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Tenor is a male voice type in classical music whose vocal range lies between the countertenor and baritone. The tenor's vocal range extends up to C5. The low extreme for tenors is roughly A2 (two As below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to the second F above middle C (F5). [1] [ page needed ] The tenor voice type is generally divided into the leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor.

A voice type classifies a singing voice by vocal range, vocal weight, tessitura, vocal timbre, vocal transition points (passaggia) like breaks and lifts, and vocal register. Voice classification was developed for European classical music and seldom applies to other kinds of singing; voice classification is in the opera to pair roles with voices. Several different voice classification systems are available to identify voice types, including the German Fach system and the choral music system among many others; no system is universally applied or accepted.

Classical music broad tradition of Western art music

Classical music is art music produced or rooted in the traditions of Western culture, including both liturgical (religious) and secular music. While a more precise term is also used to refer to the period from 1750 to 1820, this article is about the broad span of time from before the 6th century AD to the present day, which includes the Classical period and various other periods. The central norms of this tradition became codified between 1550 and 1900, which is known as the common-practice period. The major time divisions of Western art music are as follows:

Vocal range is the measure of the breadth of pitches that a human voice can phonate. Its most common application is within the context of singing, where it is used as a defining characteristic for classifying singing voices into groups known as voice types. It is also a topic of study within linguistics, phonetics, and speech and language pathology, particularly in relation to the study of tonal languages and certain types of vocal disorders, although it has little practical application in terms of speech.



The name "tenor" derives from the Latin word tenere , which means "to hold". As Fallows, Jander, Forbes, Steane, Harris and Waldman note in the "Tenor" article at Grove Music Online :

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets, and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

In polyphony between about 1250 and 1500, the [tenor was the] structurally fundamental (or 'holding') voice, vocal or instrumental; by the 15th century it came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. [2]

All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor, which often proceeded in longer note values and carried a borrowed Cantus firmus melody.[ citation needed ] Until the late 16th century introduction of the contratenor singers, the tenor was usually the highest voice, assuming the role of providing a foundation.[ citation needed ] It was also in the 18th century that "tenor" came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. Thus, for earlier repertoire, a line marked 'tenor' indicated the part's role, and not the required voice type; indeed, even as late as the eighteenth century, partbooks labelled 'tenor' might contain parts for a range of voice types. [3] [ page needed ]

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

Voice type

Tenor vocal range (C3-C5) notated on the treble staff (left) and on piano keyboard in green with dot marking middle C (C4). Note that the numeral eight below the treble clef indicates that the pitches sound an octave lower than written: see Clef#Octave clefs. This is the standard clef for tenor parts in scores. Tenor voice range on keyboard.svg
Tenor vocal range (C3–C5) notated on the treble staff (left) and on piano keyboard in green with dot marking middle C (C4). Note that the numeral eight below the treble clef indicates that the pitches sound an octave lower than written: see Clef#Octave clefs. This is the standard clef for tenor parts in scores.

The vocal range of the tenor is one of the highest of the male voice types. Within opera, the lowest note in the standard tenor repertoire is probably[ weasel words ] A2 in Rossini's rarely performed La donna del lago in the role of Rodrigo di Dhu, written for Andrea Nozzari. Within more frequently performed repertoire, Mime and Herod both call for an A2. A few tenor roles in the standard repertoire call for a "tenor C" (C5, one octave above middle C). Some, if not all, of the few top Cs in the standard operatic repertoire are either optional—such as in "Che gelida manina" in Puccini's La bohème —or interpolated (added) by tradition, such as in "Di quella pira" from Verdi's Il trovatore );[ citation needed ] however, the highest demanded note in the standard tenor operatic repertoire is D5, found in "Mes amis, écoutez l'histoire" [4] from Adolph Adams' Le postillon de Lonjumeau and "Loin de son amie" [5] from Fromental Halévy's La Juive ). In the leggero repertoire, the highest note is F5 (Arturo in "Credeasi, misera" from Bellini's I puritani ), [6] [ original research? ] therefore, very few tenors have this role in their repertoire without transposition (given the raising of concert pitch since its composition). [7] [ page needed ]

Opera artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

<i>La donna del lago</i> opera by Gioacchino Rossini

La donna del lago is an opera composed by Gioachino Rossini with a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola based on the French translation of The Lady of the Lake, a narrative poem written in 1810 by Sir Walter Scott, whose work continued to popularize the image of the romantic highlands. Scott's basic story has been noted as coming from "the hint of an incident stemming from the frequent custom of James V, the King of Scotland, of walking through the kingdom in disguise".

Andrea Nozzari Italian opera singer

Andrea Nozzari was an Italian tenor.

