Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Recitative, a form of composition often used in operas, oratorios, cantatas and similar works, is described as a melodic speech set to music, or a descriptive narrative song in which the music follows the words.
Recitative is easily distinguished from more florid and melismatic arias, as the rhythms and melodic contours of recitative often approximate to those of normal speech, often including repeating pitches. It is used where dialogue or monologue is sung in between the arias, choruses or other numbers, and is intended to help move the story along quickly.
Recitative often has very simple accompaniment, sometimes nothing more than a continuo (which might be nothing more than a harpsichord) playing occasional chords. The terms recitativo secco and recitativo accompagnato (or recitativo stromentato) are sometimes used to distinguish recitative accompanied only by continuo and recitative accompanied by the orchestra.
Historically, the recitativo, in the religious composition tradition, specifically the passions, derived from gregorian chant (hence their monotonous reciting manner): for special occasions like Easter, the gospel text would be sung in a reciting (gregorian) style, alternating with hymns or other song-like texts not quoted litterally from the gospel story. The latter would develop in arias and choruses, while the former set the standard for the recitativo.
The "recitativo" style of singing was not abandoned completely in pop culture: in fact raps, when using the ancient musical terminology, could be correctly described as "recitativo accompagnato".
The word has sometimes been used in relation to parts of purely instrumental works which resemble vocal recitatives (passages in Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17 (The Tempest) and Piano Sonata No. 31 are examples).
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