A fermata (also known as a hold, pause, colloquially a birdseye or cyclops eye, or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is an element of musical notation indicating that the note should be sustained for longer than its note value would indicate. Exactly how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor, but twice as long is not unusual. It is usually printed above, but occasionally below (upside down), the note that is to be held longer. Occasionally holds are also printed above rests or barlines, indicating a pause of indefinite duration.
A fermata can occur at the end of a piece (or movement), or it can occur in the middle of a piece, and be followed by either a brief rest or more notes.
In chorale arrangements by Johann Sebastian Bach and other composers of the Baroque, the fermata often only signifies the end of a phrase, where a breath is to be taken. In a few organ compositions, the fermatas occur in different measures for the right and left hand, and for the feet, which would make holding them impractical.
The word lunga (Shortened form of the Italian lunga pausa, meaning "long pause") is sometimes added above a fermata to indicate a longer duration.
Some modern composers (including Francis Poulenc, Krzysztof Penderecki, and Luigi Nono) have expanded the symbol's usage to indicate approximate duration, incorporating fermatas of different sizes, square- and triangle-shaped fermatas, and so on, to indicate holds of different lengths. This is not standard usage, however.
- Brock McElheran, Chapter XVII, "Fermatas" Conducting Technique. New York: Oxford University Press (1989): 85. The author classifies them into three types: a) fermatas followed by uninterrrupted sound, b) fermatas followed "by a short period of silence," and c) fermatas "followed by a long period of silence." After this classification, the author gives detailed advice for conducting each of these types.
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