MUS 312 Form & Analysis
I. Works Comprising Several Movements
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A composition of several movements is like a family in many
ways. As each member of a family has dissimilar functions and
mutual responsibilities, so do the various movements of a
composition play various roles in its structure.
Evidence of mutual dependency in a group of associated musical
movements may vary. Some works may appear to be unified by
tonality alone, while others have an obvious single thematic
basis. Motivic consistency is one means of achieving
unity among movements, as it is between sections of a single
movement. (Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is a prime
Cyclic form, the name given to the practice of using the same
material in two or more movements, was used by Franck, Debussy and
The idée fixe, a melodic idea recurring intermittently in
several movements and often having an extramusical association, is
associated with the music of Berlioz.
Wagner's leitmotiv (leading motive) was not just one idea,
but a whole battery of recurring ideas.
Theorist Rudolf Reti claims that in the music of the
"great" composers there are very subtle but highly
significant relationships between corresponding themes in every
movement, and that apparently different themes are in fact offspring
of a single germinal idea.
Contrasting coupled dance movements are found at least as early
as the 16th century--usually the paired arrangement of a slow-moving
main dance followed by a lively jumping dance.
Keyboard fugues in the Baroque era are often preceded by a
prelude, fantasia, toccata or similarly loosely-constructed
movement. Such pairing of a quasi-extemporary first movement
with a highly organized second movement is consistent with baroque
taste, which favored striking contrasts and clearly distinguishable
Although frequent in pre-classical and baroque music,
two-movement works in the classical era are relatively rare.
The three-movement sonata, chamber work, or orchestral piece is
an enlargement of the so-called Italian overture, first introduced
in the late 17th century by Allesandro Scarlatti. It consisted
of three sections: Fast, Slow, Fast.
All of Mozart's keyboard sonatas are of this type, as are 75% of
Haydn's, and nearly half of Beethoven's.
CONCERTO--a three-movement (F-S-F) classic/romantic sonata
for solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment. In the concerto,
the modifications of sonata form are slight, and primarily concern
the first movement. Usually, the exposition of the themes is
arranged such that the orchestra plays the entire first section up
to the customary double bar (repeat sign); the repetition,
however, is varied by giving the exposition to the solo
instrument. The development section is generally
introduced by a second tutti. Toward the end of the movement,
a cadenza is usually inserted between the tonic 6/4 and dominant
chords. The cadenza represents a free fantasy for the solo
instrument, based on themes and motifs of the exposition; it is
richly ornamented with runs, trills . . . general virtuosic
displays. Finally, when the dominant is reached, the orchestra
enters again, bringing the piece to a rapid close in conjunction
with the soloist. Between c. 1725 and 1825, it was customary
to improvise the cadenzas. Later, when the art of
improvisation was less practiced, it was preferred to work out the
cadenza in advance and write it down.
The form of the middle slow movement is somewhat is somewhat less
predictable than that of the fast outer movements. It may be a
rondo, sonata form, simple or compound song form (ternary), or theme
Last movements are generally rondos, but may be in sonata,
sonata-rondo, or variation form.
The absence of sonata form in first movements is extremely rare.
The baroque suite, unless it includes one or more of the
variable and optional dance movements, is in four movements:
allemande, courante, sarabande, gigue.
The closely related sonata da camera (chamber sonata) also
has four movements.
The sonata da chiesa (church sonata), a contemporary of
the sonata da camera, has a more serious and elevated style.
It is without dance movements, and generally features four movements
in S-F-S-F sequence.
(The number of movements varies considerably among composers.)
Most symphonies and chamber works of the classic and
romantic eras are in four movements. The scheme is essentially
F-S-F, but with a minuet (or scherzo) and trio appearing
either before or, more commonly, after the slow movement.
The general "weighting" of the movements was to put the
"center of gravity" in the first movement during
the classical era, and in the last movement during the
Works of More Than Four Movements
In the baroque suites, and in works of the sonata da camera type,
the "standard" group is sometimes preceded by a prelude
or, as in the orchestral suites of Bach, by a French overture.
In the early classic era, the terms divertimento, serenade
and cassation were used to describe multi-movement
compositions in which elements of the symphony and the suite were
Among the monuments of large-scale musical forms, notable
examples include Bach's: The Art of Fugue, a series of
fugues of diverse types all derived from a single subject; Musical
Offering, a number of learned contrapuntal pieces all of which
are based on a theme attributed to King Frederick the Great of
Prussia; The Well-tempered Clavier, two sets of preludes and
fugues in all the major and minor keys.
Large vocal forms include: song cycles, cantatas,
oratorios, masses, musical settings of the Passion, operas, and
opera cycles (e.g., Wagner's The Ring of Nibelung).
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