Sinfonia is the Italian (Spanish, and also Portuguese) word for symphony (see that article for etymology). In music "Sinfonia" has however some specific meanings and connotations, that are understood when the word "sinfonia" is used outside the realm of Latin-based languages:

Late Renaissance - Early Baroque

In the very late Renaissance and early Baroque, a sinfonia was an alternative name for a canzona, fantasia or ricercar. These were almost always instrumental forms, all rooted however in a polyphonic tradition. Later in the Baroque period it was more likely to be a type of sonata, especially a trio sonata or one for larger ensemble. Still later in the Baroque era, the word was used to designate an instrumental prelude, as described in the next section.

Overture or early symphony

In larger vocal-instrumental forms of the 17th and 18th centuries, for example operas and oratorios, a sinfonia was generally an instrumental prelude, sometimes also an interlude/intermezzo or postlude, providing contrast with adjacent vocal or otherwise different sections.

A specific form of such kind of preluding piece, in the early 18th century, was the three-movement sinfonia which became the standard type of overture to an Italian opera. Most of the time these pieces were in D major (for maximizing open-string resonance on string instruments), opening and ending with a "fast" movement, with a slow movement in the middle. Examples of this type of Italian sinfonia are the numerous three-movement opera overtures by Alessandro Scarlatti, all archetypical "Italian overtures".

In France however "overtures" had always been one-movement preluding pieces, usually in a A-B-A form, where the "A" sections had a slow tempo with a stately (double)dotted rhytm, while the "B" middle section was comparatively fluent and fast. This musical form became known as the "French overture". By the time this type of "overture" was adapted by German composers like Bach and Handel from the early 18th century on, it could be as well the preluding movement of a (dance) suite, in which case "overture" was sometimes used as a synonym for the entire "suite" (e.g. Bach's "French Overture", BWV 831).

Most of Handel's operas and oratorios start with the "French" type of overture movement, even if he occasionally calls such movement a "sinfonia" (as he did for the "Messiah", actually calling it a '). But Handel would use the "Italian" type of orchestral prelude/interlude too, for instance the "Introduzione" to the cantate "Delirio amoroso", HWV 99. Also the instrumental ' featuring in the "Messiah" did not so much derive from French examples. An interesting anecdote is that when Mozart made a German version of the "Messiah", some 30 years after Handel's death, he changed the name of the opening "Sinfony" to "Ouvertüre", but more or less did away with its "French" characteristics: he softened the dotted rhythm of the "A" section with some more flowing horn melodies, and by speeding it up a bit also made it less distinct from the "B" section: the result is that the "A" part appears as not much more than a moderate preamble to a "fast" symphonic movement (the "B" section).

In the mean while, also from the early 18th century on, the 3-movement "Italian" type of sinfonia had started to lead a life on its own: it could be composed as an independent concerto-like piece (without soloists however). For instance Vivaldi composed as well 3-movement independent sinfonias, not so different from some of his string concertos, as well as composing similar sinfonia preludes for his operas.

Bach sometimes used the term "sinfonia" in the then-antiquated meaning of an instrumental single-movement piece, e.g. for the keyboard "Inventions and Sinfonias" BWV 787-801, using a three-voice polyphonic style. Note that in 20th century, publishers started to publish these sinfonias as "Three-Part Inventions", where "Part" is an independently flowing melody ("voice", but in the instrumental meaning) in a single-movement work.

If Bach opened a vocal work with one or more separate instrumental movements (which was all in all not so often), he would usually call such piece a "sinfonia" or alternatively a "sonata". For the sinfonias the style would be rather "Italian" (also for the single-movement ones) than "French":
* One-movement sinfonia opening the secular cantatas "Non sa che sia dolore", BWV 209 and "Mer Hahn en neue Oberkeet", BWV 212
* Sinfonia followed by an "adagio" opening the "Easter Oratorio", BWV 249. Although the chorus joins in the third movement of that oratorio, these three successing opening movements could be seen as a 3-movement "Italian" sinfonia to the oratorio.
* Some opening movements of his church cantatas were like up-time movements of organ concertos (BWV 29, 35, 49, 169) - later Bach would rework some of these sinfonias to harpsichord concerto movements.

Both Handel and Bach used the French type of overture to start their orchestral suites. For suites they composed for a solo instrument there often was no preluding movement. If there was, that opening movement would usually be either an Overture/Ouverture (in that case always referring to the "French" style), or otherwise a "Prelude"/"Praeludium". The style of such preludes was less defined but would often emulate the style of a fast movement of an Italian sinfonia.

As the 18th century progressed, the usual name for an instrumental prelude to a vocal/theatrical work would settle on "overture". Although such overtures would generally be one-movement pieces, they were no longer in the "French" style, but rather adapted the "Italian" preluding sinfonia, for instance a loud, triadic, motto-type leading motif, a reprise preceded with minimal thematic development, and an overall mood of expectation rather than resolution.

The idea of the Italian 3-movement sinfonia as an independent orchestral composition lived on too: the earliest symphonies of Haydn and Mozart were composed in this format. Mozart also composed divertimentos in the Italian sinfonia format, with some ambiguity whether such divertimentos were indeed intended as independent instrumental compositions, or rather as instrumental interludes (for theatre productions etc).

