Tessitura (Italian )

Tessitura literally means texture, from tesserae, to weave.

A term, for which there is no direct equivalent in English, used by the Italians to indicate how the music of a pieces ‘lies’; that is to say, what is the prevailing or average position of its notes in relation to the compass of the voice or instrument for which it is written, whether high, low, or medium.

‘Range’ does not at all give the idea, as the range may be extended, and the general tessitura limited; while the range may be high and the tessitura low, or medium. In place of a corresponding word we say that a part ‘lies high or low.’

‘Vedrai carino,’ ‘Dall sua pace,’ ‘Dove sono,’ are examples of high tessitura, fatiguing generally to two voices that are not highly developed.

Indeed, there are many who would prefer singing the ‘Inflammatus’ from Rossini’s ‘Stabat Mater’ to such a piece as ‘Dove sono.’

Many of the old Italian composers wrote music of a high tessitura, though it is true that the pitch was lower in their day than it is now.

‘Deh ! vieni, non tarder,’ is an example of moderate tessitura, though it has a compass of two octaves.

The tessitura of the vocal music in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is justly the singer’s nightmare.