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Extensive Definition

this Tenor vocalists in music
This article is related to a series of articles under the main article Voice type.
The tenor is the highest male voice within the modal register, just above the baritone voice. The typical tenor voice lies between the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5). The low extreme for tenors is roughly Bmusic flat2 (two Bmusic flats below middle C). At the highest extreme, some tenors can sing up to two Fs above middle C (F5).
Within opera, the lowest note in the standard tenor repertoire is A3 (Mime, Herod), but few roles fall below C3 (one octave below middle C). The high extreme: many tenor roles in the standard repertoire call for a "tenor C" (C5, one octave above middle C). While some operatic roles for tenor require a darker timbre and fewer high notes, it is generally accepted that any tenor should be able to sing with a full timbre up to an A4. In the leggiero repertoire the highest note is an F5 (Arturo in I puritani), therefore, very few tenors can have this role in their repertoire.

Origin of the term

The name "tenor" derives from the Latin word tenere, which means "to hold". In medieval and Renaissance polyphony between about 1250 and 1500, the tenor was the structurally fundamental (or ‘holding’) voice, vocal or instrumental. All other voices were normally calculated in relation to the tenor, which often proceeded in longer note values and carried a borrowed Cantus firmus melody. Until the late 15th century introduction of the contratenor bassus, the tenor was usually the lowest voice, assuming the role of providing a harmonic foundation. It was also in the 15th century that "tenor" came to signify the male voice that sang such parts. Thus, for earlier repertoire, a line marked 'tenor' indicated the part's role, and not the required voice type. Indeed, even as late as the seventeenth century, partbooks labelled 'tenor' might contain parts for a range of voice types.

Tenor in choral music

In four-part choral music, the tenor is the second lowest voice, above the bass and below the soprano and alto. While certain choral music does require the first tenors to ascend the full tenor range, the majority of choral music places the tenors in the range from approximately B2 up to A4. The requirements of the tenor voice in choral music are also tied to the style of music most often performed by a given choir. Orchestra choruses require tenors with fully resonant voices, but chamber or a cappella choral music (sung with no instrumental accompaniment) can quite successfully rely on light baritones singing in falsetto.
Even so, one nearly ubiquitous facet of choral singing is the shortage of tenor voices. Most men tend to have baritone voices and for this reason the majority of men tend to prefer singing in the bass section of a choir (however true basses are even more rare then tenors). Some men are asked to sing tenor even if they lack the full range, and sometimes low altos are asked to sing the tenor part.
In bluegrass music, the melody line is called the lead. Tenor is sung an interval of a third above the lead. Baritone is the fifth of the scale that has the lead as a tonic, and may be sung below the lead, or even above the lead (and the tenor), in which case it is called "high baritone."
In rock and hair metal, there is a style of singing (that most of them use) that requires a tenor to use a head voice/falsetto scream to sing most of the melodies. This allows then to stay on high treble notes (many close to or on tenor C) for extended amounts of time. Singers of this style include Axl Rose from Guns N' Roses, Joe Elliot of Def Leppard, Brian Johnson and Bon Scott of AC/DC, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot.
It term tenor is also applied to instruments to indicate their range in relation to other instruments of the same group. For instance the tenor saxophone.

Tenor voice classification

Within Choral and pop music, singers are classified into voice parts based almost solely on range with little consideration for other qualities in the voice. Within classical solo singing, however, a person is classified as a tenor through the identification of several vocal traits, including vocal range (the lowest and highest notes that the singer can reach), vocal timbre, vocal weight, vocal tessitura, vocal resonance, and vocal transition points (lifts or "passaggio") within the singer's voice. These different traits are used to identify different sub-types within the tenor voice sometimes reffered to as fächer (sg. fach, from German Fach or Stimmfach, "vocal category"). Within opera, particular roles are written with specific kinds of tenor voices in mind, causing certain roles to be associated with certain kinds of voices.
Following are the operatic tenor fächer, with their standard repertory roles:

Leggiero tenor

The male equivalent of a lyric coloratura, this voice is light and very agile and is able to perform dextrous coloratura passages. The Leggiero tenor has a range of approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the Emusic flat above tenor C (Emusic flat 5) with some leggiero tenors being able to sing up to the F or even Gmusic flat. This voice is the highest tenor voice and is sometimes referred to as "tenore di grazia". This voice is utilized frequently in the operas of Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini, and the highest Baroque repertoire for tenors. Leggiero tenors also frequently perform roles in the light-lyric tenor repetoire.
To hear an example of a Leggiero tenor (Juan Diego Florez in the role of Tonio from Donizetti's La fille du régiment) click on this link: Watch Here

