The Project 13 research point asks to listen to some examples of cadenzas written by well-known composers. Without going back to the etymology of the word cadenza and the way it was used in its earliest historical appearances, which is quite a complicated subject; I will start with just a brief introduction of the definition of cadenza as it appeared from the 18th century onwards.

In this sense, cadenza is an improvised virtuosic solo passage occupying the penultimate position in the musical structure, preceding the final tutti of a concerto movement or operatic aria. (Badura-Skoda: 2001) Tradionally, it was placed between the tonic six-four chord, marked with a fermata, and the dominant chord of the final cadence. (Apel, 1969: 120) Commonly, there is a temporary dissolution and suspension of the meter with free rhythmic style which gives the performer an opportunity to showcase the technical virtuosity. The accompanying orchestra usually waits for a long trill where the performer indicates to be rejoined in the final chords. (Kennedy: 116)

Unfortunately, as the course material mentions, very few soloists would dare to improvise a cadenza today. This is the result of the practice of written-out cadenzas expanding more and more as the nineteenth century progressed, and Hummel for example commented that the cadenza was the thing of the past, probably referring to the improvisatory cadenza, which was going out of fashion. (Jackson, 2005: 63) Although, I would argue that despite the pre-composed form, some improvisatory characteristics and feeling still remain within cadezas. Nonetheless, this seemingly improvisatory nature mostly stems from the improvisatory form of the pre-written material of the composer, leaving only the freedom of performance of this musical material to the performer.

I have divided the cadenzas I’ve listen to into two listening log posts – one for vocal and the other for instrumental cadenzas. Click the links to access them.


Apel, W., ed. (1969) Harvard Dictionary of Music. (2nd ed.) Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

Badura-Skoda, E. (2001) ‘Cadenza.’ In Grove Music Online. Revised by Jones, A., & Drabkin, W. At: (Accessed on 20th Nov 2017)

Kennedy, M., ed. (2004) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. (4th ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Jackson, R. (2005) Performance Practice: A Dictionary-Guide for Musicians. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group