Definition and background:
A term brought into use in the late Renaissance with a variety of specific meanings, generally implying a composition similar to a canzona or a prelude. By the 18th century the term had a similar implication as the term " sonata ". During the 18th century it came to be used for a three movement composition, until it gradually took on the meaning of our modern term " symphony ". In modern usage, " sinfonia " implies a work of smaller proportions than a full symphony. In earlier usage indicated a passage or piece of instrumental music, sometimes an introductory piece, leading later to the Italian overture, known as the sinfonia before the opera.
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Wikipedia - Glossary of Musical Terminology
Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary
ORB -- Medieval Music Glossary