Lyric tenor

A warm graceful voice with a bright, full timbre that is strong but not heavy and can be heard over an orchestra. Lyric tenors have a range from approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the D one octave above middle C (D5). There is a tendency to divide lyric tenors into two groups:
  • Light lyric tenor- A light-lyric tenor has a slighty warmer sound than the Leggiero tenor and some coloratura facility but does not have quite as high of an upper extension as the leggiero tenor. This voice is used frequently within French comic operas.
  • Full lyric tenor- A full-lyric tenor that has a more mature sound than a light-lyric tenor and can be heard over a bigger orchestra.
To hear an example of a Full lyric tenor (José Carreras in the role of Rodolfo from Puccini's La bohème) click on this link: Watch Here

Light-lyric tenor roles in opera and operettas

Full-lyric tenor roles in opera and operettas

Lyric tenor singers

Spinto tenor

This voice has the brightness and height of a lyric tenor, but with a heavier vocal weight enabeling the voice to be "pushed" to dramatic climaxes without strain. Some spinto tenors may have a somewhat darker timbre than a lyric tenor as well, without being as dark as a dramatic tenor. Spinto tenors have a range from approximately the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the D one octave above middle C (D5).
To hear an example of a Spinto tenor (Luciano Pavarotti in the role of Riccardo from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera) click on this link: Watch Here

Spinto tenor roles in opera and operettas

Spinto tenor singers

Dramatic tenor

Also "tenore di forza" or "robusto" – a ringing and very powerful, rich, heroic tenor. The dramatic tenor has an approximate range from the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5).
To hear an example of a Dramatic tenor (Franco Corelli in the role of Radames from Verdi's Aida) click on this link: Watch Here

Dramatic tenor roles in opera and operettas

Dramatic tenor singers


A rich, powerful, and dramatic voice. As its name implies, the Heldentenor (English: heroic tenor) vocal fach features in the German romantic operatic repertoire. The Heldentenor is the German equivalent of the tenore drammatico, however with a more baritonal quality: the typical Wagnerian protagonist. The keystone of any heldentenor's repertoire is arguably Wagner's Siegfried, an extremely demanding role requiring a wide vocal range, great stamina, and extended dramatic suspension. The Heldentenor has an approximate range from the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5).
To hear an example of a Heldentenor (Lauritz Melchior in the title role of Wagner's Lohengrin) click on this link: Watch Here

Tenor buffo or Spieltenor

A tenor with good acting ability, and the ability to create distinct voices for his characters. This voice specializes in smaller comic roles. The range of the tenor buffo is from the C one octave below middle C (C3) to the C one octave above middle C (C5). The tessitura of these parts lies lower than the other tenor roles. These parts are often played by younger tenors who have not yet reached their full vocal potential or older tenors who are beyond their prime singing years. Only rarely will a singer specialize in these roles for an entire career. To hear an example of a Tenor buffo (Norbert Orth in the role of Monostatos from Mozart's The Magic Flute) click on this link: Watch Here

Tenor buffo roles in opera and operettas

Tenor roles in operettas

All of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas have at least one lead lyric tenor character; other notable roles are:



David Fallows, Owen Jander. Tenor, Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy, (subscription access).

See also

heldentenor in Bulgarian: Тенор
heldentenor in Catalan: Tenor
heldentenor in Czech: Tenor
heldentenor in German: Tenor (Stimmlage)
heldentenor in Estonian: Tenor
heldentenor in Spanish: Tenor
heldentenor in Esperanto: Tenoro
heldentenor in Persian: تنور (صدا)
heldentenor in French: Ténor
heldentenor in Galician: Tenor
heldentenor in Korean: 테너
heldentenor in Croatian: Tenor
heldentenor in Icelandic: Tenór
heldentenor in Italian: Tenore
heldentenor in Hebrew: טנור
heldentenor in Kurdish: Tenor
heldentenor in Hungarian: Tenor
heldentenor in Macedonian: Тенор
heldentenor in Malay (macrolanguage): Tenor
heldentenor in Dutch: Tenor (zangstem)
heldentenor in Japanese: テノール
heldentenor in Norwegian: Tenor
heldentenor in Polish: Tenor
heldentenor in Portuguese: Tenor
heldentenor in Russian: Тенор
heldentenor in Simple English: Tenor
heldentenor in Slovenian: Tenor
heldentenor in Serbo-Croatian: Tenori
heldentenor in Finnish: Tenori
heldentenor in Swedish: Tenor
heldentenor in Turkish: Tenor
heldentenor in Ukrainian: Тенор
heldentenor in Chinese: 男高音
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