Definition of alto in English:



  • 1The highest adult male singing voice; countertenor.

    • ‘Linwood sings male alto as well as soprano but he also has an additional, very attractive qualification: a Masters degree in Romance Languages and Linguistics from Harvard University.’
    • ‘In the latter part of the 20th century the male alto voice became closely associated with the revival of Baroque opera, especially the works of Handel.’
    • ‘The cor anglais and violin obbligato in the duet for male alto and tenor, Wie selig, with its thirds and lyrical highlights was particularly effective.’
    • ‘Usually there were four professional singers filling out the solo roles with amateur choirs singing choruses and kids from Boys Grammar doing some male alto singing.’
    • ‘The opposing sides in this duologue are represented by two female soprano voices portraying Beauty and Pleasure, and by two male altos, probably super - rather than sub-human castrati, who signify Time and Disillusion.’
    1. 1.1 The lowest female singing voice; contralto.
      • ‘The music was fun and in that situation I liked singing soprano better than singing alto, although I do love the inner harmonies, too.’
      • ‘The older is a soprano but people tend to make her sing alto.’
      • ‘Her voice trembled, rising from her normal alto to a shivery soprano.’
      • ‘This time she changed her voice into a deep alto.’
      • ‘This she held out before her now with both hands as one does with an offering and, after another silent pause, she began to sing in a clear alto, the song of her own making, which Forest around seemed to understand, listening intently.’
  • 2as modifier Denoting the member of a family of instruments pitched second or third highest.

    ‘alto flute’
    • ‘The bass flute has an especially prominent part, and the composer suggests that alto and bass players may exchange parts between movements to rest the arms and the embouchure.’
    • ‘All the pieces I receive are put onto our waiting lists for performances, and we have an open call for scores for any chamber works using the alto or bass flute.’
    • ‘On the positive side, there is Shore's scrupulous instrumental characterisation, with a troubling French horn and a pure alto flute representing the moral struggle within the mysterious main character.’
    • ‘Nothing so simple for the oboes as piccolo, soprano, alto, tenor or bass.’
    • ‘The three smaller works are a duo for cello and piano, Six Days in Jericho, a duo for alto flute and piano, Spilliaert's Beach, and a piano solo, A Haunted Heart.’
    1. 2.1 An alto instrument, especially an alto saxophone.
      • ‘His alto saxophone exerted a powerful influence on early free jazz in Britain, if not across Europe.’
      • ‘He was primarily self-taught beginning on trumpet before switching to alto sax.’
      • ‘Ornette also tries his hand at several other instruments besides alto.’
      • ‘I headed to the end of the hall, where all the saxophones had congregated, and saw three out of the four different types of saxophones; the baritone, tenor and alto.’
      • ‘I put it in the bank until I saved up another £210 and bought a lovely alto saxophone.’


Late 16th century: from Italian alto (canto) ‘high (song)’.