Chorus (Gr. ), originally a dance in a ring, or round dance; then any dance accompanied by music, or choral dance. The chorus was an integral part of the Grecian drama, both tragic and comic, and was developed with it from its first rudiments in the religious processions in honor of Bacchus, with dithyrambic songs, dances, jokes, the wagon and sacred goat, through the improvements of Thespis (about 530 B. C), who created a kind of stage, and introduced an actor reciting in monologues the deeds of the gods and heroes, and through those of AEschylus, who added another actor, shortened the songs and dances, and introduced the dialogue, down to the sublime creations of Sophocles and Euripides. The chorus, being of Doric origin, maintained its solemnity in form,' and even in dialect. In its final state it was, in the tragedy, a group of persons of both sexes, the elders of the people, priests, counsellors of the king, matrons, captive virgins present as spectators at the scene of the action, representing to some extent in their lyrical utterance the emotions and thoughts of the audience.
When the actors paused, the chorus sung or spoke, accompanied by solemn music, sometimes only through their leader, called the coryphaeus, sometimes through different parts addressing each other and replying, while moving from one side of the stage to the other, in so-called strophes (turns), antistrophes (counter-turns), and epodes (after-songs), enhancing the impression of the action by their remarks, by expressions of joy, sorrow, admiration, or horror, as caused by the things seen; by hymns of thanks, or supplications to the gods; or addressing the heroes of the scene, advising or consoling, warning or approving in moralizing strains. It was thus that the chorus, standing between the heroes and the people, reflected as a mirror the conscience of the former and the consciousness of the latter, both affected by mighty events and tragic developments. The chorus thus forms the distinctive feature of the ancient drama, whose imitation has often, and almost always unsuccessfully, been attempted by modern poets, as for instance by Schiller in his Braut ton Messina. The tragic chorus, in the periods subsequent to .AEschylus, usually consisted of 15 members; the comic of 24. That AEschylus employed choruses of 50 is believed by some critics, but considered improbable by others.
In the comic or satirical drama the chorus consisted of satyrs, and had its songs and dances mostly of a frivolous character. The providing for the choruses, the equipment and instruction, was in Athens an honorable though burdensome office, called choragia. (See Choragus.) - In modern music, a chorus is a composition in several parts, each of which is to be sung by a plurality of voices, while all the parts are to be combined together in one simultaneous performance. The term is also applied to the performers who sing these parts. In operas and oratorios the chorus is indispensable to afford relief to the solos, duets, trios, and the like, as well as to express the culmination of any sentiment or passion; and composers have often made use of it with the happiest effect where the orchestra or single voices would prove totally inadequate. In secular music, the "Conjuration" chorus in Rossini's "William Tell," and the "Benediction of the Poniards" in Meyerbeer's "Huguenots;" and in sacred music, the choruses in Handel's oratorios, and particularly in the "Messiah," are admirable specimens of this form of composition, and when well performed, with full orchestral accompaniments, produce the most sublime and thrilling effects of which music is capable.