From Academic Kids

A ricercar (or ricercare; the terms are interchangeable) is a type of late Renaissance and mostly early Baroque instrumental composition.

In its most common contemporary usage, it refers to an early kind of fugue, particularly one of a serious character in which the subject uses long note values. However the term has a considerably more varied historical usage.

In the sixteenth century, the word ricercar could refer to several types of compositions. Terminology was flexible, even lax then: whether a composer called an instrumental piece a toccata, a canzona, a fantasia, or a ricercar was clearly not a matter of strict taxonomy but a rather arbitrary decision. Yet ricercars fall into two general types: a predominantly homophonic piece, with occasional runs and passagework, not unlike a toccata; and a sectional work in which each section begins imitatively, usually in a variation form. Examples of both types of ricercars can be found in the works of Girolamo Frescobaldi. The second type of ricercar, the imitative, contrapuntal type, was to prove the more important historically, and eventually developed into the fugue.

This second, imitative type first appeared in the middle part of the sixteenth century, and developed parallel to the motet, with which it shared many of its imitative procedures. Instrumental transcriptions of motets were common in the early sixteenth century, and clearly composers began to create works which were like them in character but written for the instrument alone (keyboard or lute were common instruments represented in this development). Since the text of the motet was no longer available as a structural or unifying device, some other method of musical organization needed to be found: variation form proved the most malleable and durable.

During the Baroque era, the imitative ricercar gradually evolved into the fugue, just as the instrumental canzona evolved into the sonata. Some works which are indistinguishable from fugues were called "ricercars" even as late as Bach, with the difference that the note values were generally longer and the character slightly more serious. A good example are the three-part and six-part ricercars from The Musical Offering (1747) by Johann Sebastian Bach.

References and further reading

fr:Ricercar pl:Ricercar


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