Subtypes and roles in opera

Within the tenor voice type category are seven generally recognized subcategories: leggero tenor, lyric tenor, spinto tenor, dramatic tenor, heldentenor, Mozart tenor, and tenor buffo or spieltenor. There is considerable overlap between the various categories of role and of voice-type; some tenor singers have begun with lyric voices but have transformed with time into spinto or even dramatic tenors.

Spinto is a vocal term used to characterize a soprano or tenor voice of a weight between lyric and dramatic that is capable of handling large musical climaxes in opera at moderate intervals.


Also known as the tenore di grazia , the leggero tenor is essentially the male equivalent of a lyric coloratura. This voice is light, agile, and capable of executing difficult passages of fioritura. The typical leggero tenor possesses a range spanning from approximately C3 to E5, with a few being able to sing up to F5 or higher in full voice. In some cases, the chest register of the leggero tenor may extend below C3. Voices of this type are utilized frequently in the operas of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and in music dating from the Baroque period.[ citation needed ]

Leggero tenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]


The lyric tenor is a warm graceful voice with a bright, full timbre that is strong but not heavy and can be heard over an orchestra. Lyric tenors have a range from approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the D one octave above middle C (D5). Similarly, their lower range may extend a few notes below the C3. There are many vocal shades to the lyric tenor group, repertoire should be selected according to the weight, colors, and abilities of the voice.

Lyric tenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]


The spinto tenor has the brightness and height of a lyric tenor, but with a heavier vocal weight enabling the voice to be "pushed" to dramatic climaxes with less strain than the lighter-voice counterparts. Spinto tenors have a darker timbre than a lyric tenor, without having a vocal color as dark as many (not all) dramatic tenors. The German equivalent of the Spinto fach is the Jugendlicher Heldentenor and encompasses many of the Dramatic tenor roles as well as some Wagner roles such as Lohengrin and Stolzing. The difference is often the depth and metal in the voice where some lyric tenors age or push their way into singing as a Spinto giving them a lighter tone and a Jugendlicher Heldentenor tends to be either a young heldentenor or true lyric spinto. Spinto tenors have a range from approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5).

Spinto tenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]


Also "tenore di forza" or "robusto", the dramatic tenor has an emotive, ringing and very powerful, clarion, heroic tenor sound. The dramatic tenor's approximate range is from the B one octave below middle C (B2) to the B one octave above middle C (B4) with some able to sing up to the C one octave above middle C (C5). [7] [ page needed ] Many successful dramatic tenors though have historically avoided the coveted high C in performance. Their lower range tends to extend into the baritone tessitura or, a few notes below the C3, even down to A♭2. Some dramatic tenors have a rich and dark tonal colour to their voice (such as the mature Enrico Caruso) while others (like Francesco Tamagno) possess a bright, steely timbre.

Dramatic tenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]


The heldentenor (English: heroic tenor) has a rich, dark, powerful and dramatic voice. As its name implies, the heldentenor vocal fach features in the German romantic operatic repertoire. The heldentenor is the German equivalent of the tenore drammatico, however with a more baritonal quality: the typical Wagnerian protagonist. The keystone of the heldentenor's repertoire is arguably Wagner's Siegfried , an extremely demanding role requiring a wide vocal range and great power, plus tremendous stamina and acting ability. Often the heldentenor is a baritone who has transitioned to this fach or tenors who have been misidentified as baritones. Therefore, the heldentenor voice might or might not have facility up to high B or C. The repertoire, however, rarely calls for such high notes.

Heldentenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]


A Mozart tenor is yet another distinct tenor type. In Mozart singing, the most important element is the instrumental approach of the vocal sound which implies: flawless and slender emission of sound, perfect intonation, legato, diction and phrasing, capability to cope with the dynamic requirements of the score, beauty of timbre, secure line of singing through perfect support and absolute breath control, musical intelligence, body discipline, elegance, nobility, agility and, most importantly, ability for dramatic expressiveness within the narrow borders imposed by the strict Mozartian style.

The German Mozart tenor tradition goes back to the end of the 1920s, when Mozart tenors started making use of Caruso's technique (a tenor who rarely sang Mozart) to achieve and improve the required dynamics and dramatic expressiveness.

