Part (music)

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A score with four parts, for Mendelssohn's opus 13 string quartet. It may be noted that the second violin and the alto "parts" above often include two or three simultaneous notes: in some sense, these parts assemble several parts, played by a single player. Mendelssohn Opus 13 Intermezzo.jpg
A score with four parts, for Mendelssohn's opus 13 string quartet. It may be noted that the second violin and the alto "parts" above often include two or three simultaneous notes: in some sense, these parts assemble several parts, played by a single player.

A part (or voice) generally refers to a single strand or melody or harmony of music within a larger ensemble or a polyphonic musical composition. There are several senses in which the word is often used:


Polyphony and part-writing

A bar from J.S. Bach's "Fugue No.17 in A flat", BWV 862, from Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (Part I), an example of contrapuntal polyphony.Play (help*info)
The two parts, or voices, on each staff may be distinguished by the direction of the stems. Play voice 4 (help*info)
, 3 (help*info)
, 2 (help*info)
, & 1 (help*info)
separately. BachFugueBar.png
A bar from J.S. Bach's "Fugue No.17 in A flat", BWV 862, from Das Wohltemperierte Clavier (Part I), an example of contrapuntal polyphony. Loudspeaker.svg Play   The two parts, or voices, on each staff may be distinguished by the direction of the stems. Loudspeaker.svg Play voice 4  , Loudspeaker.svg 3  , Loudspeaker.svg 2  , & Loudspeaker.svg 1   separately.

Part-writing (or voice leading) is the composition of parts in consideration of harmony and counterpoint. In the context of polyphonic composition the term voice may be used instead of part to denote a single melodic line or textural layer. The term is generic, and is not meant to imply that the line should necessarily be vocal in character, instead referring to instrumentation, the function of the line within the counterpoint structure, or simply to register. [3]

The historical development of polyphony and part-writing is a central thread through European music history. The earliest notated pieces of music in Europe were gregorian chant melodies. It appears that the Codex Calixtinus (12th century) contains the earliest extant decipherable part music. [4] Many histories of music trace the development of new rules for dissonances, and shifting stylistic possibilities for relationships between parts.

In some places and time periods, part-writing has been systematized as a set of counterpoint rules taught to musicians as part of their early education. One notable example is Johann Fux's Gradus ad Parnassum , which dictates a style of counterpoint writing that resembles the work of the famous Renaissance composer Palestrina. The standard for most Western music theory in the twentieth century is generalized from the work of Classical composers in the common practice period.[ clarification needed ] For example, a recent general music textbook states,

Part writing is derived from four-voice chorales written by J.S. Bach. The late baroque era composer wrote a total of 371 harmonized chorales. Today most students' reference Albert Riemenschneider's 1941 compilation of Bach chorales. [5]

Polyphony and part-writing are also present in many popular music and folk music traditions, although they may not be described as explicitly or systematically as they sometimes are in the Western tradition. [6]

Musical form

In musical forms, a part may refer to a subdivision in the structure of a piece. Sometimes "part" is a title given by the composer or publisher to the main sections of a large-scale work, especially oratorios. [7] [8] For example, Handel's Messiah , which is organized into Part I, Part II, and Part III, each of which contains multiple scenes and one or two dozen individual arias or choruses.

Other times, "part" is used to refer in a more general sense to any identifiable section of the piece. This is for example the case in the widely used ternary form, usually schematized as A–B–A. In this form the first and third parts (A) are musically identical, or very nearly so, while the second part (B) in some way provides a contrast with them. In this meaning of part, similar terms used are section, strain , or turn. [9]

See also

Related Research Articles

Classical period (music) Genre of Western music (c.1730–1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

Counterpoint Polyphonic music with separate melodies

In music, counterpoint is the relationship between two or more musical lines which are harmonically interdependent yet independent in rhythm and melodic contour. It has been most commonly identified in the European classical tradition, strongly developing during the Renaissance and in much of the common practice period, especially in the Baroque. The term originates from the Latin punctus contra punctum meaning "point against point", i.e. "note against note".

