Fantasia (music)

Fantasia (music)

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The fantasia is a musical composition with its roots in the art of improvisation
Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or...

. Because of this, it seldom approximates the textbook rules of any strict musical form
Musical form
The term musical form refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections...

 (as with the impromptu
An impromptu is a free-form musical composition with the character of an ex tempore improvisation as if prompted by the spirit of the moment, usually for a solo instrument, such as piano...


The term was first applied to music during the 16th century, at first to refer to the imaginative musical "idea" rather than to a particular compositional genre. Its earliest use as a title was in German keyboard manuscripts from before 1520, and by 1536 is found in printed tablatures from Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. From the outset, the fantasia had the sense of "the play of imaginative invention", particularly in lute or vihuela composers such as Francesco Canova da Milano
Francesco Canova da Milano
Francesco Canova da Milano was an Italian lutenist and composer. He was born in Monza, near Milan, and worked for the papal court for almost all of his career. Francesco was heralded throughout Europe as the foremost lute composer of his time...

 and Luis de Milánn. Its form and style consequently ranges from the freely improvisatory to the strictly contrapuntal, and also encompasses more or less standard sectional forms (Field 2001).

In the Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 and Classical music era
Classical period (music)
The dates of the Classical Period in Western music are generally accepted as being between about 1750 and 1830. However, the term classical music is used colloquially to describe a variety of Western musical styles from the ninth century to the present, and especially from the sixteenth or...

s, a fantasia was typically a piece for keyboard instrument
Keyboard instrument
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...

s with alternating sections of rapid passagework and slower, more melodic passages. From the Baroque period, J. S. Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV
The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The prefix BWV, followed by the work's number, is the shorthand identification for Bach's compositions...

 903, for harpsichord
A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard...

; Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor
Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542
The Great Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542, is an organ prelude and fugue by Johann Sebastian Bach. It acquired that name to distinguish it from the earlier Little Fugue in G minor, which is shorter...

The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The prefix BWV, followed by the work's number, is the shorthand identification for Bach's compositions...

 542, for organ
Organ (music)
The organ , is a keyboard instrument of one or more divisions, each played with its own keyboard operated either with the hands or with the feet. The organ is a relatively old musical instrument in the Western musical tradition, dating from the time of Ctesibius of Alexandria who is credited with...

; and Fantasia and Fugue in C minor, BWV
The Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis is the numbering system identifying compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach. The prefix BWV, followed by the work's number, is the shorthand identification for Bach's compositions...

 537, for organ are examples. For an example from the Classical period, see Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...

's Fantasia in D minor
Fantasia No. 3 (Mozart)
Fantasia No. 3 in D minor, K. 397 is a piece of music for solo piano composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1782. Despite being unfinished at Mozart's death, the piece is nonetheless one of his more popular compositions for the piano...

, K.
The Köchel-Verzeichnis is a complete, chronological catalogue of compositions by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart which was originally created by Ludwig von Köchel. It is abbreviated K or KV. For example, Mozart's Requiem in D minor was, according to Köchel's counting, the 626th piece Mozart composed....

 397 for fortepiano
Fortepiano designates the early version of the piano, from its invention by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700 up to the early 19th century. It was the instrument for which Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven wrote their piano music...

, along with his Fantasia in C minor, K. 475. In contemporary music, Busoni's
Ferruccio Busoni
Ferruccio Busoni was an Italian composer, pianist, editor, writer, piano and composition teacher, and conductor.-Biography:...

 Fantasia contrappuntistica
Fantasia Contrappuntistica
Fantasia contrappuntistica is a solo piano piece composed by Ferruccio Busoni in 1910. Busoni created several versions of the work including several for solo piano, and one for two pianos. It has been arranged for organ and for orchestra since the composer's death.The work is in large part a...

or Corigliano's
John Corigliano
John Corigliano is an American composer of classical music and a teacher of music. He is a distinguished professor of music at Lehman College in the City University of New York.-Biography:...

 Fantasia on an ostinato
In music, an ostinato is a motif or phrase, which is persistently repeated in the same musical voice. An ostinato is always a succession of equal sounds, wherein each note always has the same weight or stress. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in...

are examples of a fantasia.

The term also referred in the Baroque
Baroque music
Baroque music describes a style of Western Classical music approximately extending from 1600 to 1760. This era follows the Renaissance and was followed in turn by the Classical era...

 era (more specifically British Tudor music) to pieces for viols, characteristically- though not always- alternating, in this case rapid fugal sections with slower sections in slow notes and sometimes clashing harmonies. According to the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music's entry the instrumental fantasia was closely related in its history and form to the motet
In classical music, motet is a word that is applied to a number of highly varied choral musical compositions.-Etymology:The name comes either from the Latin movere, or a Latinized version of Old French mot, "word" or "verbal utterance." The Medieval Latin for "motet" is motectum, and the Italian...

. Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell
Henry Purcell – 21 November 1695), was an English organist and Baroque composer of secular and sacred music. Although Purcell incorporated Italian and French stylistic elements into his compositions, his legacy was a uniquely English form of Baroque music...

