Sunday, 23 April 2017

Musical Terms

Whilst invigilating for a music exam a few weeks ago, the young man for whom I was acting as reader and scribe came out with several expressions. Some of these I would never have thought related to music, others I had never heard before.

As usual, I was more interested in how the terms developed and in the original usage and meaning.

Accidental - in a musical sense not used since 1868 when it was coined to describe a passage where the note changes without essentially changing the key of the passage. If you have no idea what that means you're not alone. What is clearer is this comes from 'accident', itself traceable to Proto-Indo-European kad or 'to make fall'.

Accompany - seen in a musical sense since 1744, only 13 years after it had first been used in an heraldic sense. Derived from 'companion', this can also be traced to Proto-Indo-European where pa meant 'to feed' and gave us recognisable words in Latin and French where panis and pain respectively mean 'bread'.

Adagio - first seen in a musical sense in 1746, the instruction to play 'slowly, leisurely, gracefully' has an identical origin to 'adjacent', both can be traced to Proto-Indo-European ye 'to throw, impel' - which suggests quite the opposite!

Air - used in a musical sense since 1580, it shares an origin with 'aria' (see below)

Allegro - musically 'brisk, sprightly, cheerful' and used since 1721. It originates in a Proto-Germanic term meaning 'zeal, eagerness' and is thought to have roots meaning 'wander, roam'.

Alto - means 'high' and seen since 1784, this began as Proto-Indo-European al 'to grow, nourish'.

Andante - seen since 1742, it means 'moderately slow', coming from a Latin root ambire 'to go round'. This origin would never have occurred to ABBA when they released the album Super Trouper containing the song Andante, Andante when it went round and round at 33rpm.

Arabesque - of Moorish or Arabic design and seen since 1786, it is from the Italian word for an Arab, itself thought to mean 'inhabitant of the desert'.

Aria - is literally the Italian for 'air'. The English word is ultimately from Proto-Indo-European awer, which meant 'sky' as much as 'atmosphere'. It has also given us words meaning 'raising', 'mist', 'haze', 'clouds', 'artery' and 'bright'.

Arpeggio - since 1742 and meaning 'harping' which has the same origin as 'harp' (see below).

Bagatelle - 'a trifle' and used musically since 1827. It has the same origin as 'bag', itself of uncertain etymology but thought to be related to 'belly' and 'bellows'.

Baritone - a deeper male voice and the reason it is related to Proto-Indo-European gwere 'heavy' and ten 'to stretch'.

Bass - in use since 1590, the etymology can be traced to the same root as 'base' which comes from Latin bassus 'thick, stumpy, low' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European gwa 'to go, come'.

Beat - musically since 1842, it has the same origin as the sense 'to thrash' which comes from Proto-Indo-European bhau 'to strike'.

Bow - the earlist musical bows were curved, like the bow of an archer. Used since 1570, this shape is the reason the origin is Proto-Indo-European bheug 'bent'.

Bridge - a musical bridge contrasts with the main theme and, as the name suggests, connects them. Not seen until the late 19th century, it comes as no surprise to find it shares an origin with the more common sense and is derived from Proto-Indo-European bhru 'log, beam'.

Cadenza - musically since 1836, it is the passage near the close of a song and shares an origin with 'accidental' (see above).

Carol - a 'joyful song' and coined around the end of the 13th century when it was also used to refer to 'a dance in a ring'. Both originate in the Latin choraules 'flute player' and ultimately, which shares an origin with 'chorus', from Proto-Indo-European gher 'to grasp, enclose'. Not until the end of the 16th century was the term used to refer to a song associated with Christmas.

Chord - shares an origin with 'cord' in the Greek khorde 'gut-string, tripe' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European ghere 'gut, entrail' from which musical strings were once produced.

Coda - seen since 1753, this is derived from Latin cauda 'animal tail' and chosen as the coda is the concluding passage in a musical composition.

Composition - ultimayely the same as 'compose', this can be traced to com 'with' and poser which shares an origin and meaning with 'pause' and therefore the meaning of 'compose', seen today in a creative sense, began in the sense 'cease'.

Concert - since the 16th century and from a word meaning 'harmony', this comes from a Latin verb cernere 'seperate, distinguish' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European krei 'discriminate, distinguish' and has exactly the same origin as 'crisis'.

Conduct - is of Latin origin and means 'to bring together' and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European deuk 'to lead'.

Flat - seen in music since 1670, it comes from Proto-Indo-European plat 'to spread'.

Harp - taken from the name of the instrument which, sadly, is of unknown origin. However it is thought to be related to the Old English harpa meaning 'instrument of torture' - clearly the harp was once confused with the bagpipes.

Instrumental - from the Latin instruere 'arrange, furnish', this has an identical origin to the word 'structure' and is derived from the Proto-Indo-European stere 'to extend, spread, stretch out'.

Key - musically since 1630, and ultimately from Proto-Germanic ki 'to cleave, split'.

Major - not seen musically until 1797, it comes from the Latin magnus 'great' and Proto-Indo-European meg with identical meaning.

Minor - also seen musically since 1797, the term comes to English from Latin minores and Proto-Indo-European mei 'small'.

Note - seen musically from the end of the 13th century, here the earliest origin we can find is Latin gnoscere 'to know'.

Opera - musically since 1640, it comes from Proto-Indo-European op 'to work' and also 'to produce in abundance'.

Overture - used to mean 'an opening' before the musical snse in 1660. Here the origin is Proto-Indo-European ap 'away' and wer 'to cover'.

Piano - effectively means 'soft', the name first used for the instrument from 1803. It shares an origin with the carpentry tool, the 'plane', in meaning 'flat'.

Pitch - musically since 1670, it is related to 'prick' and shares an origin meaning 'pointed, dagger'.

Scale in a musical sense since 1590, it comes from the Latin scala 'ladder' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European skand 'spring, leap, climb'.

Score - not seen in a musical sense until 1839, the term is ultimately Proto-Indo-European and from sker meaning 'cut' and sharing an origin with 'scissors' and 'shears'.

Sharp - 1570 was the first year when it was used musically, it shares an origin with 'score' (see above).

Solo - first seen in 1690, this is from Latin solus and Proto-Indo-European swo meaning 'so' and also the root of 'as' and 'himself'.

String - was first known in a musical sense to mean 'to tune someone or something' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European strenk 'tight, narrow'.

Suite - in a musical sense from 1680, it shares an origin with 'suit' used in both a clothing and playing card sense. This originates in Proto-Indo-European sekw 'to follow'.

Theme - not used musically until 1929, this comes from Proto-Indo-European dhe-mn 'to set'.

Tone - musically since the middle of the 14th century, this shares an origin with 'baritone' in Proto-Indo-European ten 'to stretch'.

These, for the most part, quite unrelated origins were not unexpected but at least I now have a reason for my addagios not being graceful, my piano playing sounding flat, and plucking the strings of a harp being considered torture.

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