Vocal music

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Vocal music is music that is performed with the human voice as opposed to instrumental music . They are usually based on literary poems set to music by a composer ; vocalises or fantasy texts are occasionally used by modern composers .

Accompaniment by instruments is not excluded with vocal music. Works in which the instrumental part clearly predominates are still classified as instrumental (e.g. choirs in symphonies ). Multi-part vocal works without instrumental accompaniment are called a cappella .

Sacred vocal music, both unaccompanied and accompanied, is an important part of church music .

European art music

Unaccompanied sacred vocal music

One-part forms of unaccompanied sacred vocal music are Gregorian chant and other psalmody chants.

Audio file / audio sample The Gregorian "Ave Maria" ? / i

The polyphonic genres include the song or chorale , the motet and the mass . The works can be differentiated according to the type of choir (male, female or mixed choirs ) and the number of voices. The three-part setting has emerged as the rule for female choirs, and the four-part setting for male or mixed choirs . For the mixed choir, in particular, two or more opposing choir groups are sometimes required. This "double" or "multi-choir" style of making music enjoyed great popularity, especially during the Renaissance; it finds its most impressive expression in the so-called Venetian polychoral structure . In order to expand the sound space or to multiply the linear, contrapuntal and also harmonic possibilities, in the history of vocal music there have been repeated experiments with setting more than four voices within a choir group.

Sacred vocal music with instrumental accompaniment

The sacred vocal music with instrumental accompaniment is particularly evident in the forms of the motet, mass, cantata or oratorio . The individual movements, especially of the cantata or the oratorio, but also of the Baroque cantata mass, are again differentiated according to their structure and the number of singing voices:

The accompanied, often particularly artistic and richly designed solo performance is called an aria .
Audio file / audio sample Georg Friedrich Händel: "Rejoice greatly" from the oratorio "The Messiah" ? / i
With two singing soloists it is a duet , three singing voices form a trio , four a quartet (music) etc.
Terzett and quartet in particular also describe choral ensembles or have thus established themselves as the name of a choir (“men's quartet”).
The aria was written during the early baroque period , the duet was experimented with relatively soon afterwards, and according to its character it was often used for stylized dialogues (e.g. with Heinrich Schütz ).
Duets, trios, quartets, even quintets and sextets were particularly popular during the Classical and Romantic periods .
One root of these instrumentation forms lies in the monody , another in the motet, which - often due to a lack of singers - was reduced by its voices and then played back with the support of the figured bass .
An early form of development of such solo or solo ensemble pieces are the “Small Spiritual Concerts”, for example by Heinrich Schütz or their Italian equivalent, the “ Concerti Ecclesiastici ” (e.g. in Lodovico Grossi da Viadana ).
In addition to the aria, which has a more reflective character and can make virtuoso use of all musical and vocal means, the recitative is created , the task of which is to process large amounts of text musically or to advance a “plot” or “ dramaturgy ”.
In the recitative, a distinction is made between the so-called secco recitative that is only accompanied by the basso continuo group
Audio file / audio sample Johann Sebastian Bach: "He's coming, he's coming" ? / i from the cantataWachet, the voice calls us, BWV 140
and the Accompagnato recitative with orchestra .
Audio file / audio sample Georg Friedrich Handel: "Thus saith the Lord" from the oratorio "The Messiah" ? / i
The recitative is based on the natural speech melody or stylizes it. Often the recitative and aria appear in pairs; A situation is outlined in the recitative and then considered in the following aria.
The Arioso is an intermediate form between the two .
Audio file / audio sample Georg Friedrich Händel: "Comfort ye" from the oratorio "The Messiah" ? / i
In contrast, there are chorus-based movements that can take on various forms;
so z. B. that of chant
Audio file / audio sample Johann Sebastian Bach: Final choir ? / i of the cantataWachet, the voice calls us, BWV 140
Solos are also often combined with choir passages or alternate with them.

The motet usually requires a choir.

Unaccompanied secular vocal music

The most important genres of unaccompanied secular vocal music are the choral song in its various historical and regional forms and the madrigal .

Secular vocal music with instrumental accompaniment

The accompanied secular vocal music can also be further subdivided into arias, recitatives, duets etc. as well as the various forms of choral music. They correspond to the respective forms of sacred music, but here they are based on a secular text. In the field of secular music, too, recitatives, arias, ensembles and choirs can be used to create large forms such as the cantata or the opera .

History of European Vocal Music

Prehistoric times and antiquity

The exact origin of vocal music is closely related to the use of the human voice. Calls and sounds were often used as signaling among the peoples of the earth; Another area of ​​application could be the call to various deities . The step from a long, lofty reputation to singing is not far. Just as the yodellers in the Alps used their specific calls for identification over long distances, chants served the same purpose.

Later, in parallel with the spoken language, chants developed in parallel to all matters of daily life: hunting songs, war songs and lullabies, tribal songs strengthening community, songs for weddings or funerals, heroic sagas, children's songs, songs for the maturation of young men and women, work songs for every professional group, chants of homage to the ruler or deities, every special aspect of human life was given chants. These songs were later given the name folk songs because they were simple, well-known and sung, and came straight from everyday life without being able to name an author - the majority of the songs were passed on orally. In medieval Europe - Roving singers minstrel , bard , troubadour and Trouvères called - dominated a variety of songs they publicly reciting at fairs carnivals, princes and royal courts.

First notation

There were first attempts to record the melody and text of songs in writing as early as ancient times. B. on the Seikilos stele , even if only a few examples of this notation have survived.

In the Middle Ages, the transmission of music in writing was made difficult by the fact that for a long time only the nobility and clergy were able to read and write. The first attempts at notation were therefore also undertaken by monks who, to a certain extent, reproduced the hand movements necessary for the guidance of their singing on the parchment, whereby symbolic signs for "upwards", "downwards", "long" or the like. as approximate characteristics of the melody of their singing, also called Gregorian chant . From these “ neumes ”, the respective direction of movement of the melody, melodic highs and lows as well as various nuances, e.g. B. read out regarding the rhythm of the singing, but not the respective relative pitch or the intervals between the individual tones of the singing. To fix the pitch (to pass the melodies on to learners) a letter was developed which was added to the neumes. Such a double notation is in the antiphonary of the Cathedral of St. Benigne in Dijon , the so-called Codex Montpellier (according to its storage location in the library of the medical faculty of the University of Montpellier ).

In addition to this attempt at a clearer notation of Gregorian chant, Guido von Arezzo finally devised a system of initially two (F and C marking) colored, later four staves arranged in thirds, which could define the exact pitch of notes on the basis of a root note. These lines were designated by a c or f key . However, the increasingly precise notation in relation to the pitch led indirectly to a coarsening in the performance of the chant, since the subtleties of the original Neumenschrift were difficult to represent in the newly invented system of lines or the focus of the script was not on these aspects of the Singing lay. In addition, the extensive Gregorian repertoire, which the monks had previously mastered by heart, was now apparently clearly fixed, which meant that there was no longer any need to pay as much care as before to the correct tradition of chant. This situation was to lead more and more to the alienation from the actual ways of singing and later to a deep crisis of the chant due to a faulty tradition. The system of lines thus invented is the basis of modern music notation .

Medieval polyphony

Between the 9th and 11th centuries, the first polyphonic arrangements of monophonic Gregorian chant are documented. The earliest evidence of this so-called organa can be found in the Musica enchiriadis ; In the pieces described in this treatise ascribed to Hucbald , two voices are first combined as a fourth or fifth organ . The Organa experienced their most artistic expression in the 12th century in the schools of St. Martial (Limoges) and Notre Dame . The most important masters of the organum, which is now also three- and four-part, are the masters Leonin and Perotin , who work at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris .

From around 1230, the ornate organa of the Notre Dame school were replaced by the newly emerging form of the motet , the most important musical genre of the Ars antiqua . In addition, the forms of the conductus and the hoquetus emerge , the structure of which also goes back to models from the Notre Dame school. The previously created organa are still sung, but no new organa are created. In practice, however, the unanimous execution still takes up by far the greatest amount of space.

