AskDefine | Define alto

Dictionary Definition

alto adj
1 of or being the lowest female voice [syn: contralto]
2 of or being the highest male voice; having a range above that of tenor [syn: countertenor]
3 (of a musical instrument) second highest member of a group; "alto clarinet or recorder"

Noun

1 a singer whose voice lies in the alto clef
2 the lowest female singing voice [syn: contralto]
3 the highest adult male singing voice [syn: countertenor]
4 the pitch range of the lowest female voice

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

From alto, "high"

Pronunciation

Noun

  1. musical part or section higher than tenor and lower than soprano. Originally called contratenor altus, high countertenor, the part that performed a countermelody above the tenor or main melody.
  2. person or instrument that performs the alto part

Translations

Related terms

Italian

Etymology

Latin altus, "high"

Adjective

it-adj alt
  1. high, tall
  2. deep
    uno stagno alta 4 metri - a pond 4 meters deep
  3. loud
    ad alta voce - in a loud voice

Antonyms

Portuguese

Etymology

Latin altus, "high"

Adjective

  1. Loud.
  2. Tall.
  3. High.

Spanish

Pronunciation

Adjective

  1. high
  2. tall
    Las chicas son altas - Those girls are tall
  3. loud
    En voz alta – In high voice; out loud

Related terms

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Antonyms

Interjection

¡alto!
  1. stop!

Extensive Definition

Alto is a musical term, derived from the Latin word altus, meaning "high", that has several possible interpretations.
When designating instruments, "alto" frequently refers to a member of an instrumental family that has the second highest range, below that of the treble or soprano. Hence, for example, the term "alto saxophone". In other "families", such as the trombone, there is no soprano, the alto having been the highest, although it is absent from the standard modern symphony orchestra.
In choral music, "alto" describes the second highest voice part in a four-part chorus. As well as being the modern Italian world for "high", in the present context it is an Italian abbreviation derived from the Latin phrase contratenor altus, used in medieval polyphony, usually to describe the highest of three parts, the line of which was in counterpoint (in other words, against = contra) with the tenor (which "held" the main melody; this word itself originates in the Latin verb tenere, meaning "to hold").
The alto range in choral music is approximately from G3 to F5. In common usage, alto is used to describe the voice type that typically sings this part, though this is not strictly correct: alto, like the other three standard modern choral voice classifications (soprano, tenor and bass) was originally intended to describe a part within a homophonic or polyphonic texture, rather than an individual voice type; neither are the terms alto and contralto interchangeable or synonymous, though they are often treated as such. Although some women who sing alto in a choir are contraltos, many would be more accurately called mezzo-sopranos (a voice of somewhat higher range and different timbre), and many men countertenors (this latter term is a source of considerable controversy, some authorities preferring the usage of the term "male alto" for those countertenors who use a predominantly falsetto voice production). The contralto voice is a matter of vocal timbre and vocal tessitura as well as range, and a classically-trained solo contralto would usually have a range greater than that of a normal choral alto part in both the upper and lower ranges. However, the vocal tessitura of a classically trained contralto would still make these singers more comfortable singing in the lower part of the voice. A choral non-solo contralto may also have a low range down to D3 (thus perhaps finding it easier to sing the choral tenor part), but some would have difficulty singing above E5. In a choral context mezzo-sopranos and contraltos might sing the same part, together with countertenors, thus having three vocal timbres (and two means of vocal production) singing the same notes.
Alto is rarely used to describe a solo voice, though there is a plethora of terms in common usage for solo singers in this range. Examples include contralto, contraltista, countertenor, and haute-contre. For adult males singing in the soprano register, designations include male soprano, sopranist and sopranista.
The term alto is also used to designate a specific kind of musical clef. See alto clef.

References

Further reading

See also

alto in Czech: Alt
alto in German: Alt (Stimmlage)
alto in Estonian: Alt
alto in Spanish: Alto
alto in Esperanto: Aldo (kantvoĉo)
alto in French: Alto (voix)
alto in Croatian: Alt
alto in Hungarian: Alt
alto in Malay (macrolanguage): Alto
alto in Dutch: Alt (zangstem)
alto in Japanese: アルト
alto in Polish: Alt (muzyka)
alto in Portuguese: Alto (voz)
alto in Simple English: Alto
alto in Slovenian: Alt
alto in Serbo-Croatian: Alti
alto in Finnish: Altto
alto in Swedish: Alt
alto in Ukrainian: Альт (голос)
alto in Chinese: 女低音

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Heldentenor, Meistersinger, accompaniment, aria singer, baritenor, baritone, bass, basso, basso buffo, basso cantante, basso continuo, basso ostinato, basso profundo, bassus, blues singer, canary, cantatrice, canto, cantor, cantus, cantus figuratus, cantus planus, caroler, chanter, chantress, coloratura soprano, comic bass, continuo, contralto, countertenor, crooner, deep bass, descant, diva, dramatic soprano, drone, falsetto, figured bass, ground bass, head register, head tone, head voice, heroic tenor, hymner, improvisator, lead singer, lieder singer, line, male alto, melodist, mezzo-soprano, opera singer, part, plain chant, plain song, prick song, prima donna, psalm singer, rock-and-roll singer, singer, singstress, songbird, songster, songstress, soprano, tenor, thorough bass, torch singer, treble, undersong, vocalist, vocalizer, voice, voice part, warbler, yodeler
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