Glossary

 

Note:  This is in no way exhaustive.  Just some terminology I'll be using in my LMP project.

General Terms

Chamber Works

Works where only one instrument is playing a particular part.  Like a string quartet where there is one violin playing the first violin part, one violin playing the second violin part, one viola, and one cello.

 

Orchestral Works

Works where multiple instruments are playing any given part.  So if there are 15 first violins, 15 second violins, 7 violas, 7 cellos, and 4 basses, that's an orchestral work.  Early on (like early 1700s (check dates)) they'd just take a Chamber Work and make it into an Orchestra Work by  having multiple instruments play the same part, but eventually composers started writing pieces explicitly for orchestras.

 

Tempo Terms

 

General Note:   Tempo is the speed at which you play a piece.  Generally, chamber music tempos are indicated by Italian words, regardless of the composers national origin.   So even a work by Beethoven or Brahms (both Germans) will use the Italian "Allegro" and "Andante" etc.  This list isn't exhaustive; it's just some common ones.  

 

 

BPM

Beats Per Minute.  60 BPM is one beat a second, 120 is 2 beats per second etc.  The tempos below have a range of BPMs that's a bit... fuzzy.   A metronome will have allegro as between 110-120 BPM, but most scores don't specify a specific BPM.  They'll just say "Allegro" and it's up to the performers (or conductor) to decide how fast that is.

 

Allegro 

Fast ( around 110-130 BPM)

 

Allegretto

Not quite allegro (around 100-110)

 

Andante 

Walking pace (around 75 bpm)

 

Presto 

Really fast (around 170 bpm)

 

Prestissimo

Really, really, like "f*ck you" fast (200 bpm and up)

 

Moderato 

Moderately fast (around 90 bpm)

 

Adagio 

Slow (around 60 bpm)

 

Largo  

Very slow (around 50 bpm)

 

Structural Forms

 

Minuet - Trio

This form came out of french Baroque dance.  It's in 3 (think waltz) and has the large scale structure of A-B-A, with A being the Minuet and B being the Trio.  Originally the Minuet was scored for the whole ensemble, and the Trio was cut down to just three instruments.   Even when the instrumentation convention changed in the Classical Era, the name Trio stuck.   The return to the Minuet (A) after the Trio has the effect of "bringing the music home" and giving it closure.

 

 

Theme and Variations

Exactly what it sounds like it is.  It'll have one theme and then start to modify that theme with each variation.   The theme is usually still pretty recognizable.   

 

Mozart's "Variations on "Ah, vous dirai je maiman" (i.e. "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star") is an example.

 

 

Fugue

A form where a short melody idea in multiple "voices" being introduced one at a time and then interweaving.   (A voice isn't a human voice, it's just a term that means a separate part / melody line.  Same principle as a four part harmony barbershop quartets, but each part is instrumental in this case.)

 

Bach's Little Fugue in G Minor makes it really easy to hear and (in this case, see)

 

Sonata Form

Really popular form with multiple themes being connected by non-thematic material.   Usually structured as Exposition - Development - Recapitulation - Coda.    The Exposition is where the themes are established, the Development is where the composer disassembles and mucks about with the material, the Recapitulation is where the themes return and the Coda is the ending.

 

Note:  A "Sonata" is also a piece that is written for either a solo instrument or a solo instrument with an accompaniment like a piano.   For maximum confusion, this kind of Sonata is not necessarily in sonata form, and plenty of non Sonatas are in sonata form.

 

Rondo

One main theme that alternates with contrasting themes called episodes.  They're structured something like ABACA, with A being the main theme and B and C being episodes.   

 

Fur Elise by Beethoven is a Rondo.

 

 

Dynamics

 

piano

Soft.  Notated on the score as "p"

 

pianissimo

Really soft.  Notated on the score as "pp"

 

metzo-piano    

Moderately soft.  Notated on score as "mp"

 

forte

Loud.  Notated on the score as "f"

 

fortissimo

Really loud.  Notated on the score as "ff"

 

metzo-forte

Moderately loud.  Notated on score as "mf"

 

crescendo

Get gradually louder.  Notated on score as "<"

 

decresendo

Get gradually softer.  Notated on score as ">"