Fugue Contrapuntal musical form based on a subject that recurs in imitation

In music, a fugue is a contrapuntal compositional technique in two or more voices, built on a subject that is introduced at the beginning in imitation and which recurs frequently in the course of the composition. It is not to be confused with a fuguing tune, which is a style of song popularized by and mostly limited to early American music and West Gallery music. A fugue usually has three main sections: an exposition, a development and a final entry that contains the return of the subject in the fugue's tonic key. Some fugues have a recapitulation.

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina Italian Renaissance composer

Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was an Italian Renaissance composer of sacred music and the best-known 16th-century representative of the Roman School of musical composition. He had a long-lasting influence on the development of church and secular music in Europe, especially on the development of counterpoint, and his work is considered the culmination of Renaissance polyphony.

Choir Ensemble of singers

A choir is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform. Choirs may perform music from the classical music repertoire, which spans from the medieval era to the present, or popular music repertoire. Most choirs are led by a conductor, who leads the performances with arm and face gestures.

Johann Pachelbel was a German composer, organist, and teacher who brought the south German organ schools to their peak. He composed a large body of sacred and secular music, and his contributions to the development of the chorale prelude and fugue have earned him a place among the most important composers of the middle Baroque era.

Dieterich Buxtehude Danish-German organist and composer (1637–1707)

Dieterich Buxtehude was a Danish organist and composer of the Baroque period, whose works for the organ represent a central part of the standard organ repertoire usually performed at recitals and church services. As a composer who worked in various vocal and instrumental idioms, Buxtehude's style greatly influenced other composers, such as his student Johann Sebastian Bach. Historically, Buxtehude is among the important composers of the mid-Baroque period in Germany.

Mass (music) Form of sacred musical composition

The Mass, a form of sacred musical composition, is a choral composition that sets the invariable portions of the Eucharistic liturgy to music. Most Masses are settings of the liturgy in Latin, the liturgical sacred language of the Catholic Church's Roman liturgy, but there are a significant number written in the languages of non-Catholic countries where vernacular worship has long been the norm. For example, there are many Masses written in English for the Church of England. Musical Masses take their name from the Catholic liturgy called "the Mass" as well.

Organum is, in general, a plainchant melody with at least one added voice to enhance the harmony, developed in the Middle Ages. Depending on the mode and form of the chant, a supporting bass line may be sung on the same text, the melody may be followed in parallel motion, or a combination of both of these techniques may be employed. As no real independent second voice exists, this is a form of heterophony. In its earliest stages, organum involved two musical voices: a Gregorian chant melody, and the same melody transposed by a consonant interval, usually a perfect fifth or fourth. In these cases the composition often began and ended on a unison, the added voice keeping to the initial tone until the first part has reached a fifth or fourth, from where both voices proceeded in parallel harmony, with the reverse process at the end. Organum was originally improvised; while one singer performed a notated melody, another singer—singing "by ear"—provided the unnotated second melody. Over time, composers began to write added parts that were not just simple transpositions, thus creating true polyphony.

In music, texture is how the tempo, melodic, and harmonic materials are combined in a musical composition, determining the overall quality of the sound in a piece. The texture is often described in regard to the density, or thickness, and range, or width, between lowest and highest pitches, in relative terms as well as more specifically distinguished according to the number of voices, or parts, and the relationship between these voices. For example, a thick texture contains many 'layers' of instruments. One of these layers could be a string section or another brass. The thickness also is changed by the amount and the richness of the instruments playing the piece. The thickness varies from light to thick. A piece's texture may be changed by the number and character of parts playing at once, the timbre of the instruments or voices playing these parts and the harmony, tempo, and rhythms used.. The types categorized by number and relationship of parts are analyzed and determined through the labeling of primary textural elements: primary melody (PM), secondary melody (SM), parallel supporting melody (PSM), static support (SS), harmonic support (HS), rhythmic support (RS), and harmonic and rhythmic support (HRS).

Subject (music)

In music, a subject is the material, usually a recognizable melody, upon which part or all of a composition is based. In forms other than the fugue, this may be known as the theme.

In music, a cantus firmus is a pre-existing melody forming the basis of a polyphonic composition.

