Recitative (Lat. recitare, to recite; called by the Italians musica parlante, speaking music), a species of artificial declamation adapted to musical notes, imitating the inflections of natural speech, and forming a medium between ordinary recitation or speaking, which it nearly resembles, and measured air or song. It was first introduced at Rome by Emilio del Cavaliere in 1600, and is now a recognized and indeed an essential form of vocal composition in the grand Italian opera, oratorios, and cantatas, serving to express some action or passion, to relate a story, or to connect scenes and situations, without injuring the effect of the performance by resorting to spoken words. Although written in common time, the recitative may be delivered by the singer according to his fancy, subject of course to the laws of prosody, the lengths of the notes as given by the composer being mere approximations. The accompaniment generally consists of a few occasional chords struck by the pianoforte to indicate the harmony, although sometimes the violoncellos take the chords in arpeggio.

This, the simplest form of recitative, is called recitativo secco; when besides the bass the recitative is accompanied by other instruments of the orchestra, it is recitativo istrumentato; when interrupted by interjected passages performed by the orchestra, it is said to be obbli-gato. The more modern composers have given great attention to elaborating the recitative, Wagner having gone so far as to banish the aria and substitute in its place a kind of musical recitation, between recitative and song.