Italian ostinato = English obstinate. The ostinato technique has been used in a number of composing procedures in every historical period beginning in the thirteenth century. The ostinato is the basis for certain kinds of variation techniques (see also Theme and Variations). It remains a popular Twentieth Century technique.
An ostinato is a figure or musical sentence that repeats continuously. Its length varies in scope from a motive or phrase to a period. An ostinato provides unifying repetition. An short ostinato figure can function as an ornamented or extended pedal tone.
The following genres are procedures rather than forms. The recurring sub-thematic material forms a unifying ground for continuous variations (as opposed to sectional variations). Often, unique structures result from way the composer controls the resources of the media and coordinates it with the control of texture, melody, rhythm, and harmony.
Composers adhere to traditional models with varied degrees of strictness. The student is advised to take special note of (a) ostinato conventions as practiced in various historical periods (b) how individual composers interpret these conventions, and (c) how ostinato processes evolved from period to period.
Ostinatos form grounds (in the perceptual sense), that is, special kinds of binding backgrounds. Their closure is frequently "open" to encourage the effect of continuous motion.Examples from literature
My Ladie Carey's Dompe|
Mass in B minor, "Crucifixus" (ground underlies imitative process)
Passacaglia in C minor for organ
String Quartet No. 3, first part
Thirty-two Variations in C minor WoO 80
String Quartet No. 2
Symphony No. 4, mvt 4; Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op. 56a
Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings "Dirge"
String Quartet No. 4, Op. 32, last movement
L'incoronazione di Poppea, aria, "Ma che dico, o Poppea"
Dido's Lament from Dido and Aeneas (ground bass under a simple binary)
Ground for Harpsichord from Ye Tuneful Muses.
Introduction, Passacaglia, and Fugue for two pianos, Op. 96
Symphony No. 3, final movement
Symphony No. 3, first movement (ostinato that changes pitch level)
A Ground (in Fitzwilliam Virginal Book)
Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin|
Wozzeck, passacaglia in Act I
Venus and Adonis, finale of Act II
Berceuse for piano
Pieces de Clavecin
Suites for Harpsichord; Susanna, opening chorus
a mystery chaconne with 62 variations.
Symphony No. 2, second movement
Amadis, final chorus
Trio in A minor for piano, violin and cello, third movement
Introduction and Passacaglia in D minor, Op. 145 for organ
Pierrot Lunaire, No. 8, "Nacht"
Histoire du Soldat (ostinato passages), Rite of Spring
Septet, second movement
Passacaglia for Orchestra, Op. 1