MU 324

Musical Theater Vocabulary

K - O

key change - a portion of a song written in a different key (pitch level) than the opening. Also called modulation.

libretto - the words / poetry to an opera

librettist / lyricist - the person who writes the

lieto fine - the Italian term for a "happy ending" to a story

lyrics - the words/poetry to a song (usually rhyming)

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major mode/scale - the scale used for "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"; the most commonly used scale in musicals.

Medieval - the term for the musical era ranging from approximately 900 to 1450.

medium - the singers & instruments used in a particular selection.

melismatic - a text setting that has several (or sometimes many!) notes per syllable of text; often associated with operatic singing

melody type - the way a tune moves from note to note

- conjunct - the notes move mainly by step

- disjunct - the notes move mainly by leap

meter - the way beats are organized in music, i.e.:

- duple - beats are arranged in pairs (1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2)

- triple - beats are arranged in groups of three (1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3)

- quadruple - beats are arranged in groups of four

mezzo-forte (mf) - a somewhat loud dynamic level

mezzo-piano (mp) - a somewhat soft dynamic level

mezzo-soprano - a voice type midway between soprano (a high female voice) and alto (a low female voice)

minor mode/scale - the scale used for "We Three Kings of Orient Are." Less common than major mode, the minor mode is sometimes used for sad or serious texts as a type of text expression.

mode - a term used to describe the type of scale (selection of notes) used for a piece of music. The two most common modes are:

- major - the scale used for "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"

- minor - the scale used for "We Three Kings of Orient Are"

moderato - a musical tempo that is moderate

modulation - the technique of shifting to a new key in the course of a tune (also called key change)

monophony - a melody with no accompaniment (a kind of texture)

musical comedy - an American-derived genre which developed in the late 19th century. It tended to have less complex plots and less difficult singing than opera or operetta, and put an emphasis on the chorus line.

non-imitative polyphony - a kind of texture in which two or more different melodies performed at the same time

non-plot show - a production which does not have a clear-cut storyline (or book); presents a series of somewhat-related vignettes

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octet - a number featuring eight singers

opening / opening night - the first 'official' performance of a show or opera (although previews have usually been performed in front of audiences prior to the opening night)

opera - one of the oldest ancestors of musical theater. Originated in Italy at the beginning of the Baroque era, thanks to the Florentine Camerata. Although its character has changed over the centuries, a typical opera is in Italian and features recitatives and arias.

opéra bouffe - French comic opera; a little more slapstick than its ancestor opéra comique.

opera buffa - Italian comic opera.

opéra comique - French comic opera; predecessor to opéra bouffe.

opera seria - Italian serious opera.

operetta - a genre of enormous popularity in Europe and early 20th-century America. Grew out of French "opéra bouffe." Usually more vocally challenging ("operatic") than the scores of musical comedies

ornamentation - methods of ‘decorating’ a melody to make it more interesting (and to show off!)

overture - a separate instrumental number played at the beginning of an opera or show. In musical theater, it is common for the overture to contain melodies from various songs in the show. The overture is generally a signal to the audience that the show is about to begin.

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