Italianate recitative of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries constituted a distinct musical language that coexisted with the familiar style of common practice music. In this article we propose a theory of that language (“galant recitative”), which we characterize in terms of a core vocabulary of fifteen melodic formulas. Appendix 1 presents a roster of these formulas, which captures a unique fingerprint of recitative, distinct from the comparable inventory of homophonic phrase schemas in Robert Gjerdingen’s Music in the Galant Style. These recitative schemas are defined in terms of characteristic melodic profiles, harmonic contexts, formal roles, and expressive associations. One representative schema, the “O cielo,” is used to demonstrate the musical features and range of variation characteristic of all recitative schemas. The formal associations of the schemas allow us to describe the basic phrase syntax of recitative, grouping the schemas into three broad formal roles: initiatory, medial, and closing. Appendix 2 demonstrates this formal model by analyzing the dramatic climax of Leonardo Vinci and Pietro Metastasio’s opera Artaserse (1730). Additionally, some schemas have focused semantic connotations and are used to mark such utterance types as questions and witticisms. The article concludes with an analysis of scenes from act 1 of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which shows how sensitivity to manipulations of galant recitative schemas can reveal subtle effects of characterization and dramatic continuity.

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