We know that friends who come to our Arcadia festival can be anything from experts in classical music to those recently interested in this wonderful art form.  We thought, therefore, it would be a good idea to provide you with a guide to what can seem musical jargon but, with a little knowledge, can help appreciation of the music and comprehension of the programme notes. 

Slow (and slower than Andante)

Brightly, gaily

Fast, quick, lively

Andante means ‘at a walking pace’ so betokens a steady tempo. 


A harmonic sequence denoting the end of a phrase or piece

Song-like, singable

Usually refers to a Lutheran hymn sung by the congregation or choir

Come prima        
Like the first time

Development section       
See ‘Sonata Form’

See ‘Sonata Form’

This clearly indicates the last movement but its use is mysterious.  If you haven’t a printed programme, but you are familiar with classical music up to the 20th Century, you might expect a multi-movement work such as a quartet, a sonata or a symphony to have three or four movements, so you will find out from the form which is the last movement.  If you have a printed programme, you can see which is the last movement, so it need not be called Finale.  I can only assume composers write Finale at the last movement to tell the musicians to prepare themselves for a final effort to the end of the work.

First subject         
See ‘Sonata Form’

Fugue / Fugato   
At its most basic, fugue is a form in which the subject theme is announced completely and then is heard again by a second voice whilst the first delivers a counter-theme.  Depending on the number of voices, the fugal subject is announced by each voice to complete the Exposition and then there are many ways of treating the subject or motifs thereof in subsequent eoisodes, often changing key.  At the end, the subject and the whole work concludes in the original key.  J.S. Bach was the absolute master of the form but it has been used as a form in much more modern eras.

Fugato is a passage in fugal style introduced into a non-fugal work, such as Elgar’s Piano Quintet, last movement.

A musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jewish people of Eastern Europe, typically dance tunes and showpiece instrumental music featuring violin, accordion, cimbalom, piano and double bass.


Originally a French dance-form in triple time that became a staple of Haydn’s and Mozart’s symphonies and quartets.  To give greater length and structure, the form developed so that that the piece has a first section A, in which sections are repeated, followed by a contrasting section B called a Trio (nothing to do with three), again with repeated sections, concluded with a reprise of A without repeats.  The Scherzo adopted the same form when it superseded the Minuet.

Moderately, at a moderate pace.

Very, many.

In a noble fashion – a direction associated with Elgar.


Plucked with the fingers, as opposed to bowing a stringed instrument.

Plainsong / Plainchant      
Generic term for the unaccompanied chanting of traditional ritual melody in the Western Christian Church

Poco (a poco)      
Little (by little)

Presto / Prestissimo          
Fast, hurried / Very fast indeed

See ‘Sonata Form’

A style of singing opposite to usual melodic, metrical singing, where the voice imitates the natural inflections of speech.  In opera, the passages that push on the action are sung as recitative, whereas the showpiece meditations on feelings are contained in the songs, or arias.

Rondo, literally ‘round’, is an episodic form where the opening section A gives way to a contrasting section B and then A re-appears.  However many further episodes occur, the work keeps coming back round to the theme A.  The form became a standard for the last movement in the Classical period and beyond.  It was invariably fast

Scherzo / Scherzando       
Scherzando means jokingly, playfully because Scherzo means literally ‘a joke’ and this can indicate humour (subtle or broad) or boisterousness, or simply a contrast to the mood of the rest of the work.  Scherzo often implies that the form of the piece, like its predecessor, the Minuet, has a first section A, in which sections are repeated, followed by a contrasting section B called a Trio, again with repeated sections, concluded with a reprise of A without repeats.

Second subject   
See ‘Sonata Form’

Forcing, strongly accenting

Sonata Form       
In its simplest manifestation, “sonata” form can be the formal basis of any extended piece, and contains an Exposition, a Development and a Recapitulation (+ Coda).  The Exposition contains a First Subject which leads to a (contrasting) Second Subject.  These and their elements are examined, transformed, combined etc, in a range of keys to form the Development section.  This returns the piece to its original key where the Exposition is more or less repeated and the piece is finished with a Coda (lit, Tail) to draw the work to a conclusion.

Detached, the opposite of legato (smooth)

A suspension occurs when one note of a chord is carried over into the next, differing chord creating a tension that is resolved only when the note moves to its ‘true’ destination in the second chord

The displacement of the beat or the normal accent of a piece of music.  Think Jazz or Ragtime!

Tema con variazioni          
Theme with variations.  A very old instrumental or vocal form, improvised or written down, where, at its simplest, a theme is played and then, using the same chord structure, variations of greater or lesser difficulty are presented.  Usually the form pleases an audience because of the increasingly familiar repetition, and because the variations can be showpieces of the players’ virtuosity.

Quietly, tranquilly

In string music, this means the rapid repetition of a note to give a ‘scrubbing’ or ‘trembling’ effect.