Recitative is a style of monody that imitates spoken language, rather than melody or musical motives. Recitative developed in the late 16th century in opposition to the polyphonic choral music, or music with simultaneous independent lines of melody. A recitative may also refer to a passage to be delivered in this style.
There are two main types of recitative. Recitativo secco (dry recitative) is sung with a free rhythm dictated by the accents of the words. Accompaniment, usually by continuo (cello and harpsichord), is simple and chordal. The melody contains only a few pitches.
Recitativo stromentato, or accompanied recitative, has a stricter rhythm and more involved, often orchestral accompaniment. Used at dramatically important moments, it is more emotional in character. Its vocal line is more melodic, and typically it leads into a formal aria.
- Giacomo Carissimi: "Plorate colles, dolete montes" from Historia di Jephte
- Henry Purcell: "Dido’s Lament" from Dido and Aeneas
- G.F. Handel: "Thy Rebuke Hath Broken His Heart" from Messiah
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On the next page is an excerpt from "Plorate colles, dolete montes" from Historia di Jephte by Giacomo Carissimi. Notice how the rhythm matching the natural pattern of speech, and how there is little movement in the melody.