What Is a Chorus?

Chorister Rehearse For A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols At Kings College Cambridge
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In music the word "chorus" generally has three meanings:

  • a group of performers
  • music for a group of singers
  • the part of a song that is repeated after a verse

Chorus in Dramas

The chorus may be traced back to the dramas of ancient Greece where a group of actors danced, sang and delivered lines. At first, the chorus sang lyric hymns to honor Dionysus, the god of ecstasy and wine. These lyric hymns are known as dithyramb. During the 6th century B.C. Thespis, a poet also known as "the inventor of tragedy," was said to be instrumental in the birth of the dramatic chorus. From then on the number of performers in a chorus changed:

  • The dramatist Aeschylus reduced the number of chorus members from 50 to 12. Originally there was only a chorus leader but he also added a second actor.
  • The tragic playwright Sophocles, known for his play Oedipus the King, added 15 actors to the chorus but their roles were lessened. He also added a third actor.
  • By the 3rd century B.C. the tragic chorus no longer existed but the comic chorus was still present although the number of performers shrank to merely 7.

During the Renaissance, the role and meaning of a chorus changed, from a group it became a single performer who delivered the prologue and epilogue. Modern plays saw the revival of group chorus.

Examples of Plays With a Chorus

  • Oedipus the King
  • Doctor Faustus
  • Mourning Becomes Electra
  • Murder in the Cathedral

Chorus in Music

In music, chorus refers to:

  • A part of the song that is repeated after a verse.
  • Chorus may also refer to a group of singers who sings cantatas, church music, operas, and oratorios. For example, the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
  • It may also refer to the piece of music sang by a group of performers. For example, Cantatas and Arias for Solo Voice by Alessandro Grandi.