MUS 312 Form & Analysis

H. The Rondo Principle

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Rondo Principle

The ternary principle was initially defined as one of statement, contrast, and restatement.  The rondo principle may be viewed as an expansion of the ternary principle insofar as it involves statement followed by alternating contrasts and restatements.

Rondo movements, therefore, tend to be perceived in five, seven, or nine (or more) main parts, and are labeled A-B-A-B-A, A-B-A-C-A-B-A, A-B-A-C-A-D-A, etc., depending upon whether the melodic/thematic material in the contrasting sections is interrelated or not.

Part A is commonly called the refrain or ritornello.

Part B is variously designated: couplet, digression, episode or intermezzo, depending to some extent on the period under investigation.

The more contemporary designations (which we will use) are:

  • Part A--primary section
  • Part B--alternating section.

Rondo Form

The rondo principle, although exploited extensively in earlier vocal music, was not systematically applied to instrumental music until the middle of the 17th century.  It may be found on a relatively large scale in the ritornello movements of the Baroque concerti grosso.

In the rondeau, an instrumental dance, the rondo principle may be easily perceived, as it is in the classical rondo that followed it.

Sonata-Rondo Form

As has been discussed earlier, composite forms are those in which any part of a large structure may be clearly identified as representing a separate, complete expression of a structural principle.  Composite ternary structures are examples of such forms.  So are rondos that contain binary structures as parts of their design.

Sonata-rondo, a common rondo type of the 18th and 19th centuries, may be considered a hybrid form, in which tonal, motivic, or functional principles characteristic of sonata-allegro structures are integrated into a basic rondo design.

 

The following diagram compares the elements of typical sonata-allegro and sonata-rondo forms, and illustrates the way in which the elements of the principles are combined:

Sonata-Allegro (Binary)
Part A   Part B    
Exposition   Development Recapitulation
I --- ... V - - - - - - -  V - - - - - - - - - V I - - - ... I - - - - - - - - - I
I --- ... III - - - - - - - III - - - - - - - - - V I - - - ... i - - - - - - - - - i
Group 1 Group 2 Motivic Manipulation Group 1 Group 2

 

Sonata-Rondo (Sectional)
A B A* C A B A
I - - - - -  I V - - - ... I - - - - -  I - - - - - - V I - - - - -  I I - - - ... I - - - - - - I
i - - - - - - i III - - - ... i - - - - - - i - - - - - - V i - - - - - - i i - - - ... i - - - - - - i
Primary Section Alternating Section Primary Section Motivic Manipulation Primary Section Alternating Section Primary Section

To summarize:  In the sonata-rondo, after the first return of the primary section, the remaining sections follow the tonal and functional relationships as the tonal and motivic result of the opening sections.

*Were it not for the first restatement of Part A, the structure would be perceived as being governed by the binary principle.

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