Definition and background:
A celebration named after Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and intoxication (Dionysus in Greek mythology). These events are often characterized as a drunken orgies and began around 200 BCE. The bacchanal was outlawed by the Roman Senate in 186 BCE because of the sexual and criminal behavior associated with the celebration. In music, a bacchanal is a composition that attempts to capture the character of these celebrations. Although the bacchanal can be written in any compositional form, it is often found in opera and ballet. The bacchanal provides composers an opportunity to employ a wide range of aural imagery that is easily adapted to the visual nature of these genre.Some of the well-known operatic bacchanals include the final scene in Samson et Dalila (Samson and Delilah) by Camille Saint-Saens, the first act of Tannh'user by Richard Wagner, the last act of Faust by Charles-Fran'ois Gounod, and in the second act during the sack of Troy in Les Troyens (The Trojans) by Hector Berlioz.
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary