Ternary form)
Harmonic Pulse The frequency with which the chords (harmony) change
Syllabic A passage of vocal or choral music where each word or syllable is set to a different note
Alla Breve Literally ‘on the breve’ - a section in 2/2 or 4/2 time where the music is counted in breves

Contrary Motion

Where two or more parts move melodically in opposite directions, either towards or away from one another

Diminished Chord

A chord made up of two interlocking tritones, or minor-third intervals between the parts, historically often used by composers across many nationalities to generate tension or fear, or to intimidate

Antiphony / Antiphonal

Where two or more parts appear to be having a musical conversation or dialogue, taking it in turns to speak
Stretto A textural device where individual parts enter very quickly, one at a time

Obbligato accompanied by strings and/or continuo

A prominent solo instrument, or instruments, in a vocal aria or chorus usually

Aberdeen Bach Choir
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