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Various vocal genre forms: definitions, explanations, and examples

Vocal music forms from driest (the least amount of accompaniment) to the fullest (the most amount of accompaniment) are as follows:

Secco Recitative

Accompagnato Recitative






Recitative is a style of Monody (accompanied solo song) that is brought to life when the proper text stress of the language is accomplished. The melodic content and musical motives are not the main intention for the style, rather it was the text. The development of recitative was a response to the polyphonic style that had developed. In later opera, recitative contains the most action and was used to advance the plot forward.

From this, several forms of recitative emerged:



"Secco" is italian for DRY.

Ohhh so that is why its called Prosecco... ha. Anyway.

This recitative is the simplest in its chordal accompaniment usually with keyboard and a cello or viol, also plucker instruments like guitar, harp, lute. It is governed by the languages text stresses and imitates speech patterns. This type of recitative usually pushes and pulls rhythmically, a bit improvisational.... leaving the accompanying band to follow the singer.


J.S. Bach Cantatas, Passions, Oratorios

Stravinsky, Rakes Progress


Recitativo accompagnato (accompanied recitative), also called recitativo stromentato (recitative with instruments), is recitative with an orchestral accompaniment. It has stricter rhythms that must be maintained by the singer because of the written out accompanying orchestral players. It is usually used for dramatically important moments. It is more melodic and usually leads into an aria.


Handel's Messiah, "Thus saith the Lord" Bass

Handel's Messiah, "The voice that crieth in the wilderness"



"arioso" is Italian for AIRY.

Recitativo arioso is a lyric form a recitative use to communicate the emotion of the text. It is often confused with Accompagnato because of its speech-like inflections and use to carry the dialogue, but differs from Accompagnato in its rhythm. Its similar to aria in its melodic form, but Arioso does not have repetition like that of an aria.


The earliest operas consisted almost entirely of recitativo arioso.

- Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, Uylisses, and Incoronazione di Poppea

- Jacopo Peri’s Euridice

- Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (the start of the final act)

- Handel's Messiah "Comfort ye" arioso followed by the accompagnato "The voice that crieth in the wilderness"



17th century with French and Italian Opera ...

Binary (A-B) form

Ternary (A-B-A) with the return highly decorated.

By the 18th Century...

Alessandro Scarlatti firmly established the Da Capo aria form as the key element of Opera seria, with the return of the da capo having a ritornello.

Arias started to branch off into labels depending on the character type who sings them:

- aria parlante ('speaking-style', narrative in nature)

- aria di bravura (typically given to a heroine)

- aria buffa (aria of a comic type, typically given to a bass or bass-baritone)

and so on...

Eventually, singers decorated the arias so floridly that the original material was completely unrecognizable to the audience. Gluck revolted against this and reformed opera back to its rooted focus of human drama and passion. His reforms are seen in his own operas, as well as the later works of Mozart. Wagner was a big fan of Glucks reform and praised him.

Glucks reforms to make the aria more organic, rather than an interruptive show piece, managed the form of opera. However, Bravura arias were still an attraction and played major roles in Grand operas and Italian Opera of the 19th Century.



A form of an Aria

a lyrical songlike cantabile section that is followed by a more animated section, the cabaletta proper, repeated in whole or in part.

Listening to an example is helpful, because I was a but clueless on this until now!

An example is Casta diva from the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini.

The Cabaletta starts at minute 7:25

Cavatina is the same musical form as a Cabaletta, except it is called a Cavatina when it is a characters FIRST aria in the production.

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