MUS 312 Form & Analysis

J. Atypical Formal Organization; Other Forms

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There are many pieces of music whose structural divisions are organized so that the application of standard formal labels or the identification of organizing principles is problematic, rendering standard formal labels useless.  In such instances, more general descriptions may be necessary.

For example, if a work exhibits some elements of a certain formal principle, but cannot be labeled "sonata-allegro form" or "ternary form," terms such as "sonata-allegro-like" or "incomplete ternary" may be more appropriate.  Additional descriptive remarks should also accompany such conclusions.

Symphonic Poem

The symphonic poem was a new form which took shape during the Romantic period and attempted to portray personal and emotional feelings.  It is an orchestral composition based on an extramusical idea, either pictorial or literary.  It is usually a one-movement structure governed by the poetic or narrative idea, rather than a set basic form.  Each symphonic poem is individual, free, and unique in organization.  Some resemble a single movement of a symphony; others suggest a series of movements within a large one-movement structure.


The overture (from ouvrir, to open), originated in the short instrumental introductions of the early Italian operas.  Eventually, a need was seen to prepare an audience for the musical work to follow, and introductions acquired greater length and more definitive form, culminating in the French overture of Lully and the Italian overture of A. Scarlatti.  In the classical period, the overture became more or less a fixed form (sonata-allegro, e.g.), but gained greater freedom in structure and design in later periods.  There are three general classifications:

Italian and French Overtures

Italian:  three sections--fast, slow, fast

French:  three sections--slow, fast, slow

Classic or Dramatic Overture

This overture was influenced by the development of the symphony and sonata; therefore, its organization was based on a prevailing design, usually sonata-allegro form.  It became more of an integral part of the drama of the main work and prepared the audience for the plot in mood and spirit.

Potpourri Overture

This overture is general in scope and includes all types of operatic overtures, preludes, and introductions written in free form, which employ themes that are a part of the major work, or that are related in some way.  This is commonly the type overture found preceding Broadway musicals, for example.  In some instances, there is no overall design.  In others, several themes or motives from the major work are developed in symphonic style.  The form is usually sectional, with considerable development of the thematic material.

The Modern Suite

The connecting link between the Baroque suite and the modern suite is the Classical divertimento, or serenade, which consists of a series of movements patterned after sonata form.  The movements vary in number and include dance forms and the basic forms of the sonata.

Several types of suites appeared in the 19th and 20th centuries:

  • Ballet suites:  composed of excerpts from an original stage work.
  • The type which combines elements from the symphony and symphonic poem.
  • The suite for solo instrument.


The basic idea of the fantasia is a composition in an improvisational style using "the free flight of fancy."  It is a style of composition rather than a form, per se, and has no organizational scheme other than the fact that it is often sectional in structure.  Throughout all periods of music, composers have used this term in a number of ways:

  1. An early contrapuntal piece resembling a free fugue in the 17th century.
  1. An improvisational-type composition preceding a fugue.
  1. A series of themes or melodies from an opera.
  1. The development section from a movement of a sonata is sometimes called a fantasia section.
  1. An independent composition quite free in design and following no set pattern.

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