Speech-like passage, with or without orchestral accompaniment

"Recitative" is a musical term used in opera and other vocal compositions to describe a style of singing that is closer to spoken dialogue than to regular singing. It serves as a means of advancing the plot, conveying emotions, and delivering text in a more natural and expressive manner. Recitative is commonly found in operatic works and serves as a bridge between arias, duets, and other more melodic sections.

Key characteristics of recitative include:

  • Speech-Like Singing: Recitative features a rhythm and melodic structure that closely resembles natural speech patterns. It is used to convey dialogue, narration, or emotional moments.
  • Text-Centric: The primary focus of recitative is the text and its dramatic delivery. The music is subservient to the words being sung.
  • Minimal Melodic Ornamentation: Unlike arias or other melodic sections, recitatives have minimal melodic ornamentation and are more concerned with clear and direct communication of the text.
  • Fluid Tempo: Recitatives often have a flexible tempo, allowing the singer to adjust the pacing to fit the natural flow of the text.
  • Accompaniment: Recitatives are typically accompanied by a simple instrumental accompaniment, such as a keyboard instrument (harpsichord or piano) or a small ensemble. The accompaniment supports the singer's vocal line and emphasizes key emotional moments.
  • Variations: There are different types of recitatives, including secco recitative (accompanied only by keyboard instruments) and accompanied recitative (with orchestral accompaniment). The choice of recitative type can vary based on the dramatic context.
  • Narration and Dialogue: Recitatives are used for both narration (explaining events that have taken place offstage) and dialogue (interactions between characters).
  • Connecting Elements: Recitatives connect various musical sections in operas, providing transitions between arias, ensembles, and other dramatic moments.

Composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Christoph Willibald Gluck refined the use of recitative in their operatic works, making it an essential tool for conveying the dramatic aspects of the story. Recitative plays a vital role in opera, offering a natural and emotionally charged way to present the unfolding plot and character interactions.

Example of Recitative

Monteverdi - Orfeo: recitativo secco