Style of accompanied solo singing that imitates the rhythms and tones of speech. Representing an attempt at an ideally expressive musical text setting, which the ancient Greeks were thought to have mastered, it came into existence in tandem with opera c. 1600, the first operas being largely written in recitative. Recitative style gradually began to separate from lyrical aria style. Regular alternation of recitative with aria became the rule for both opera and cantata, and recitative became essential to the dramatic oratorio as well. It remains basic to operatic composition; the presence of recitative (as opposed to spoken dialogue) most clearly distinguishes opera from the musical and related genres.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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