A fermata [ferˈmaːta] (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 a symbol of musical notation indicating that the note should be prolonged beyond its normal duration or 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.
Other names for a fermata are corona (Italian), point d'orgue (French), Fermate (German), and calderón (Spanish).
History and use
In chorales 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.
- Sir George Grove (1904). Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 1, p.442. John Alexander Fuller-Maitland, ed. Macmillan Company.
- The Harvard Dictionary of Music, p. 310
- The Oxford Dictionary of Music, p. 293
- McElheran, Conducting Technique, Chapter XVII, "Fermatas", p. 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.
- Kennedy, Michael (1994). The Oxford Dictionary of Music (Second ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-869162-9.
- McElheran, Brock (1989). Conducting Technique. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Randel, Don Michael, editor (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music (Fourth ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01163-5.
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