Mozart tenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]

Tenor buffo or spieltenor

A Tenor buffo or spieltenor is a tenor with good acting ability, and the ability to create distinct voices for his characters. This voice specializes in smaller comic roles. The range of the tenor buffo is from the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5). [9] The tessitura of these parts ranges from lower than other tenor roles to very high and broad. These parts are often played by younger tenors who have not yet reached their full vocal potential or older tenors who are beyond their prime singing years. Only rarely will a singer specialize in these roles for an entire career. [7] [ page needed ] In French opéra comique, supporting roles requiring a thin voice but good acting are sometimes described as 'trial', after the singer Antoine Trial (1737–1795), examples being in the operas of Ravel and in The Tales of Hoffmann . [10] [ page needed ]

Tenor buffo or spieltenor roles in operas: [7] [ page needed ]

Gilbert and Sullivan and operetta

All of Gilbert and Sullivan's Savoy operas have at least one lead lyric tenor character. Notable operetta roles are:

In choral music

In SATB four-part mixed chorus, the tenor is the second lowest vocal range, above the bass and below the alto and soprano. Men's chorus usually denotes an ensemble of TTBB in which the first tenor is the highest voice. Whilst certain choral music does require the first tenors to ascend the full tenor range, the majority of choral music places the tenors in the range from approximately B2 up to A4. The requirements of the tenor voice in choral music are also tied to the style of music most often performed by a given choir. Orchestra choruses require tenors with fully resonant voices, but chamber or a cappella choral music (sung with no instrumental accompaniment) can sometimes rely on light baritones singing in falsetto. [11] [ page needed ]

Even so, one nearly ubiquitous facet of choral singing is the shortage of tenor voices. [12] [ better source needed ] [13] [ page needed ] Most men tend to have baritone voices and for this reason the majority of men tend to prefer singing in the bass section of a choir. (However true basses are even rarer than tenors.) Some men sing tenor even if they lack the full range, and sometimes low altos sing the tenor part. [11] [ page needed ] In men's choruses that consist of four male vocal parts TTBB (tenor 1, tenor 2, bass 1, bass 2), tenors will often sing both in chest tone and falsetto, extending the vocal range of the choir.

Other uses

There are four parts in Barbershop harmony: bass, baritone, lead, and tenor (lowest to highest), with "tenor" referring to the highest part. The tenor generally sings in falsetto voice, corresponding roughly to the countertenor in classical music, and harmonizes above the lead, who sings the melody. The barbershop tenor range is Middle C to A one octave above-Middle C , though it is written an octave lower. The "lead" in barbershop music is equivalent to the normal tenor range. [14] [ page needed ]

In bluegrass music, the melody line is called the lead. Tenor is sung an interval of a third above the lead. Baritone is the fifth of the scale that has the lead as a tonic, and may be sung below the lead, or even above the lead (and the tenor), in which case it is called "high baritone." [15] [ page needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

A soprano[soˈpraːno] is a type of classical female singing voice and has the highest vocal range of all voice types. The soprano's vocal range (using scientific pitch notation) is from approximately middle C (C4) = 261 Hz to "high A" (A5) =880 Hz in choral music, or to "soprano C" (C6, two octaves above middle C) =1046 Hz or higher in operatic music. In four-part chorale style harmony, the soprano takes the highest part, which usually encompasses the melody. The soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, soubrette, lyric, spinto, and dramatic soprano.

A baritone is a type of classical male singing voice whose vocal range lies between the bass and the tenor voice types. Originally from the Greek βαρύτονος (barýtonos), meaning heavy sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C (i.e. F2–F4) in choral music, and from the second A below middle C to the A above middle C (A2 to A4) in operatic music, but can be extended at either end. The baritone voice type is generally divided into the baryton-Martin baritone (light baritone), lyric baritone, Kavalierbariton, Verdi baritone, dramatic baritone, baryton-noble baritone, and the bass-baritone.

A contralto is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range is the lowest female voice type.

A mezzo-soprano or mezzo (, ; Italian: [ˈmɛddzo soˈpraːno] meaning "half soprano") is a type of classical female singing voice whose vocal range lies between the soprano and the contralto voice types. The mezzo-soprano's vocal range usually extends from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above (i.e. A3–A5 in scientific pitch notation, where middle C = C4; 220–880 Hz). In the lower and upper extremes, some mezzo-sopranos may extend down to the F below middle C (F3, 175 Hz) and as high as "high C" (C6, 1047 Hz). The mezzo-soprano voice type is generally divided into the coloratura, lyric, and dramatic mezzo-soprano.

A bass-baritone is a high-lying bass or low-lying "classical" baritone voice type which shares certain qualities with the true baritone voice. The term arose in the late 19th century to describe the particular type of voice required to sing three Wagnerian roles: the Dutchman in Der fliegende Holländer, Wotan/Der Wanderer in the Ring Cycle and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Wagner labelled these roles as Hoher Bass —see fach for more details.

The German Fachsystem is a method of classifying singers, primarily opera singers, according to the range, weight, and color of their voices. It is used worldwide, but primarily in Europe, especially in German-speaking countries and by repertory opera houses.

