Definition of cantilena in US English:



  • A lyrical vocal or instrumental melody in a composition.

    ‘long string cantilenas run through works like the symphonies’
    • ‘The pounding, persistent bass gradually allows a fine cantilena to develop.’
    • ‘The cantilena of the concerto's opening, with its progressively widening intervals, is a cracker and contains one of the most original cadenzas I have heard.’
    • ‘The misterioso tremolo opening of the third movement was particularly effective, likewise the unison string cantilenas and some wonderful feather-light arabesques on piano.’
    • ‘This is what electronic music sounded like in the 1960s. Just when the listener thinks he has Vasks's number, however, Vasks writes a beautiful cantilena for the soloist, and the concerto takes on a new dimension.’
    • ‘As his close friend Ivan Sollertinsky remarked, Shostakovich was ‘perhaps the first among Russian composers to make his heroes speak not in conventional arias and cantilenas but in living language, setting everyday speech to music’.’


Mid 18th century: from Italian, from Latin, ‘song’.