Solo song

Different types of solo song include lieder, arias, ballads and folk songs.

Lieder

Lieder (pronounced leeder) are German art songs from the Romantic period (roughly the 19th century).

Arias

Arias are solo songs found in operas and oratorio.

An opera is a drama set to music, acted and sung by solo singers and accompanied by an orchestra.

One of the most famous operatic tenor arias is Nessun Dorma (None shall sleep) from Puccini’s opera Turandot. This impassioned lyrical aria famously ends on a high sustained B. The voice is accompanied by orchestra and choir.

An oratorio is a setting of religious words for solo singers, chorus and orchestra. Unlike an opera an oratorio is not staged. Messiah by Handel is the most popular oratorio.

Listen to He was despised, a da capo aria from Handel’s Messiah. The voice is a contralto. The harpsichord continuo and the ornamentation are both typical of the Baroque period.

He was despised

Da capo arias were common in the 18th century. A da capo aria is one where the voice returns to the head of the score (da capo) and repeats the first section of the music. It was common for the soloist to add ornamentation when the first section was repeated.

Pop ballads

Stevie Wonder performing at the piano
Stevie Wonder

Ballads:

  • are slow, often sentimental, love songs
  • sometimes tell a story
  • are usually in verse and chorus form
  • emphasise melody and lyrics, the accompaniment is often secondary
  • are often accompanied on guitar or keyboard
  • are found in many styles of pop music

Some famous ballad singers are Frank Sinatra (eg My Way), Elvis Presley (eg Always on my mind) and Stevie Wonder (eg My Cherie Amour).

Folk song

British and American folk songs:

  • often have a simple strummed guitar accompaniment
  • are sometimes unaccompanied
  • are usually in verse form (strophic)
  • sometimes, but don't always, have choruses
  • emphasise lyrics, which often tell a story and sometimes have a political message
  • place secondary importance on the accompaniment, with simple harmony and strummed chords

Examples of well-known folk songs include The Foggy Dew (English), She Moved Through the Fair (Irish) and Freight Train (American).