Recitative

Recitative (/ˌrɛsɪtəˈtv/, also known by its Italian name "recitativo" ([retʃitaˈtiːvo])) is a style of delivery (much used in operas, oratorios, and cantatas) in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms and delivery of ordinary speech. Recitative does not repeat lines as formally composed songs do. It resembles sung ordinary speech more than a formal musical composition.

This score for Handel's Lascia ch'io pianga shows the simple accompaniment for a recitative; much of the time, the basso continuo (the lower staff in bass clef) play half notes and whole notes underneath the vocalist's recitative part.
A recitative from J.S. Bach's Cantata 140, "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme".

Recitative can be distinguished on a continuum from more speech-like to more musically sung, with more sustained melodic lines. The mostly syllabic recitativo secco[upper-alpha 1] ("dry", accompanied only by continuo, typically cello and harpsichord) is at one end of the spectrum, through recitativo accompagnato (using orchestra), the more melismatic arioso, and finally the full-blown aria or ensemble, where the pulse is entirely governed by the music. Secco recitatives can be more improvisatory and free for the singer, since the accompaniment is so sparse; in contrast, when recitative is accompanied by orchestra, the singer must perform in a more structured way.

The term recitative (or occasionally liturgical recitative) is also applied to the simpler formulas of Gregorian chant, such as the tones used for the epistle, gospel, preface and collects; see accentus.


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