Chorale prelude

In music, a chorale prelude or chorale setting is a short liturgical composition for organ using a chorale tune as its basis. It was a predominant style of the German Baroque era and reached its culmination in the works of J.S. Bach, who wrote 46 examples of the form in his Orgelbüchlein, along with multiple other works of the type in other collections.


In music, homophony is a texture in which a primary part is supported by one or more additional strands that flesh out the harmony. One melody predominates while the other parts play either single notes or an elaborate accompaniment. This differentiation of roles contrasts with equal-voice polyphony and monophony. Historically, homophony and its differentiated roles for parts emerged in tandem with tonality, which gave distinct harmonic functions to the soprano, bass and inner voices.

Johann Walter, also known as Johann Walther or Johannes Walter was a Lutheran composer and poet during the Reformation period.

In music, especially Schenkerian analysis, a voice exchange is the repetition of a contrapuntal passage with the voices' parts exchanged; for instance, the melody of one part appears in a second part and vice versa. It differs from invertible counterpoint in that there is no octave displacement; therefore it always involves some voice crossing. If scored for equal instruments or voices, it may be indistinguishable from a repeat, although because a repeat does not appear in any of the parts, it may make the music more interesting for the musicians. It is a characteristic feature of rounds, although not usually called such.

In music, voice crossing is the intersection of melodic lines in a composition, leaving a lower voice on a higher pitch than a higher voice. Because this can cause registral confusion and reduce the independence of the voices, it is sometimes avoided in composition and pedagogical exercises.

String Quartets, Op. 20 (Haydn)

The six string quartets opus 20 by Joseph Haydn are among the works that earned Haydn the sobriquet "the father of the string quartet". The quartets are considered a milestone in the history of composition; in them, Haydn develops compositional techniques that were to define the medium for the next 200 years.

Baroque music Style of Western art music

Baroque music is a period or style of Western art music composed from approximately 1600 to 1750. This era followed the Renaissance music era, and was followed in turn by the Classical era, with the galant style marking the transition between Baroque and Classical eras. The Baroque period is divided into three major phases: early, middle, and late. Overlapping in time, they are conventionally dated from 1580 to 1650, from 1630 to 1700, and from 1680 to 1750. Baroque music forms a major portion of the "classical music" canon, and is now widely studied, performed, and listened to. The term "baroque" comes from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning "misshapen pearl". Key composers of the Baroque era include Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Alessandro Scarlatti, Henry Purcell, Georg Philipp Telemann, Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Arcangelo Corelli, François Couperin, Giuseppe Tartini, Heinrich Schütz, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, Dieterich Buxtehude, and others.

<i>Clavier-Übung III</i> Collection of organ compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach

The Clavier-Übung III, sometimes referred to as the German Organ Mass, is a collection of compositions for organ by Johann Sebastian Bach, started in 1735–36 and published in 1739. It is considered Bach's most significant and extensive work for organ, containing some of his most musically complex and technically demanding compositions for that instrument.


Inline citations

  1. 1 2 Drabkin, William. "Part (i)". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  2. Drabkin, William. "Part (ii)". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 August 2017. One frequently distinguishes the outer (highest and lowest) parts (Ger. Aussensatz) from the inner (middle) part or parts.
  3. Drabkin, William. "Part (iii)". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 August 2017. In early polyphony parts were named not according to vocal range or timbre, but on the basis of their function in the contrapuntal design [...] With the introduction of such names as ‘contratenor bassus’, part names began to take on registral connotations.
  4. Van der Werf, Hendrik (1993). The Oldest Extant Part Music and the Origin of Western Polyphony, p.vii. H. van der Werf.
  5. Starr, Eric (2009). The Everything Music Composition Book with CD, p.171. ISBN   978-1-60550-093-5.
  6. Shepherd, John (2003). Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, p.257. ISBN   978-0-8264-6322-7.
  7. Drabkin, William. "Part (iii)". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 August 2017. The primary division of certain large-scale works (especially oratorios), equivalent to the act in theatrical works.
  8. "part". Oxford Companion to Music. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 August 2017. In certain large-scale genres, e.g. oratorios, ‘Part’ is used to designate the main division of the work.
  9. Drabkin, William. "Part (iii)". Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 August 2017.