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[ob-li-gah-toh; Italian awb-blee-gah-taw] /ˌɒb lɪˈgɑ toʊ; Italian ˌɔb bliˈgɑ tɔ/ Music.
(used as a musical direction) obligatory or indispensable; so important that it cannot be omitted.
noun, plural obbligatos, obbligati
[ob-li-gah-tee; Italian awb-blee-gah-tee] /ˌɒb lɪˈgɑ ti; Italian ˌɔb bliˈgɑ ti/ (Show IPA)
an obbligato part or accompaniment.
a continuing or persistent subordinate or background motif.
a subordinate part of a solo.
Also, obligato.
Origin of obbligato
1715-25; < Italian: bound, obliged < Latin obligātus; see obligate Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for obbligato
Historical Examples
  • This is the animal page of the Sunday Star and Cadge is in a hurry for it, to do the obbligato.

    The Bacillus of Beauty Harriet Stark
  • The prelude in E forms the obbligato organ part of the opening chorus of the cantata Wir danken dir.


    Charles Francis Abdy Williams
  • The earlier obbligato accompaniment gave way to an obbligato style of writing which rested to a greater extent on counterpoint.

  • The accompanying (obbligato) instrument is not mentioned, but the work may well have been one of these Sonatas.

  • obbligato (sometimes incorrectly spelled obligato)—an accessory melody accompanying harmonized music, (usually vocal music).

  • The music served as obbligato for the mighty diapason of men's voices; the thousands talked as they waited.

    The Landloper Holman Day
  • Sarcastic Tuscan humor keeps up an obbligato accompaniment throughout the poem.

  • You know that the performers do not sing, but declaim, and the music is like an obbligato recitative.

  • He commissioned Mozart to write a trio with obbligato flute, which the latter promised to do.

  • It is in A major, and begins with variations on a simple theme, in which each instrument in succession comes in obbligato.

British Dictionary definitions for obbligato


not to be omitted in performance
noun (pl) -tos, -ti (-tiː)
an essential part in a score: with oboe obbligato
See also ad-lib
Word Origin
C18: from Italian, from obbligare to oblige
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for obbligato

musical instruction, 1724, from Italian obbligato, literally "obligated," from Latin obligatus, past participle of obligare "to bind" (see oblige). In reference to a necessary accompaniment by a single instrument.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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