recitative (rĕsˌĭtətēvˈ) [key], musical declamation for solo voice, used in opera and oratorio for dialogue and for narration. Its development at the close of the 16th cent. made possible the rise of opera. The Florentine composers Peri, Caccini, and Galilei sought a style in which the words could be clearly understood, the rhythms of natural speech would be followed, and the music would convey the feeling of a whole passage. Toward the middle of the 17th cent. arose recitativo secco, which employed a quick succession of notes having little melodic character and serving only to advance the action, punctuated by occasional chords in a figured bass accompaniment. Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart employs much recitative of this sort. It was used also in cantata and oratorio. In the 18th cent. greater importance was assumed by the recitativo accompagnato or stromentato, accompanied by the string section or the full orchestra, in which the music was more strictly measured. This type of recitative was used at the points of greatest dramatic interest and to introduce important arias. Robert Cambert and Lully developed a style of recitative suited to the French language; Purcell and Mozart attacked similar problems in English and German. Wagner, opposed to the Italian type of recitative, developed a continuous declamation in which the melody was completely molded to the text, upon which the accompaniment served as a sort of commentary. Schoenberg, about 1900, devised a species of half-pitched declamation called Sprechgesang, since used by other composers.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on recitative from Infoplease:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: Theory, Forms, and Instruments