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The musical term unisono (Italian "in harmony, unanimous") describes the process of having all those involved in a sound body sing or play the same melody together , even in different octaves . The effect achieved consists in a strong penetrating power and at the same time great sound development. European art music strives for the greatest possible precision and thus as complete a fusion as possible into a uniform overall sound. Other musical cultures such as oriental music or certain forms of jazz prefer the individualization of the individual voices through small individual deviations from one another ( heterophony ). Johann Sebastian Bach was wearing ornaments until the prescribed voices (and thus not always exactly the same), which suggests that he also sought in these places not complete precision.

If, in a polyphonic composition, the voice leading results in a transition from two-part to unison (to unison ), the individual notes are given a neck up and down. In the case of larger sections, however, the stems of the notes are stalked as in the case of unanimity and the section is marked with Italian a due (“for two”) or à 2 .

“Unisono” is also a playing instruction for orchestral musicians that cancels a previous divisi , ie a division of the group into two or more subgroups.

Some synthesizers also offer the option of operating the device in unison mode. Here you can no longer play the device polyphonically . For this, when a tone is triggered (for example by pressing a single key), the same tone is played by all available sound generators at the same time, which makes the sound more penetrating and more present.

Outside of music the term also expresses agreement: "They claim in unison that ..."


The sacred works of polyphony were repeatedly interrupted and contrasted in their liturgical use by unanimous Gregorian passages. Renaissance composers use this technique and its effect by setting only every second verse of a Bible text to music, while the rest was traditionally psalmodyed . The first known unison composed as an effect can be found in an instrumental sonata by David Pohle in the 17th century .

Example from the St. Matthew Passion by JS Bach; red: All singing and instrumental parts play in unison here.

In the late baroque period, unison ritornelles were a typical feature of the Italian musical style. Such ritornelles often appear in instrumental concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and other Italian composers; with Johann Sebastian Bach the entrance ritual of the harpsichord concerto in D minor (BWV 1052) is a well-known example. A famous unison example of the Viennese classical music is the beginning of Mozart'sLittle Night Music ”.

Another way of using it is to emphasize individual passages, especially for text design, such as in the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244) in the choir That you break the temple of God into the words "I am God's Son" (see music example).

Due to the association with Gregorian chant , the unison also repeatedly achieves hymn-like effects, for example in the prisoner's choirVa, pensiero ” from Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi .

For decades, European New Music was stuck in a polyphonic style in which unison was felt to be inappropriate. One work that took a radically new approach was Cheap Imitation (1969) by John Cage . From the 1980s onwards, composers such as György Ligeti , Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis also repeatedly used unisoni with precisely notated small deviations.

In modern jazz , playing the theme in unison is a constant practice, which also clearly stands out in terms of sound from the improvised passages.

Individual evidence

  1. Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , pp. 19 and 192.