A virtuoso is an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability in the fine arts, at singing
Singing is the act of producing musical sounds with the voice, and augments regular speech by the use of both tonality and rhythm. One who sings is called a singer or vocalist. Singers perform music known as songs that can be sung either with or without accompaniment by musical instruments...

 or playing a musical instrument
Musical instrument
A musical instrument is a device created or adapted for the purpose of making musical sounds. In principle, any object that produces sound can serve as a musical instrument—it is through purpose that the object becomes a musical instrument. The history of musical instruments dates back to the...

. The plural form is either virtuosi or the Anglicisation
Anglicisation, or anglicization , is the process of converting verbal or written elements of any other language into a form that is more comprehensible to an English speaker, or, more generally, of altering something such that it becomes English in form or character.The term most often refers to...

, virtuosos, and the feminine form sometimes used is virtuosa. Virtuosi are often musical composers as well. During the age of 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...

 many composers were also virtuosi on their respective instruments.

Virtuosity defined

In Music in the Western civilization by Piero Weiss
Piero Weiss
Piero Weiss was an Italian-American pianist and musicologist. Born in Trieste, his mother was a symphony violinist and the niece of novelist Italo Svevo. In 1938, at the age of 10, he fled Fascist Italy with his family, ultimately ending up in New York City in 1940...

 and Richard Taruskin
Richard Taruskin
Richard Taruskin is an American-Russian musicologist, music historian, and critic who has written about the theory of performance, Russian music, fifteenth-century music, twentieth-century music, nationalism, the theory of modernism, and analysis. As a choral conductor he directed the Columbia...

, we find the following definition of virtuoso:
"...a virtuoso was, originally, a highly accomplished musician, but by the nineteenth century the term had become restricted to performers, both vocal and instrumental, whose technical accomplishments were so pronounced as to dazzle the public."

The defining element of virtuosity is the performance ability of the musician in question, who is capable of displaying feats of skill well above the average performer. Musicians focused on virtuosity are commonly criticized for overlooking substance and emotion in favor of raw technical prowess. Despite the mechanical aspects of virtuosity, many virtuosi successfully avoid such labels. Once more commonly applied in the context of the fine arts, the term has since evolved and can now also simply mean a 'master' or 'ace' who excels technically within a particular field or area of human knowledge—anyone especially or dazzlingly skilled at what they do.

The Italian term of "virtuoso" was also once commonly used to describe the group of emerging ballistic
Ballistics is the science of mechanics that deals with the flight, behavior, and effects of projectiles, especially bullets, gravity bombs, rockets, or the like; the science or art of designing and accelerating projectiles so as to achieve a desired performance.A ballistic body is a body which is...

 experts, engineers, artillerists, and specialists in mechanics and dynamics that arose during the late 17th century in response to the spreading use of gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 in Europe.


The meaning of virtuoso has its roots in the Italian usage of the 16th and 17th centuries, signifying an honorific term reserved for a person distinguished in any intellectual or artistic field. The term evolved with time, simultaneously broadening and narrowing in scope as interpretations went in and out of fashion and debates unravel. Originally a musician was honored the classification by being a composer, theorist or famous maestro
Maestro is a title of extreme respect given to a master musician. The term is most commonly used in the context of Western classical music and opera. This is associated with the ubiquitous use of Italian vocabulary for classical music terms...

, more importantly than being a skilled performer.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw a bastardization of the term, which started being self indulged by a great number of musicians, without considerations of merit. Sébastien de Brossard
Sébastien de Brossard
Sébastien de Brossard was a French music theorist.Brossard was born in Dompierre, Orne. After studying philosophy and theology at Caen, he studied music and established himself in Paris in 1678 and remained there until 1687. He briefly was the private tutor of the young son of Nicolas-Joseph...

 in his Dictionaire de Musique (Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

, 1703) approached the word virtuoso by its Latin root virtu emphasizing exceptional training, especially in theory. This position was also defended in Johann Gottfried Walther
Johann Gottfried Walther
Johann Gottfried Walther was a German music theorist, organist, composer, and lexicographer of the Baroque era.Walther was born at Erfurt...

's Musicalisches Lexicon (1732) favoring the theorist over the performer. Johan Matthenson's Der brauchbare Virtuoso (1720) maintained the respect for the traditional "theoretische Virtuosen" (virtuoso theoretical) but also paid tribute to the "virtuosi prattici" (performer virtuoso).

Johann Kuhnau
Johann Kuhnau
Johann Kuhnau was a German composer, organist and harpsichordist.-Biography :Kuhnau was born in Geising, Saxony. He grew up in a religious Lutheran family. At age nine, he auditioned successfully for the Kreuzschule in Dresden...

 in his The Musical Charlatan (Der musikalische Quack-Salber, 1700) defined the "true virtuoso" once again emphasizing theory ("der wahre Virtuose") describing the "highly gifted musician" ("der glückselige Musicus") or "performer virtuoso" as having nothing more than practical facility.

In the late 18th century the term started to be used to describe the musician, instrumentalist or vocalist, who pursued a career as a soloist. The tension about the merit of practical virtuosity started to grow at the same time and intensified in the 19th century, only to remain an open debate since then. Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt
Franz Liszt ; ), was a 19th-century Hungarian composer, pianist, conductor, and teacher.Liszt became renowned in Europe during the nineteenth century for his virtuosic skill as a pianist. He was said by his contemporaries to have been the most technically advanced pianist of his age...

 declared that "virtuosity is not an outgrowth, but an indispensable element of music" (Gesammelte Schriften, iv, 1855–9). Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

opposed the triviality and exhibitionist talents of the performer voicing his opinion strongly: "The real dignity of the virtuoso rests solely on the dignity he is able to preserve for creative art; if he trifles and toys with this, he casts his honour away. He is the intermediary of the artistic idea" (Gesammelte Schriften; English translation, vii, 1894–9, p. 112). Pejorative connotations started in this epoch exemplified by new German expressions such as "Virtuosenmachwerk" (piece of routine display). "Pultvirtuoso" (conductor with virtuoso qualities), on the other hand, is not pejorative, but complimentary.
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