Mostly Italian Musical Terms Defined

 copyright © 1997 by Larry Solomon


a. to, at, in

a capella. without instrumental accompaniment

acciaccato. vehemently

accaciatura. 1. a short accented appoggiatura, 2. a note a second above struck with the principal note and instantly released.

accelerando. getting faster

accordatura. the "tuning" or series of tones by which a string insytrument is tuned.

adagietto. slightly faster than adagio

adagissimo. extremely slowly

adagio. slowly, liesurely

a deux. for two hands

adirato. angry, wrathful

ad libitum. not strictly in time, freely

affettuoso. with feeling and emotion

affabilmente. sweetly and gracefully; suavely

affannato. uneasily, distressfully

affettuoso. with passion, emotion, feeling; very expressively; tenderly

afflitto. melancholy, sad

agitato. agitated

agilita. with agility, sprightly

al fine. to the end

alla. in the style of

alla breve. () "cut-time"; two beats per measure, a half note gets a beat

allargando (allarg.). getting slower and louder

allegrettino. a little slower than allegretto

allegretto. somewhat faster than a moderate tempo

allegro. fast

allentato. slower

altieramente. in a lofty style

amabile. sweet, tender

amoroso. affectionately

andante. a walking pace, moderate

andantino. somewhat faster than andante

animato. animated, with spirit

animoso. animated, spirited

a piacere. at pleasure, freely

appassionato. with passion and emotion

appoggiatura. a grace-note falling on the beat (accented), taking from the time of the following principal note.

arco. with the bow

arditto. bold, spirited

aria. an air, song, tune, melody

arioso. a singing style between an aria and a recitative, having some of the qualities of both

arpeggio. notes of a chord played consecutively, i.e. one at a time

assai. very

assez. (Fr.) enough; rather

a tempo. in the original tempo

attaca. begin the next section without pause

avec. (Fr) with

a volonte. at pleasure


Barcarole. A Venitian boat song

bassa. low. 8va bass is to play the bass an octave lower

bel canto. The art of beautiful singing; virtuosic singing of 18th and 19th century Italy

ben or bene. well

bewegt. (Ger) moving, agitated

bis. twice; repeat the passage

bolero. (Sp) A Spanish dance in 3/4 and a lively tempo, often with a dancer accompanied with castenets

Bratsche. (Ger) viola

bravura. boldness

breve. a square note equal to two whole notes

brillante. brilliant

brio. vigor, spirit


cadenza. an elaborate solo passage, frequently unaccompanied

calando. gradually softer and slower

cantabile. in a singing style

capriccio. in a fanciful, capricious style

coda. a closing section

con, col. with

con anima. with animation and boldness

con brio. with vigor and brilliancy

con espressione. with expression

con fuoco. with fire and passion

con moto. with motion

con sprito. with spirit and energy

crescendo. increasing in loudness


da, dal. from

da capo (D.C.). from the beginning

D.C. al fine. from the beginning to the word Fine

dal segno (D.S.). from the sign to the word Fine

decrescendo (decresc.). decreasing in loudness

diminuendo (dim). gradually softer

divisi (div). divided; each part to be played by a separate instrument

dolce. sweetly

dolcissimo. very sweetly

dolore. sorrow, sadness

doloroso. sadly


e. and

elegante. elegant, graceful

energico. energetic, vigorous

espressivo. expressively


fermata. a pause or hold

finale. the last movement

fine. the end

forte (f). loud

forte-piano (fp). accented, then immediately soft

fortissimo (ff). very loud

forza. force, power, strength

forzando (fz). strongly accented

fuoco. fire, energy

furioso. furious


giocoso. humorous

giojoso. joyous

giusto. exact, in time

glissando. gliding together, running

grandioso. in a grand manner

grave. solemnly and very slowly

grazioso. gracefully

gruppetto. a group of grace-notes; a turn


il. the

impetuoso. impetuous


lamentoso. lamenting, sad

largamente. broadly

larghetto. slowly, but not as slow as largo

largo. very slow, broad

legato. in a smooth, connected manner, indicated by the slur

leggiero. lightly

lento. slow

l'istesso tempo. at the tempo of the previous passage or movement

loco. as written


ma. but

ma non troppo. but not too much so

maestoso. majestic, dignified

maggiore. the major key

marcato. in a marked, emphatic style

marcia. a march

marziale. in a martial style

meno. less

meno mosso. less motion; slower

mezzo. medium, half

mezzo forte (mf). moderately loud

mezzo piano (mp). moderately soft

minore. in the minor key

misterioso. mysteriously

moderato. moderate tempo

molto. much, very

mordent. an embellishment of two or more notes that make up a short trill

morendo. dying away; softer and softer

mosso. movement

moto. motion


non. not

non tanto. not too much


obbligato. a counter-melody which is in counterpoint to the main theme and continues throughout the composition

opus. a work or composition; the chronological number of a work

ossia. otherwise; or else; another way to play the passage

ottava (8va). to be played an octave higher or lower


passionato. with passion

patetico. pathetically

penderosi. gradually softer and slower; dying away

pianissimo (pp). very softly

piano (p). softly

piu. more

piu mosso. more movement, faster

poco. a little

poco a poco. little by little

pomposo. pompous; grand

prestissimo. as fast as possible

presto. very fast

primo. the first


quasi. like; in the style of


rallentando (rall.). gradually slower

recitativo (recit.); in the style of a recitative; like natural speech

replica. repetition

rinforzando (rfz.). reinforced; emphasized

risoluto. in a resolute and bold manner

ritardando (rit). retarding; slowing

ritenuto (riten). in a slower tempo; held back

rubato. freely played, improvisatory with time


scherzando. playfully

segue. continues

semplice. in a simple, unaffected manner

sempre. always, continually

senza. without

sforzando (sfz). with sudden force or emphasis

simile. similarly; in a like manner

smorzando (smorz). extinguished; suddenly dying away

sordino (sord). a mute, such as used for the violin or trumpet

sostenuto (sos). sustained

sotto voce. in a quiet, subdued tone

staccato. detached; cut short

stringendo (string.). pressing; accelerating the tempo

subito. immediately, suddenly


tacet. to be silent; do not play

tempo. rate of speed

tenuto (ten). held for the full time

tranquillo. quietly, calmly

tremolo. rapid repetition of a note or chord to produce a tremulous sound

trill. a rapid alternation of the printed note and the next note above

troppo. too much

tutti. all together


un. a, one, an


vivace. lively, briskly

vivo. animated, quick

   Tucson, 1997    

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