But then Haydn made the Italian sinfonia/non-solistic concerto and the French type of overture/suite meet again: he took the three movements of a sinfonia, and inserted a fourth between the two last movements of the Italian model. That additional movement was a menuet, which had until then only been an almost obligatory movement of a suite. He also took some characteristics of the French style overture movement, as well as of what was the sonata in those days, amongst others the possibility to start the first movement of such four-movement composition with a slow introductory passage. But the resulting composition was no longer called a "sinfonia" (at least not outside Italy and Spain): the symphony was born.

ymphony with an alternative scope

Later sinfonia would occasionally be used as an alternative name for a symphony, from the Romantic era on. Often, but not always, the title "sinfonia" is used when the work is seen as, or intended to be, lighter, shorter, or more Italianate or "Baroquish" in character than a full-blown (romantic) symphony (with its dominantly Germanic pedigree).

Examples of such "sinfonias" composed after the classical era include:
* Felix Mendelssohn's twelve early symphonies, most of them string symphonies in three movements and all of them composed before his five other more elaborate symphonies, are sometimes called "sinfonias", to distinguish them from the "Symphonies" 1 to 5 that were published during - or shortly after - the composer's lifetime. The "Italian" is a composition of the latter series, so always called a "symphony". On the other hand Mendelssohn used the term sinfonia in the "overture" meaning for the first movement of his "Lobgesang" symphony. This can be seen as one of the many Bach reminiscences Mendelssohn inserts in his music: these references to the old master were especially thick in this "symphony-cantata", as it was to be premiered in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig.
*Vincent d'Indy wrote a "Sinfonia brevis de bello Gallico" that is: "Brief sinfonia of the War in Gaul".
* Richard Strauss chose the name "Sinfonia Domestica" ("Domestic Symphony") for a full scale symphony he composed 1902–1903. Maybe this symphony shows a somewhat sunnier side than most of his other orchestral compositions - but then large parts of the work also portray domestic tiffs and other tensions, ending in an elaborate fugue restoring coherence in the household.
* Benjamin Britten wrote a "Sinfonia da Requiem" in 1941. Here "Sinfonia" is rather an allusion to seriousness or solemnity, than to any kind of lightness.
* Luciano Berio wrote his Sinfonia in 1968-69.

ee also

*sinfonia concertante
*Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia


* Manfred Bukofzer, "Music in the Baroque Era". New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1947. ISBN 0-393-09745-5
* "The New Harvard Dictionary of Music", ed. Don Randel. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5
* Article "Sinfonia," in "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians", ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1-56159-174-2

External links

* A [ selection of "sinfonias"] (from the Mutopia project)

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  • sinfonia — ● sinfonia nom féminin (italien sinfonia, du latin symphonia, symphonie) Ritournelle instrumentale, dans un ballet ou une pastorale, en Italie, aux XVIe et XVIIe s. Ouverture d opéra en Italie, jusqu à la fin du XVIIIe s. ⇒SINFONIA, subst. fém.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • sinfonía — sustantivo femenino 1. Composición musical para orquesta que consta de más de un movimiento: sinfonía número cuatro de Schubert en do menor. 2. Composición instrumental que precede a ciertas óperas y otras obras teatrales. 3. Conjunto de voces,… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • Sinfonia —   [italienisch, vergleiche Sinfonie] die, / |e, im späten 16. und frühen 17. Jahrhundert ein Ensemblestück für Gesang und Instrumente (G. Gabrieli, H. Schütz), ab dem späteren 17. Jahrhundert hauptsächlich ein reines Instrumentalstück… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Sinfonia — er italiensk for en symfoni; ouverture. I det 17. og 18. århundrede blev navnet anvendt som titel på instrumentalværker af skiftende karakter. I barokmusik betegner sinfonia en orkesterindledning til en opera …   Danske encyklopædi

  • sinfonia — SINFONÍA s. f. (muz.) introducere instrumentală a unei arii; uvertură a unei opere. (< it. sinfonia) Trimis de raduborza, 15.09.2007. Sursa: MDN …   Dicționar Român

  • sinfonia — /sinfo nia/ s.f. [dal gr. symphōnía accordo di suoni , comp. di sýn con, insieme e phōnḗ suono ]. 1. (poet.) [complesso armonico di suoni e voci: dì perché si tace in questa rota La dolce s. di paradiso Che giù per l altre suona sì divota… …   Enciclopedia Italiana

  • sinfonia — s. f. 1. Reunião de vozes ou sons; harmonia. 2. Composição para orquestra dividida em três ou quatro partes: alegro, andante ou adágio, minuete ou scherzo e rondó ou alegro vivo …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • sinfonía — (Del lat. symphonĭa, y este del gr. συμφωνία, de σύμφωνος, que une su voz, acorde, unánime). 1. f. Conjunto de voces, de instrumentos, o de ambas cosas, que suenan acordes a la vez. 2. Composición instrumental para orquesta. 3. Pieza de música… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • sinfonia — [sin΄fə nē′ə] n. [It < L symphonia, SYMPHONY] any of various early Italian instrumental works; esp., a type of overture, as to an opera …   English World dictionary

  • Sinfonía — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar al autor …   Wikipedia Español

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