Definition and background:
A female voice of low range, (usually about G below the treble clef to C in the treble clef) also called contralto. Originally the alto was a high male voice, which, through the use of falsetto, reached the range of a female alto (this type of male voice is also called a countertenor). The second highest part of a normal four part chorus. In French, the second highest instrument of the violin family: the viola.Also [Eng.] viola; [Ger.] Bratsche; [It.] viola; [Sp.] viola. In reference to instrument families such as the clarinet, flute and recorder, the second or third highest member of the family. high; often refers to a particular range of voice, higher than a tenor but lower than a soprano(1) lower range of the female voice (2) the second part from the top
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary