Sinfonia is the Italian word for symphony, from the Latin symphonia, in turn derived from Ancient Greek συμφωνία sumphōnia (agreement or concord of sound), from the prefix σύν (together) and ϕωνή (sound). In English it most commonly refers to a 17th- or 18th-century orchestral piece used as an introduction, interlude, or postlude to an opera, oratorio, cantata, or suite (Abate 1999, who gives the origin of the word as Italian). The word is also found in other Romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese.
In the Middle Ages down to as late as 1588, it was also the Italian name for the hurdy-gurdy (Marcuse 1975, p. 477). Johann Sebastian Bach used the term for his keyboard compositions also known as Three-part Inventions, and after about 1800, the term, when in reference to opera, meant "Overture" (Fisher 1998, p. 386).
Symphony with an alternative scope
Examples of such "sinfonias" composed after the classical era include:
- Vincent d'Indy wrote a Sinfonia brevis de bello Gallico, Latin for: "Short Symphony about the War in Gaul".
- Igor Stravinsky titled the first movement of his 1923 Octet "Sinfonia".
- Abate, Frank R. (ed.). The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-513449-0.
- Bukofzer, Manfred. Music in the Baroque Era. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1947. ISBN 0-393-09745-5.
- Cusick, Suzanne G.; Jan Larue; John Tyrrell (2001), "Sinfonia (i)" in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd edition, London: Macmillan Publishers, 2001.
- Fisher, Stephen C. "Sinfonia" in Stanley Sadie (ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Four. p. 386. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1998. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5.
- Kennedy, Michael. "Sinfonia". The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition, revised, associate editor, Joyce Bourne. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-19-861459-3.
- Marcuse, Sibyl. Musical Instruments: A Comprehensive Dictionary, corrected edition. The Norton Library. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1975. ISBN 0-393-00758-8.
- Randel, Don (ed.). The New Harvard Dictionary of Music. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-674-61525-5.