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an instrumental composition characterized by an improvisational opening and the free development of the musical idea. In the 16th century fantasias for the guitar, lute, and keyboards were polyphonic pieces similar to the ricerar and the toccata. In the 17th century the fantasia was influenced by the concerto, symphony, overture, sonata, and rondo forms. In the 17th and 18th centuries it often served as an introduction to another piece—a fugue or sonata—as in Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor. In the 19th century, the fantasia came to resemble the sonata, as in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, one of two sonatas with the subtitle “quasi una fantasia.”
Fantasias were often conceived as free versions of the sonata form, examples being the piano fantasias of Schumann and Chopin. At times they resembled the symphonic poem in structure, as in Schubert’s piano fantasia The Wanderer. The fantasia was also popular as a virtuoso piece in which folk melodies or themes from operas and ballets were developed, usually in the form of variations. Examples include Liszt’s piano fantasia based on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fantasy on Russian Themes for violin and orchestra.