Definition and background:
(19th century) A virtuoso composition using popular melodies, usually from operas, in an elaborated manner such as the Carmen Fantasy by Pablo de Sarasate.(14th - 16th century) A melody borrowed from another source (usually chant) and then elaborated freely such as Missa l' hom arme by Guillaume de Machaut.(18th century) A rhythmic version of scripture or psalms in the native langauge of the composer such as Estro poetico-armonico: Parafrasi sopra li primi (secondi) venticinque salami by Benedetto Marcello.
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary