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Classical musical terms




o the symbol for diminished
o antiphons standard set of antiphons used during advent, all beginning with the word "o"
obbligato a musical direction indicating the obligatory use of a particular part or instrument
obbligo a manner of writing that involves obligations of canon, counterpoint etc
ober upper
oberdominante dominant
oberstimme upper part
obertas round dance in fast 3, performed wildly. Also called oberek
obertaste black key (of piano)
oberton overtones, upper harmonics
oberwerk swell organ
obligat obbligato
oblique motion melodic movement wherein one part moves and the other stays put
oboe woodwind instrument with a double reed and conical tube, played in the orchestra, military band, chamber music and as a solo instrument. Developed in 17th-century France
oboe d'amore alto oboe, popular in the 18th-century
obra work, opus
ocarina a small and very simple wind instrument which is shaped like a sweet potato and is usually shaped like a sweet potato and usually made of terra cotta, with finger holes and a mouthpiece. The tones it produces are soft and hollow
occursus unison-confluence of the two parts at the start & ending of phrases
octave an interval eight diatonic scale degrees above it. two notes an octave apart have the same letter name, and form the most consonant interval possible
octave marks abbreviated 8va or just 8 to indicate the notes should be played an octave higher or lower than actually written
octet a piece written for eight parts, or the group that performs such a piece
octotonic scale where notes are arranged regularly in alternate tone and semitone intervals, suggesting major and minor as well as modal tonality. Popular in jazz
oda a type of poetry with a rigidly defined rhyme scheme
ode free meter poem usually addressed to a deity
oeuvre opus
offertory a part of the roman catholic mass proper, following the credo and sung during the offering
  in protestant church services, any music sung or played during offering
office, divine the services of the daily hours. matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers, and compline
oktave octave. Describes instruments sized an octave higher than normal
oliphant signal horn of the middle ages, made from elephant's tusk
ombra scene opera scene that occurs in hell, or pertaining to the dead
ondeggiando waving motion of the bow in violin
ondes martenot an electronic instrument invented by the French musician Maurice Martenot, produces single sounds by means of a keyboard that controls the frequencies from an oscillator. It has a wide range and offers the possibility of glissando. It became popular among French composers
one-step American dance which has largely been superseded by the two-step, or foxtrot
ongarese, all' after Hungarian style
onzieme interval of eleventh
op abbreviation for opus
open term used for a string that is allowed to vibrate throughout its full length, as opposed to being 'stopped' by pressing a finger on it
open fifth a triad that does not contain a third, consisting only of a root and a fifth
open form denotes a musical work in which a performer can vary the sequence of component sections, and choose at which point in the score to begin and end
open notes the natural notes on a wind, on strings, the string without any fingers
open strings a string with no fingers or capo
opera a musical play, usually entirely sung, making use of costumes, staging, props, sets, and dramatic elements. Operas usually consist of two types of musical elements, the aria, which primarily expresses a single idea or theme, and the recitative which advances the story
opera bouffe the French term for comic operetta of composers such as Offenbach in 19th century France
opera comique type of opera, often comic and with spoken dialogue, developed in 18th-century France. Used in the 19th-century to describe any opera, comic or not, with spoken dialogue.
opera seria serious opera, as opposed to opera Buffa. Refers to 18th-century Italian operas with plots often taken from mythology or ancient history. The hero was often played by a castrato.
operetta a light type of opera, generally including spoken dialogue
ophicleide a brass wind instrument, the bass member of the keyed bugle family. It replaced the serpent in the early 19th century as was superseded by the tuba
opus "work". With a number, used to show the order in which the works by a given composer were written or published. Opus numbers are most often used for composers who catalogued their own works.
oratorio an operatic work without staging, sets, or elaborate costumes. usually performed in amore relaxed setting than a formal opera, and usually having a religious theme
orchestra a large ensemble of players of musical instruments, generally including the following sections. strings, made up of violins, violas and double basses; wind, subdivided into woodwind and brass; and percussion; plus, very often, a harp. a symphony orchestra is capable of playing symphonies; a chamber orchestra is much smaller
orchestra leader concertmaster, concertmistress
ordinary in the mass, the parts that are used every day, as distinct from the proper. the ordinary consists of the kyrie, gloria, credo, sanctus, and agnus dei.
organ a wind instrument consisting of at least one row of pipes, which are made to sound by air being directed under pressure from a wind-raising device, and key-and pedal-boards, which admit air to the pipes by means of valves.
organ chorale composition for organ based on chorale melody
organ point pedal point
organetto portative organ
organum earliest types of polyphony
orgel  organ
ornament one or more notes added as an embellishment to a melody, by the performer or the composer. Also used as a verb, as in to ornament a melody
orpharion instrument of the lute family, shaped like a bandora, but smaller
orphica a mutant in the piano family
ossia indicates an alternative
ostinato indicates a part that repeats the same rhythm or melodic element. the basso ostinato or ostinato bass occurs in the ground bass of baroque arias where a melody is set over a repeated bass pattern. ostinato is used by the Bavarian composer Carl Orff in his instrumental teaching methods, where it may form a basis for improvisation by pupils.
ottava abbreviated 8va. octave
ottavino piccolo flute
ou or
ouverture overture
overblow to blow a wind instrument so hard that upper harmonic tones are produced
overstrung term used to describe a piano in which the strings have been set at two different levels
overtone a tone that is present in the sounding of a fundamental, due to the physics of the production of musical tones
overture an orchestral composition that introduces an opera, oratorio or similar work, and usually includes music that alludes to what is to follow. A concert overture, however, stands on its own and is not part of an opera or other work



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