Exotic words in 'The Harvard Dictionary of Music'

Exotic words in 'The Harvard Dictionary of Music'
Source: reusableart.com

“The New Harvard Dictionary of Music,” one of my father’s favorite reference books, is now one of my new favorites. Its sheer size means it would not be finished in one post (this one).

Here are some of the more exotic things I’ve found in it — so far:

Aliquot string: “A sympathetic string. The terms aliquot stringing and aliquot scaling are applied to pianos (such as those by the firm of Bluthner) that employ such strings or that arrange the strings of the upper register in such a way that the portion of each string between the bridge and the hitch pin will act as a sympathetic string.”

His, hisis: “(German) B-sharp, B-double-sharp. See Pitch names.” (Author’s note: There’s a good reason to watch for typos when typing “his” — don’t confuse your musical readers!)

Pitch names: This is more complex than the length of this post allows — the entry is a table comprised of English, German, French, Italian and Spanish names. But here are some examples: The English C D E F G A B notes become (hold on, “Sound of Music” fans), the Italian do re mi fa sol la si. (Yes, si.)  C in French is “ut,” so in the table of sharp and flat definitions, C-sharp in English is “ut diese” in French and C-flat in English is “ut bemol” in French.

Sympathetic string: “A string that is not normally played upon directly but that is set in motion by the acoustical phenomenon of resonance (see Accoustics VI). Such a string vibrates ‘in sympathy’ with the strings played upon directly, contributing to the tone color of the instrument. Instruments incorporating sympathetic strings include the viola d’amore, baryton and sitar. Some pianos include such strings, termed aliquot strings.”

There, in the spirit of thinking of the Beatles (as well people may when reading about the sitar), we can say “Hey, let’s go back to the beginning.”

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. Stop by for all sorts of good words. 

Filed under: Music and language


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  • This is so interesting! Thanks for sharing.

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    Thank you! I'm glad you like it.

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