A ritornello is a recurring passage in Baroque music
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 for orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

 or chorus
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus...

. The first or final movement of a solo concerto
Solo concerto
A solo concerto is a concerto in which a single soloist is accompanied by an orchestra. It is the most frequent type of concerto. It originated in the Baroque Period as an alternative to the traditional concertino in a concerto grosso.A typical concerto has three movements, traditionally fast,...

 or aria
An aria in music was originally any expressive melody, usually, but not always, performed by a singer. The term is now used almost exclusively to describe a self-contained piece for one voice usually with orchestral accompaniment...

 may be in "ritornello form", in which the ritornello is the opening theme
Theme (music)
In music, a theme is the material, usually a recognizable melody, upon which part or all of a composition is based.-Characteristics:A theme may be perceivable as a complete musical expression in itself, separate from the work in which it is found . In contrast to an idea or motif, a theme is...

, always played by tutti
Tutti is an Italian word literally meaning all or together and is used as a musical term, for the whole orchestra as opposed to the soloist...

, which returns in whole or in part and in different keys throughout the movement. In this, ritornello form differs from the rondo
Rondo, and its French equivalent rondeau, is a word that has been used in music in a number of ways, most often in reference to a musical form, but also to a character-type that is distinct from the form...


Ritornello form was favoured by Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann and Handel in chamber works, vocal pieces and, most prominently, in the solo concerto in a ‘tutti-solo-tutti-solo-tutti’ pattern. The ritornello, or the ‘tutti’ section, functions as a refrain or chorus while the solo sections may expand upon the short melodic lines of the tutti. At the end of the movement the entire ritornello returns in the home key. J.S. Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

's Brandenburg Concertos
Brandenburg concertos
The Brandenburg concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach are a collection of six instrumental works presented by Bach to Christian Ludwig, margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt, in 1721 . They are widely regarded as among the finest musical compositions of the Baroque era...

 offer excellent examples. In opera seria
Opera seria
Opera seria is an Italian musical term which refers to the noble and "serious" style of Italian opera that predominated in Europe from the 1710s to c. 1770...

, the ritornello functioned as the main structural support for the da capo aria
Da capo aria
The da capo aria is a musical form, which was prevalent in the Baroque era. It is sung by a soloist with the accompaniment of instruments, often a small orchestra. The da capo aria is very common in the musical genres of opera and oratorio...

, in which it was successively repeated.

The final section of a fourteenth century madrigal had previously been called the ritornello and a similar technique had been employed by Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli was an Italian composer and organist. He was one of the most influential musicians of his time, and represents the culmination of the style of the Venetian School, at the time of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque idioms.-Biography:Gabrieli was born in Venice...

 in his 16th century motets. The instrumental interludes in early Baroque operas were also termed ritornelli.

Ritornello construction faded with the advent of the new sonata form
Sonata form
Sonata form is a large-scale musical structure used widely since the middle of the 18th century . While it is typically used in the first movement of multi-movement pieces, it is sometimes used in subsequent movements as well—particularly the final movement...

but received renewed interest in the 20th century .
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