can·​ta·​ta kən-ˈtä-tə How to pronounce cantata (audio)
: a composition for one or more voices usually comprising solos, duets, recitatives, and choruses and sung to an instrumental accompaniment

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A cantata is a work for voice or voices and instruments of the baroque era. From its beginnings in 17th-century Italy, both secular and religious cantatas were written. The earliest cantatas were generally for solo voice with minimal instrumental accompaniment. Cantatas soon developed a dramatic character and alternating sections of recitative (solo singing that imitates the rhythms and tones of speech) and aria, paralleling the simultaneous development of opera. In Germany, the Lutheran cantata almost always involved a chorus. The approximately 200 cantatas written by Johann Sebastian Bach are the most celebrated. After ca. 1750 the cantata gradually declined.

Examples of cantata in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Premiered in 1954 in Caracas, Venezuela, and based on a poem by Alberto Arvelo Torrealba, the cantata tells a tale that is part Venezuelan folklore, part Faustian bargain. Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post, 6 Nov. 2023 The dramatic cantata by Telemann stars soprano soloist Clara Rottsolk. David L. Coddon, San Diego Union-Tribune, 19 Oct. 2023 There are plenty of reasons to keep tabs this season on the Washington Bach Consort, whose many offerings of chamber music, noontime cantatas, special presentations and robustly realized full performances of great works can crowd your calendar. Michael Andor Brodeur, Washington Post, 8 Sep. 2023 The urgency of the background cantata with a booming all-male chorus paired with some of the most impressive digital pyrotechnics in video games moved me to tears, overwhelming my senses of sight and sound. Gene Park, Washington Post, 21 June 2023 His 1898 cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on the popular Longfellow poem, created a sensation. Dallas News, 13 Jan. 2023 Normally this time of year, Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church in eastern New Orleans would be bustling with singers, musicians, dancers and actors finalizing a concert, cantata or musical to celebrate the Christmas season. Sara Pagones | Staff Writer,, 22 Dec. 2020 The cantata tells of Christ’s birth through song. Melinda Moore, Chicago Tribune, 8 Dec. 2022 The two have enjoyed a long collaborative history together over the years, creating striking vocal works that directly engage history: a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., a commemoration of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, a cantata for Crispus Attucks, among others. Washington Post, 3 Mar. 2022 See More

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

Word History


Italian, from cantare to sing, from Latin

First Known Use

1724, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of cantata was in 1724

Dictionary Entries Near cantata

Cite this Entry

“Cantata.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


can·​ta·​ta kən-ˈtät-ə How to pronounce cantata (audio)
: a poem, story, or play set to music to be sung by a chorus and soloists

from Italian cantata "music for a chorus," from Latin cantata (same meaning), derived from canere "to sing" — related to cantor, chant, chantey

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