A flourish (properly, improvised) inserted into the final cadence of any section of a vocal aria or a solo instr. movement. The conventional final cadence consists, harmonically, of 3 chords, the 2nd inversion of the tonic chord, and the dominant and tonic chords in root position (i.e. 6/5 5/3 on the dominant bass, followed by 5/3 on the tonic bass). The interpolated cadenza begins on the first of these chords, the orch. joining in again only when the soloist, after a display of vocal or instr. virtuosity, indicates by a long trill that he or she is ready to be rejoined in the final chords or in any passage elaborated out of them.
In the operatic aria conventional practice admitted 3 cadenzas—one at the end of each of its sections (see aria), the most elaborate being reserved to the last. The term melisma has been used for the vocal cadenza.
From the time of Mozart and Beethoven in instr. mus. the tendency grew for the composer to write out the cadenza in full, although Mozart's and Beethoven's cadenzas are often still rejected by soloists who substitute cadenzas by other hands (e.g. by Busoni, Reinecke, etc.). In Beethoven's and Brahms's vn. concs. the cadenza was left to the performer's invention, but Joachim and Kreisler (and others) provided written‐out cadenzas which are generally used. Schumann in his pf. conc. and Mendelssohn in his vn. conc. began the trend, general now, of integrating the cadenza into the comp. There are many fine examples of acc. cadenzas (e.g. Elgar's vn. conc.). Sometimes the cadenza assumes the importance of, effectively, an extra movement (e.g. Shostakovich's first vn. conc., Walton's vc. conc.). Of course, with the growth of aleatory procedures, the improvised cadenza has come back into its own.