The Ars Antiqua is at the beginning of the 14th century in the era of the Ars Nova on. The name of the epoch comes from the title of a treatise by Philippe de Vitry , which explains the fundamentals of his new, rhythmically and harmonically highly complex compositional style, which was to become groundbreaking for the epoch.

In addition to the motet, which continues to maintain its central position, various polyphonic song forms such as the ballad , the rondeau or the virelais develop . Isoperiodics and isorhythmics develop as fundamental formal compositional principles . The climax of the compositional development is reached with the isorhythmic motet. The most important composers of the Ars Nova were u. a. Philippe de Vitry and Guillaume de Machaut .


In Renaissance music , the Franco-Flemish polyphony is particularly evident in polyphonic vocal music ( Orlando di Lasso ). The climax of the compositions at the fair at that time were the settings of Palestrina ( Missa Papae Marcelli ).


At the transition from the Renaissance to the Baroque, Giovanni Gabrieli , teacher of Heinrich Schütz and one of the main masters of Venetian polychoralism, stands first . L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi is often referred to as the first opera in music history , who is also writing an important sacred work with the Marienvesper . The oratorio also experienced its first heyday in the early baroque period . Johann Sebastian Bach writes a large number of cantatas in addition to his most famous oratorios, the St. John Passion and the St. Matthew Passion . After numerous operas, Georg Friedrich Händel also wrote important oratorios, including the Messiah .

Opera and oratorio often use the da capo aria form .


In the European classical dominance of opera and oratorio continues. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart writes Italian (“ Don Giovanni ”, “ Figaros Hochzeit ” and “ Così fan tutte ”) and German operas (“ Die Entführung aus dem Serail ” and “ Die Zauberflöte ”), as well as the sacred mass in c- Minor and the requiem . With “ Orfeo ed EuridiceChristoph Willibald Gluck realizes his opera reform . Joseph Haydn's important early works include his oratorios “ The Creation ” and “ The Seasons ”. Ludwig van Beethoven creates a close connection between instrumental and vocal music in his 9th symphony with the final chorus on Schiller's poem An die Freude .

19th century

In romanticism , on the one hand, small forms are cultivated. Franz Schubert and with his song cycles " Die Schöne Müllerin " and " Winterreise " sets the standard for all future art songs . Folk song research begins. Operetta also developed in the 19th century , with couplets as vocal interludes. In addition, cabaret and revue are created .

On the other hand, the traditional forms are further developed and in some cases increased to a monumental level: Verdi's operas (e.g. “ Aida ”) and his Requiem , Brahms ' German Requiem . Richard Wagner characterizes the musical drama as a completely composed form of opera , which he also describes as a total work of art .

20th century

More and more different currents split off in contemporary vocal music , some of which are highly artificial, experimental and often deliberately elitist. You want to specifically open up new possibilities of expression and application for the human voice.

In addition, popular music is developing that presents itself largely as vocal music and remains firmly attached to the song-like tradition of European vocal music formally and in a broader sense, also harmonically. Jazz emerged in North America , followed by gospel , blues , barbershop , boogie woogie and rhythm and blues . From the 1950s on, white musicians also adopted the traditions of black music, rock 'n' roll , pop and successors such as grunge and punk emerged .

In Europe, the French chanson ( Georges Brassens , Jacques Brel ) and the German hit hit their prime before the Beatles started their unprecedented world career. The classically influenced contemporary vocal music and the cabaret increasingly use spoken song .

Other small vocal line-ups are the four-part barbershop and doo wop , with singing beyond close harmony . Today's a cappella groups can be found in all formations, with mixed and all-male groups dominating. A tendency towards multi-layered rhythmic arrangements, imitation of instrumental sound (partly with electronic aids, studio technology) and the expansion of the ensemble to include mouth drummers (see also under beatboxing ) changed the sound of a cappella music at the end of the 20th century clear.

European folk music

Non-European vocal music




South asia

East asia

South East Asia


See also

Portal: Music  - Overview of Wikipedia content on music

Individual evidence

  1. ms. H159