eighth note: A rhythmic value of relatively short duration. Two eighth notes make a quarter note.
equal-tempered tuning: See natural harmonic series.
The term perfect fifth is used to differentiate the above interval from two modifications of the fifth, the diminished (one semitone narrower) and the augmented (one semitone wider). An open fifth is a fifth that sounds with no other notes attached; often it is associated with a sense of breadth, of open space. Beethoven begins his world-embracing Ninth Symphony with a primoral shimmering of fifths:
Osmo Vänskä conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, BIS 1616.
first inversion: A triad rearranged so that the middle note, rather than the tonic or root note, is lowest. With a C-major triad — consisting of the notes C, E, and G — the E, rather than the C, would be in the bass. The second inversion would have G in the bass. Here is a C-major triad followed by the first inversion and the second inversion:
flutter tongue(d): A playing technique for woodwind and brass players in which the sound is distorted by rapidly rolling the tongue against the reed or mouthpiece or by growling at the back of the throat. Richard Strauss introduced this effect into the mainstream orchestral literature in Don Quixote, in an episode depicting the bleating of sheep:
Rudolf Kempe conducting the Staatskapelle Dresden, EMI 73614.
The same device appears in the first of Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, with more menacing implications:
James Levine conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, DG 419781.
fortissimo or ff: A dynamic marking indicating very loud. The fff or triple-forte marking means even louder.
four-four or 4/4 time: The most familiar meter in Western music — one-two-three-four one-two-three-four....
The fourth is the interval between the first and fourth notes of a diatonic scale. In a major or minor scale, the fourth sounds like this:
fugue: A complex form of contrapuntal composition, associated most strongly with the Baroque period and particularly with Bach, in which three or more voices enter one after another, not only imitating the main subject (as in a canon) but developing it in new directions and sometimes introducing new material. With the rise of neoclassical music in the 1920s and 30s, fugal writing came back in fashion. Here is the beginning of the opening fugue from Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta:
Fritz Reiner conducting the Chicago Symphony, RCA 61504.
gamelan: Instrumental music from Indonesia and Malaysia, rich in reverberating timbres of gongs, chimes, and other tuned metal percussion. Two types of gamelan music widely noted among Western composers are the Balinese tradition, which tends to be brilliant and extroverted in sound, and the Javanese tradition, which generally has a more subdued, lyrical character. This is from a 1928 recording of the composition "Kebyar Ding" from the Balinese village of Belaluan:
From The Roots of Gamelan, Arbiter 2002.
Benjamin Britten took inspiration from Balinese music in several major works of his later years. This is from the coda of Death in Venice, immediately following Aschenbach's death:
Steuart Bedford conducting the English Chamber Orchestra, Decca 000410202.
Lou Harrison, in his 1961 Concerto in Slendro, adapts the Javanese tradition to Western instruments:
Barry Jekowsky conducting the California Symphony, with Maria Bachmann, violin; Decca 455590.
glissando: A slide from one note to another. In trombone playing, the effect was first popularized by Arthur Pryor, the virtuoso slide trombonist in John Philip Sousa’s band. Perhaps the earliest recorded use was in this cylinder of "Coon Band Contest" from 1900:
Sousa's band toured Europe in 1900 and 1901. Coincidentally or not, trombone glissandos began showing up in European orchestral music around 1902. Schoenberg's Pelleas und Melisande provides one of the first examples of a true trombone glissando; another, from the same time, is in Die Seejungfrau, by Alexander Zemlinsky, Schoenberg's brother-in-law and erstwhile teacher:
Riccardo Chailly conducting the RSO Berlin, London 417 450-2.
Ravel took up the effect in the last few seconds of his Rapsodie espagnole (1908):
Trombone glissandos snarl triumphantly in the "Spring Rounds" section of Stravinsky's Rite (1910-13):
Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the LA Philharmonic, DG 00289 477 6198.
...and sneer happily in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's 1917 number "Livery Stable Blues," the breakout single of the new art of jazz:
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, First Jazz Recordings, 1917-1921, Timeless Records.
The opening section of Iannis Xenakis's avant-garde masterpiece Metastasis (1953-54) deploys glissandos both in the strings and in the trombones, not to mention flurries of flutter-tonguing:
Hans Rosbaud conducting the Southwest Radio Symphony at the Donaueschingen Musiktage, Oct. 16, 1955 (world premiere); col legno AU-031800.
grace note: A short note that appears in music of various periods as a decorative element, "gracing" the longer note that follows. Stravinsky uses grace notes in the "Spring Rounds" section of the Rite of Spring in imitation of folk performance style:
graphic notation: Unconventional symbols employed by composers of the post-World War II era to encompass new sounds and new styles of playing. In many cases graphic scores give performers considerable freedom of interpretation; sometimes they are purely visual designs that musicians execute as they will. For an online exhibition, go here.
ground, ground bass, basso ostinato: A recurring bass line over which the upper parts play a series of variations. See also passacaglia.
A half-diminished seventh is this chord:
half-step: See semitone.
interval: The distance between two notes. Both melodies and chords are defined in terms of the intervals that compose them. Within a chromatic scale, the intervals are, in ascending order: minor second (or semitone), major second (or whole tone), minor third, major third, fourth, tritone, fifth, minor sixth, major sixth, minor seventh, major seventh, octave. Here they are in sequence (first as separate notes, then together), with the minor third followed by a minor triad and the major third followed by a major triad:
There are also intervals wider than the octave: ninth, tenth, eleventh, and so on.
inversion: A device in counterpoint whereby the intervals of a subject are inverted, as if seen in mirror image. So, if the subject begins by ascending a minor third and descending a semitone, the inversion will descend a minor third and ascend a semitone. Schoenberg employed inversion as well as retrograde in his twelve-tone method of composition. This meaning of "inversion" is distinct from the inversion or rearrangement of chords, as in first inversion (see above).
just intonation: See natural harmonic series.
key, key signature: In conventional tonal music, a passage is said to be in a particular key if its notes are largely derived from a certain scale (such as the C-major scale) and from associated chords, and if it tends to return to the home note or chord. The key signature, given at the beginning of a movement or passage, indicates which notes should be played flat or sharp in order to conform to the scale in question. For example, the key signature of E-flat indicates that the notes B, E, and A should be played flat, or one semitone lower. Here is a scale played first without the flats and then with them:
In the key of C major, no key signature is necessary because the scale has no sharps or flats. There are twelve major and twelve minor keys. Keys separated by a fifth are felt to be closely related; see dominant, tonic.
legato: In instrumental playing or singing, a smooth, flowing articulation of a phrase, with no obvious break or gap between the notes.
leitmotif: In works of Liszt, Wagner, and other nineteenth-century Romantic composers, certain strongly defined melodies appear at regular intervals, representing various characters, things, ideas, or moods. In Wagner’s Ring cycle, for example, there are leitmotifs for Siegfried, Wotan’s spear, and Fate, among dozens of others, although they often undergo dramatic transformations.
Les Six: See Six, Les.
Lydian mode: An old church mode identical to the conventional major scale except that the fourth note is raised one step. Here is a Lydian scale starting on D:
Britten uses this mode in the "Sunday Morning" interlude of Peter Grimes:
Colin Davis conducting the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Philips 289 462 847-2.
See also mode.