Dirges or laments are an important element in primitive
musical practice in mourning the dead or at other moments of parting. One
of the most important and influential laments of Western music is Monteverdi’s
Lament of Arianna (= Ariadne), abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos,
where she became a follower of the god Dionysus. This is the only surviving
part of a lost opera of 1608. The lament was much imitated, not least by
the English composer Henry Purcell in the lament sung by Dido, betrayed
by her lover Aeneas, in the short opera Dido and Aeneas.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah form part of the Catholic
liturgy of Holy Week, the week before Easter, traditionally chanted, but
from the middle of the 15th century providing material for polyphonic setting.
The Ländler is an Austrian country dance in
a slow triple metre, a precursor of the waltz.
Larghetto is a diminutive form of Largo (Italian:
broad, wide, large) usually a direction of tempo, meaning slow. Larghetto
is slowish, not as slow as Largo.
Largo (Italian: broad, wide, large and consequently
slow) is used as a frequent instruction to performers. Handel’s Largo,
an aria from his opera Serse, is in fact marked Larghetto, although this
does not seem to affect its speed in popular performance.
Legato (Italian: smooth) is used as an instruction
to performers. It is the opposite of staccato, which indicates a shortening
and consequent detaching of notes.
Leggero means light (= French: léger) and
is used as a direction to performers.
Legno, wood, appears in the phrase ‘col legno’, with
the wood, an instruction to string players to hit the strings with the
back of the bow. Examples of col legno are found in the Danse macabre of
Saint-Säens and at the opening of Holst’s The Planets.
The leitmotif (= German: Leitmotiv) is particularly
associated with the music-dramas of Wagner,
although the practice has a longer history. The leading motive is a theme
or part of a theme, associated in the work of Wagner with a character,
idea or event, and forming in his music-dramas an essential element in
Lento (Italian: slow; = French: lent, lentement)
is used in instructions to performers. Negatively some French composers,
notably Couperin, use the direction sans lenteur, without slowness.
The libretto, the little book, is the text of an
opera or similar vocal work, originally issued in a small printed book.
Lied, (German: song), Lieder in the plural, is used
more specifically to indicate songs in the great German tradition of song-writing
exemplified by the work of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard
Strauss and others. It should not be confused with Leid, sorrow, as in
Kreisler’s Liebesleid, the sorrow of love.
The loure is a French dance of the 17th and 18th
centuries, the name derived from a bagpipe used in Normandy. The dance
is usually in 6/4 time and has been described as a slow gigue. Examples
are found in Bach’s E major Partita for unaccompanied violin and in the
fifth of his French Suites.
The lute, a plucked string instrument popular from
the Middle Ages until the 18th century and now revived, came originally
from the East, its name derived from the Arabic ‘ud. It existed in many
different forms and in its Western form is usually pear-shaped, with a
flat belly and central soundhole or rose. Its neck has frets, pieces of
gut tied to mark the notes on the fingerboard, and its peg-box is generally
bent back to form a right angle with the neck. The number of strings has
varied, although the six-string lute was common. The lute was one of the
most popular instruments in the time of Shakespeare, when the leading performer
was John Dowland, who wrote songs with lute accompaniment. In the first
half of the 18th century Johann Sebastian Bach wrote for the instrument,
of which one of the leading exponents and composers was Sylvius Leopold
Weiss. A player of the lute is a lutenist, or, less commonly, lutanist.
The meaning of luthier, originally a maker of lutes, has been extended
to cover makers of all string instruments.
The lyre, the symbol of a musician in Western cultural
tradition, is an ancient instrument, found in characteristic form in ancient
Greece, where it was the instrument of Apollo. Similar instruments, with
strings stretched from a cross-bar to a lower sound-box, to be held in
the left arm and plucked with the right hand, are found in other cultures.