Syllables fly, fast and furious, pushing verbal dexterity to its limit. Enunciation-pyrotechnics give us, the audience, a thrill both physiological and intellectual, delighting us, helping us see a character through a different lens.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the patter song. This fiendish tradition dates back to the 16th century, but its ancient roots lie in Greek drama, in which an actor would dispatch reams of text at great speed in a single breath. A triumph of technique over the body, this form was known as “pnigos”, meaning “choking” or “suffocating”. The modern patter song, however, gets its name from “Pater”, a sly nod to church congregants who would hurry their way through the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer(Pater Noster), hoping to make a hasty post-service exit.

And so, from opera to operetta, from Lieder to musical theatre, and from jazz to rap – if syllabic speed is your thing, here’s a handy chronological guide to the musical tongue twister.

JOSEPH HAYDN
Ho viaggiatofrom Orlando Paladino(1782)

I’ve been to France, Spain, Germany, Saxony and Turkey,
But on my heart I swear...