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(rĕs'ĭtətēv`), 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.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a special type of vocal music, characterized by the imitation in singing of the natural inflections and rhythm of speech. As a rule, the recitative does not constitute an integral musical unit, and it is subordinate to the syntactic division of the text.

The recitative is an outgrowth of the style of performing epic musical poetic works in folk singing. The emergence of the recitative in professional music was associated with the development of opera in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Two types of recitative developed in 17th-century Italian opera: the recitativo secco (literally, “dry recitative”) and the recitativo accompagnato (“accompanied recitative”). The recitativo secco, which was performed in parlando style, was characterized by free rhythm and an accompaniment of simple chords played on the harpsichord. It was used primarily in dialogues. The recitativo accompagnato, which was used chiefly in the monologues preceding arias, was more melodic and was performed with a well-developed orchestral accompaniment. In other countries, national styles of recitative developed.

In the 18th century the recitativo accompagnato became the prevailing form, and the recitativo secco was used only in comic opera. The recitative survived in the 19th-century number opera. However, the 19th century also saw the rise of operas characterized by continuous musical development and lacking the recitative, in the true sense of the term. The principle of the recitative was combined with the melodic principle. The recitative and some of its elements are also found in other musical genres, including the oratorio, the cantata, and the song.


Dolivo, A. “Rechitativy v vokal’nom iskusstve.” In Voprosy muzykal’noispolnitel’skogo iskusstva, fasc. 3. Moscow, 1962.
Neumann, F. H. Die Asthetik des Rezitativs. Strasbourg-Baden-Baden, 1962. (Sammlung, Musikwissenschaftlicher Abhandlungen, vol. 41).
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a passage in a musical composition, esp the narrative parts in an oratorio, set for one voice with either continuo accompaniment only or full accompaniment, reflecting the natural rhythms of speech
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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