Sinfonia (IPA: [siɱfoˈniːa]) is the Italian word for symphony, from the Latin symphonia, in turn derived from Ancient Greek συμφωνία symphōnia (agreement or concord of sound), from the prefix σύν (together) and ϕωνή (sound). In English it most commonly refers to a 17th- or 18th-century orchestral piece used as an introduction, interlude, or postlude to an opera, oratorio, cantata, or suite (Abate 1999, who gives the origin of the word as Italian) (Lotha, and the Editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica n.d.). The word is also found in other Romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese.

In the Middle Ages down to as late as 1588, it was also the Italian name for the hurdy-gurdy (Marcuse 1975, p. 477). Johann Sebastian Bach used the term for his keyboard compositions also known as Three-part Inventions, and after about 1800, the term, when in reference to opera, meant "Overture" (Fisher 1998, p. 386).

In George Frideric Handel's oratorio Messiah (HWV 56), "Overture to the Messiah" (French Overture in E minor) was originally titled "Sinfony".

In the 20th and 21st centuries it is found in the names of some chamber orchestras, such as the Northern Sinfonia (Kennedy 2006).

Sinfonias in the vocal works by Johann Sebastian Bach

WorkMovementRelated instrumental workMovement
Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 41
Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen, BWV 121
Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt, BWV 181
Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis, BWV 211
Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir, BWV 291Partita for Violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006[1]1
Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV 351Concerto in D minor (fragment), BWV 1059 (Gardiner 2007, 13, 16–18)
Geist und Seele wird verwirret, BWV 355Probably the same lost work as BWV 35/1 (Gardiner 2007, 13, 16–18)
Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 421
Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV 491Keyboard Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1053[2]3
Falsche Welt, dir trau ich nicht, BWV 521Sinfonia in F major (early version of Brandenburg Concerto No. 1), BWV 1046a[3]1
Die Elenden sollen essen, BWV 758
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes, BWV 768Organ Sonata No. 4 in E minor, BWV 528[4]1
Herr Gott, Beherrscher aller Dinge, BWV 120a4Partita for Violin No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006[5]1
Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal, BWV 1461Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052 (Bach 2004–2018)1
Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 1501
Tritt auf die Glaubensbahn, BWV 1521
Ich steh mit einem Fuß im Grabe, BWV 1561Keyboard Concerto No. 5 in F minor, BWV 1056[6]2
Gott soll allein mein Herze haben, BWV 1691Keyboard Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1053[7]1
Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 1741Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048[8]1
Ich habe meine Zuversicht, BWV 1881Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052[9]3
Der Herr denket an uns, BWV 1961
Non sa che sia dolore, BWV 2091
St John Passion (third version), BWV 24533 (lost)[10]
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248Part II, 1
Easter Oratorio, BWV 249
Entfliehet, verschwindet, entweichet, ihr Sorgen, BWV 249a

The opening movements of cantatas BWV 31 and BWV 182[11][12] are named "sonata" and the first movement of cantata BWV 106 "sonatina".[13] Sinfonia in D major, BWV 1045 is considered a sinfonia of a lost cantata, because its manuscript indicates that the piece had four vocal parts.[14]

Symphony with an alternative scope

Examples of such "sinfonias" composed after the classical era include:

  • Vincent d'Indy wrote a Sinfonia brevis de bello Gallico, Latin for: "Short Symphony about the War in Gaul".
  • Igor Stravinsky titled the first movement of his 1923 Octet "Sinfonia".

See also


  • "Sinfonia". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  • Abate, Frank R. (ed.). The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-513449-0.
  • Bach, Peter. "Werk: Vokalwerke: BWV 146: Wir müssen durch viel Trübsal". [s.l.]:, 2004–2018 (accessed 13 May 2018).
  • Bukofzer, Manfred. Music in the Baroque Era. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1947. ISBN 0-393-09745-5.
  • Cusick, Suzanne G.; Jan Larue; John Tyrrell (2001), "Sinfonia (i)" in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001.
  • Fisher, Stephen C. "Sinfonia" in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Four. p. 386. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1998. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5.
  • Gardiner, John Eliot. Cantatas for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity / Jakobskirche, Köthen. [s.l.]: Monteverdi Choir, 2007 (accessed 1 September 2017
  • Kennedy, Michael. "Sinfonia". The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition, revised, associate editor, Joyce Bourne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-19-861459-3.
  • Lotha, Gloria, and the Editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica. N.d. “Sinfonia”. Encyclopædia Britannica online edition
  • Marcuse, Sibyl. Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary, corrected edition. The Norton Library. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975. ISBN 0-393-00758-8.
  • Randel, Don (ed.). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5.


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