's fantasias are the last Baroque representatives of the breed, although Walter Willson Cobbett
Walter Willson Cobbett
Walter Willson Cobbett CBE was a British businessman and amateur violinist, and editor/author of Cobbett's Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music. He also endowed the Cobbett Medal for services to Chamber Music....

, in the opening decades of the 20th century, attempted to resurrect something of this style via a competition, to which works like John Ireland
John Ireland (composer)
John Nicholson Ireland was an English composer.- Life :John Ireland was born in Bowdon, near Altrincham, Manchester, into a family of Scottish descent and some cultural distinction. His father, Alexander Ireland, a publisher and newspaper proprietor, was aged 70 at John's birth...

's and Frank Bridge
Frank Bridge
Frank Bridge was an English composer and violist.-Life:Bridge was born in Brighton and studied at the Royal College of Music in London from 1899 to 1903 under Charles Villiers Stanford and others...

's Phantasie Trios, Benjamin Britten
Benjamin Britten
Edward Benjamin Britten, Baron Britten, OM CH was an English composer, conductor, and pianist. He showed talent from an early age, and first came to public attention with the a cappella choral work A Boy Was Born in 1934. With the premiere of his opera Peter Grimes in 1945, he leapt to...

's Phantasie Quartet (for oboe and strings) and other music owe their existence.

In the Romantic period
Romantic music
Romantic music or music in the Romantic Period is a musicological and artistic term referring to a particular period, theory, compositional practice, and canon in Western music history, from 1810 to 1900....

, two contradictory trends greatly affected the fantasia: one was the decline of formal improvisation as a test of the compositional technique; the other was the move by composers toward freer forms. Chopin
Frédéric Chopin
Frédéric François Chopin was a Polish composer and virtuoso pianist. He is considered one of the great masters of Romantic music and has been called "the poet of the piano"....

's Fantaisie in F minor
Fantaisie in F minor (Chopin)
Frédéric Chopin's Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49, is a single-movement work for the piano, composed in 1841, when he was 31 years old.- Musical form :...

, Op. 49, combines various keyboard textures of the stile brillante with the classical sonata paradigm, resulting in a work of unorthodox but sophisticated form. Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....

's Fantasie in C
Fantasie in C (Schumann)
The Fantasie in C major, Op. 17, was written by Robert Schumann in 1836. It was revised prior to publication in 1839, when it was dedicated to Franz Liszt. It is generally described as one of Schumann's greatest works for solo piano, and is one of the central works of the early Romantic period. ...

, Op. 17, is a cornerstone of the Romantic piano repertoire. His numerous 'fantasy pieces' are character works on a smaller scale, often bearing descriptive titles.

See also

  • Canzona
    In the 16th century an instrumental chanson; later, a piece for ensemble in several sections or tempos...

  • Capriccio
    Capriccio (music)
    A capriccio or caprice , is a piece of music, usually fairly free in form and of a lively character...

  • Chorale fantasia
    Chorale fantasia
    Chorale fantasia is a type of large organ composition based on a chorale melody. The term also applies to large-scale vocal Chorale settings in such works as the St Matthew Passion and Du wahrer Gott und Davids Sohn, BWV 23 of Johann Sebastian Bach.-History:Chorale fantasias first appeared in...

  • Chromatic fantasia
    Chromatic fantasia
    A chromatic fantasia is a specific type of fantasia originating in sixteenth century Europe. In its earliest form, it is based on a chromatically descending tetrachord which arises naturally out of the dorian mode...

  • Ricercar
    A ricercar is a type of late Renaissance and mostly early Baroque instrumental composition. The term means to search out, and many ricercars serve a preludial function to "search out" the key or mode of a following piece...

  • Tiento
    Tiento is a musical genre originating in Spain in the mid-15th century. It is formally analogous to the fantasia , found in England, Germany, and the Low Countries, and also the ricercare, first found in Italy. The word derives from the Spanish verb tentar , and was originally applied to music...

  • Voluntary
    Voluntary (music)
    In music a voluntary is a piece of music, usually for organ, which is played as part of a church service. In English-speaking countries, the music played before and after the service is often called a 'voluntary', whether or not it is titled so....


  • Field, Christopher D. S. 2001. "Fantasia." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie
    Stanley Sadie
    Stanley Sadie CBE was a leading British musicologist, music critic, and editor. He was editor of the sixth edition of the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians , which was published as the first edition of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.Sadie was educated at St Paul's School,...

     and John Tyrrell
    John Tyrrell (professor of music)
    John Tyrrell was born in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia in 1942. He studied at the universities of Cape Town, Oxford and Brno. In 2000 he was appointed Research Professor at Cardiff University....

    . London: Macmillan Publishers.

Further reading

  • English Chamber Music by Ernst Hermann Meyer
    Ernst Hermann Meyer
    Ernst Hermann Ludimar Meyer was a German composer and musicologist.Meyer was a significant composer and musicologist, his works include numerous songs, as...

    . Reference on the early English fantasy (fantazy, fantasie, fantasia.) Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1946. (Was republished by Da Capo Press, 1971, with ISBN 0-306-70037-9.)
  • Fantasies by Mozart and Schubert performed by Daniel Blanch Ars Harmonica AH 140