MUS 312 Form & Analysis

I. Works Comprising Several Movements

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General Observations

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 example.)

Cyclic form, the name given to the practice of using the same material in two or more movements, was used by Franck, Debussy and others.

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.

Two-Movement Works

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 effects.

Although frequent in pre-classical and baroque music, two-movement works in the classical era are relatively rare.

Three-Movement Works

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 and variations.

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.

Four-Movement Works

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 romantic era.

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 combined.

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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