What is the recitative? | Classical music


What is the recitative?

Most often used in opera and oratorio, the recitative is a type of singing in which the soloist adopts the rhythm and flow of ordinary speech to advance the plot. The singer is guided by the free rhythm of the lyrics, so the instrumental accompaniment is quite minimal.

This differs significantly from the more formal form aria form in opera, which is fundamentally a musical vehicle rather than a plot device, and as such prioritizes more complex melody, rhythm, harmony, and instrumentation. In the aria, the singer can repeat words and phrases to fit the musical structure.

When did the recitative first appear?

Inspired by oratory, the recitative developed in the late 1500s as a contrasting form to the polyphonic (multi-voice) style of 16th-century choral music.

What are the two types of recitatives?

Recitative secco

Recitative secco (dry recitative) is sung with a free rhythm dictated by the accents of the words. The accompaniment, generally by continuo (cello and harpsichord), is simple and in chords. Popularized in Florence at the end of the 16th century, the style is often found in Claudio Monteverdioperas during the 17th century, and continued to be used into the 19th century by composers such as Gaetano Donizetti.

recitative stromentato Where accompanied

recitative stromentato Where accompanied (accompanied) has a stricter rhythm and more involved, often orchestral accompaniment. Used at dramatically important moments, it has a more emotional character. Her vocal line is more melodic and often leads into a formal aria. Examples include ‘Thus saith the Lord’ from Handelit is Messiah; and Haydn and mozart were also fond of it.

When did the recitative go out of fashion?

In the mid to late 1800s, composers like Verdi, Wagner and Puccini pushed the boundaries of recitative and aria conventions, blurring the distinct boundaries found in most operas of the past 200 years.

Photo: The Marriage of Figaro at the Florida Grand Opera in 2019 © Daniel Azoulay


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