Ima Music: Musical Glossary


A madrigal is a secular vocal work from either Italy or England, usually for from four to six voices, and most frequently performed as an a cappella chamber work -- which means that no instruments are used and there is only one person on a part. Dr. Cook said a madrigal choir was not a real thing, because madrigals of the sixteenth century weren't meant to be sung by choirs of any size. I tried to think of a madrigal that wasn't from the sixteenth century, and named a few English pieces from the early seventeenth century (including Farmer's "Fair Phyllis"), thinking I could have them sung by a choir at my wedding. He said they were "in a sixteenth-century style," and that perhaps a good vocal quartet would be preferable. I'm still thinking about it, but now I wonder if a good motet sung by the choir wouldn't be better for a church wedding.

Now that I've learned a little more, I realize that madrigals are secular music, so they wouldn't be appropriate for church. In fact, when I listened to "Fair Phyllis" more closely, I was somewhat embarassed. All of the word-painting around the phrase "and then they fell a kissing" would be totally out of place in church, wouldn't it? And when they went back to the other phrase, so that it came out sounding like "and then they fell a kissing up and down," I really blushed. Some things between a man and a woman are just fine for the bedroom, but maybe not in front of the altar. I mean, after all, my family would be disgraced!

The word-painting in that madrigal is fun to listen to, though, once you know it's there. When Farmer wrote for only the soprano on the words "all alone," and then had everyone sing "feeding her flock," he really put the concept into practice, didn't he?


A Mass, as the term is applied to a piece of music, is a polyphonic setting of the texts of the Ordinary of the Mass, using the term to refer to the primary ritual of the Christian religion. That means that Masses usually have five movements, one each for the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus dei of the Mass.

We listened to the Gloria from Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass. There were no great changes in tempo in this performance, and the Gloria was sung by voices alone, a performance style called a cappella singing. However sometimes not all the voices were singing all the time. There was some imitation between different voice parts at times, and at others they all sang together. These changes in texture helped me follow along with the piece as it moved from phrase to phrase of the text. I'm told that the rest of the Mass is similar in style.

Program Music for Orchestra

Now this is something I can relate to — music that tells a story.

I realize that some pieces of music that are programmatic aren't strictly narrative. For example, we played a piece in high school band called "The Land of the Midnight Sun." There was no story connected with the music, just a title. But the title made me think of snow and ice, darkness at noon in July, and sunlight at midnight in December. It sure sounded different from life in Scratch Ankle.

The music we listened to in class did tell a story, though. "The Moldau" was a tone poem, an orchestral piece in one movement. The composer (Bedrich Smetana) provided a "program," a description of the Moldau river in words, to go along with the music. That made it real easy to see pictures in my mind while I listened. The little running notes in the flute at the beginning just kept running along until they flowed into longer phrases. At that point, they made up a theme that represented the river. After that, any time Smetana transformed the theme, I could imagine something happening to the river. When the theme was faster, the water was flowing faster, or when there was a great crash of a drum, I could think of the roar of a waterfall. I really got a thrill out of listening to the music because of the program that went with it.

Listening to "March to the Scaffold," by Berlioz, was a smilar experience, but I thought the whole program was too creepy. Of course that was only one movement, and a program symphony has more than one movement. It would have been worse if we had listened to the last movement. We got a copy of the program for the entire symphony, and according to that the title of the last movement is "Dream of a Witches' Sabbath." Now, I ask you, doesn't that sound even creepier? I think listening to one movement out of five was enough.


Before I took this class, I called any piece of music heard a "song." That was the only term I knew, probably because I listened to WXYZ in Scratch Ankle, and they played songs -- real songs -- all day long. Now I know that not everything is a song, and that I have a lot to learn about different genres of music. For example, I've learned that "Erlkönig," by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) really is a song. It was written to be performed by a singer and a pianist, the most common performance medium for songs. The text seems to be somewhat unusual however, because Schubert chose a narrative poem by Goethe. We learned during a class discussion that most song texts are lyric poetry rather than narrative poetry.

I liked listening to that song.

I looked up some information in these books before I wrote these definitions.

Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music. Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969)

Randel, Don, ed. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1986)

The Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia of Music. Revised and Enlarged. Edited by Stanley Sadie. New York: W. W. Norton, 1994.