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[os-ti-nah-toh; Italian aws-tee-nah-taw] /ˌɒs tɪˈnɑ toʊ; Italian ˌɔs tiˈnɑ tɔ/
noun, plural ostinatos. Music.
a constantly recurring melodic fragment.
1875-80; < Italian: literally, obstinate < Latin obstinātus obstinate Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for ostinato
  • The renowned opening theme features a driving, and catchy, jazz ostinato figure punctuated by big band blasts and throbs.
  • Compose an eight measure quartet based upon a rhythmic ostinato.
  • Improvise a short ostinato to sing or play with a familiar song.
  • Create a descant or ostinato to a previously learned melody.
British Dictionary definitions for ostinato


  1. a continuously reiterated musical phrase
  2. (as modifier): an ostinato passage
Word Origin
Italian: from Latin obstinātusobstinate
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for ostinato

1876, from Italian ostinato, literally "obstinate, persistent."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for ostinato

in music, short melodic phrase repeated throughout a composition, sometimes slightly varied or transposed to a different pitch. A rhythmic ostinato is a short, constantly repeated rhythmic pattern. Ostinatos appear in Western composition from the 13th century onward, as in the motet Emendemus in melius (Let Us Change for the Better) by Cristobal de Morales (c. 1500-53) and in the Concerto, Opus 38 (first performed 1925), of Paul Hindemith. Use of an ostinato was particularly common in 16th-century dance pieces, notably in the bass line, where it is called a basso ostinato, or ground bass (q.v.). A single-pitch ostinato governs the "Scarbo" movement in Maurice Ravel's piano work Gaspard de la nuit (1908).

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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