A soubrette is a type of operatic soprano voice fach, often cast as a female stock character in opera and theatre. The term arrived in English from Provençal via French, and means "conceited" or "coy". A soubrette is also defined as a young woman regarded as flirtatious or frivolous.

A Heldenbaritone, also known as dramatic bass-baritone or hoher bass , is an opera singer, a German dramatic baritone.

A coloratura soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that specializes in music that is distinguished by agile runs, leaps and trills.

Tenore di grazia, also called leggero tenor, is a lightweight, flexible tenor voice type. The tenor roles written in the early 19th-century Italian operas are invariably leggero tenor roles, especially those by Rossini such as Lindoro in L'italiana in Algeri, Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola, and Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia; and those by Bellini such as Gualtiero in Il pirata, Elvino in La sonnambula and Arturo in I puritani. Many Donizetti roles, such as Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore and Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Tonio in La fille du régiment, are also tenore di grazia roles. One of the most famous leggero tenors of that period was Giovanni Battista Rubini, for whom Bellini wrote nearly all his operas.

Anna Tomowa-Sintow is a Bulgarian soprano who has sung to great acclaim in all the major opera houses around the world in a repertoire that includes Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, and Strauss. She enjoyed a particularly close professional relationship with conductor Herbert von Karajan from 1973 until the conductor's death in 1989.

John Alexander (tenor) American tenor

John Alexander was an American operatic tenor who had a substantial career during the 1950s through the 1980s. He had a longstanding relationship with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, singing with that company every year between 1961 and 1987 for a total of 379 performances. He also periodically performed at the New York City Opera during his career and was a frequent presence at the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company during the late 1950s and 1960s. Although he spent most of his career in New York City, Alexander occasionally traveled to perform as a guest artist with many of the world's leading opera houses, both in the United States and Europe. He was also an active concert singer throughout his career.

A spinto soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has the limpidity and easy high notes of a lyric soprano, yet can be "pushed" on to achieve dramatic climaxes without strain. This type of voice may possess a somewhat darker timbre, too, than the average lyric soprano. It generally uses squillo to "slice" through the sound of a full orchestra, rather than singing over the orchestra like a true dramatic soprano.

A dramatic soprano is a type of operatic soprano with a powerful, rich, emotive voice that can sing over, or cut through, a full orchestra. Thicker vocal folds in dramatic voices usually (but not always) mean less agility than lighter voices but a sustained, fuller sound. Usually this voice has a lower tessitura than other sopranos, and a darker timbre. They are often used for heroic, often long-suffering, tragic women of opera. Dramatic sopranos have a range from approximately low A (A3) to "high C" (C6). Some dramatic sopranos, known as Wagnerian sopranos, have an exceptionally big voice that can assert itself over a large orchestra (of more than 80 or even 100 pieces). These voices are substantial, often denser in tone, extremely powerful and, ideally, evenly balanced throughout the vocal registers. Wagnerian sopranos usually play mythic heroines. Successful Wagnerian sopranos are rare and often Wagnerian roles are performed by Italianate dramatic sopranos.

There is no authoritative system of voice classification in non-classical music as classical terms are used to describe not merely various vocal ranges, but specific vocal timbres unique to each range. These timbres are produced by classical training techniques with which most popular singers are not intimately familiar, and which even those that are do not universally employ.

A lyric soprano is a type of operatic soprano voice that has a warm quality with a bright, full timbre that can be heard over an orchestra. The lyric soprano voice generally has a higher tessitura than a soubrette and usually plays ingenues and other sympathetic characters in opera. Lyric sopranos have a range from approximately middle C (C4) to "high D" (D6). This is the most common female singing voice. There is a tendency to divide lyric sopranos into two groups: light and full.

A bass ( BAYSS) is a type of classical male singing voice and has the lowest vocal range of all voice types. According to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, a bass is typically classified as having a vocal range extending from around the second E below middle C to the E above middle C (i.e., E2–E4). Its tessitura, or comfortable range, is normally defined by the outermost lines of the bass clef. Categories of bass voices vary according to national style and classification system. Italians favour subdividing basses into the basso cantante (singing bass), basso buffo ("funny" bass), or the dramatic basso profondo (low bass). The American system identifies the bass-baritone, comic bass, lyric bass, and dramatic bass. The German fach system offers further distinctions: Spielbass (Bassbuffo), Schwerer Spielbass (Schwerer Bassbuffo), Charakterbass (Bassbariton), and Seriöser Bass. These classification systems can overlap. Rare is the performer who embodies a single fach without also touching repertoire from another category.

Kay Griffel is an American operatic spinto soprano.


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