imitation, in music, a device of counterpoint wherein a phrase or motive is employed successively in more than one voice. The imitation may be exact, the same intervals being repeated at the same or different pitches, or it may be free, in which case numerous types of variation are possible. Imitation was much used in both vocal and instrumental compositions of the 15th and 16th cent. The ricercare, canzone, capriccio, and fantasia —instrumental forms of this period—employed imitation to a great extent and without formal plan. They were forerunners of the fugue. The strictest form of imitation is the canon. While imitation is found to some extent in the music of nearly all periods, it is of special significance in Renaissance music.
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