ca·​den·​za kə-ˈden-zə How to pronounce cadenza (audio)
: a parenthetical flourish in an aria or other solo piece commonly just before a final or other important cadence
: a technically brilliant sometimes improvised solo passage toward the close of a concerto
: an exceptionally brilliant part of an artistic and especially a literary work

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A concerto is a large piece for an instrumental soloist (usually playing piano or violin) and orchestra. Concertos are often extremely demanding for the soloist, but the most difficult part of all may be the cadenza, when the orchestra drops out completely, leaving the soloist to dazzle the audience with a set of flourishes, often completely original, right before a movement ends. Cadenzas are also heard in many vocal arias, especially those of the 18th century. The word, borrowed from Italian, originally meant "cadence;" thus, the cadenza, even if it lasts for a couple of minutes, is essentially a decoration of the final important harmonic cadence of the piece.

Examples of cadenza in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The title of her Whisper Concerto, a co-commission by the DSO, the Staatstheater Darmstadt in Germany and England’s BBC Three, alludes to a hushed cadenza in the 1966 Cello Concerto of the late Hungarian composer György Ligeti. Scott Cantrell, Dallas News, 21 Apr. 2023 Perhaps the biggest moment happened during her first movement cadenza, written by up-and-coming composer Chris Rogerson, replete with grand chords, Beethoven-like drama, and a few Romantic harmonies. Christian Hertzog, San Diego Union-Tribune, 20 June 2023 In the first performance, a Thursday evening, the pianist treated a diaphanous cadenza with too much flamboyance; Muti, visibly displeased on the podium, took him aside later, and the following afternoon, the passage was properly light and watery. Zachary Woolfe, New York Times, 17 June 2023 In particular, the percussion shone with mallet instruments, drum kit, and a dazzling menagerie of auxiliary sounds, especially effective in the extended percussion cadenza that closes the work. Luke Schulze, San Diego Union-Tribune, 13 Mar. 2023 The cadenza, intended to show off my mastery of technique in harmonic fireworks, ended on a wildly dissonant F#. Samuel Ernest, Longreads, 2 May 2023 Timpani are very much a partner in the long first movement cadenza, taking off from their concerto-opening strokes. Dallas News, 7 Jan. 2023 Unusually cast in two movements, slow then fast, with a cadenza in the middle, the concerto calls for a supporting ensemble of strings, piano and harp. Dallas News, 9 Nov. 2022 The second movement cadenza was breathtakingly beautiful. Christian Hertzog, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 Feb. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cadenza.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Italian, probably borrowed from Medieval Latin cadentia "rhythm in verse, cadence" — more at cadence

First Known Use

1783, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of cadenza was in 1783

Dictionary Entries Near cadenza

Cite this Entry

“Cadenza.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


ca·​den·​za kə-ˈden-zə How to pronounce cadenza (audio)
: an impressive solo part usually near the close of a musical composition

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