Musical Form – Baroque Era: Sinfonia

Opening bars of Messiah in Handel’s 1741 autograph

Sinfonia is the Italian word for symphony, from the Latin symphonia, in turn derived from the Greek συμϕωνία (agreement or concord of sound), from the prefix σύν (together) and ϕωνή (sound). In English it most commonly refers to a 17th- or 18th-century orchestral piece used as an introduction, interlude, or postlude to an opera, oratorio, cantata, or suite. In the Middle Ages down to as late as 1588, it was also the Italian name for the hurdy gurdy (Marcuse 1975, 477). Johann Sebastian Bach used the term for his keyboard compositions also known as Three-part Inventions, and in 20th-century usage it often is found in the names of chamber orchestras such as the Northern Sinfonia (Kennedy 2006).

G.F. Handel: Sinfonia from The Messiah, HWV 56


Johan Joachim Agrell: Sinfonia in D major


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