Music Notation and Terminology


Terms Relating to Forms and Styles (Continued)

(Sections 144 to 160 relate particularly to terms used in descriptions of monophonic music[33].)

144. A phrase is a short musical thought (at least two measures in length) closing with either a complete or an incomplete cadence. The typical phrase is four measures long. The two-measure phrase is often called section. The word phrase as used in music terminology corresponds with the same word as used in language study.

145. A period is a little piece of music typically eight measures long, either complete in itself or forming one of the clearly defined divisions of a larger form. The period (when complete in itself) is the smallest monophonic form.

The essential characteristic of the regular period is the fact that it usually consists of two balanced phrases (often called antecedent and consequent or thesis and antithesis), the first phrase giving rise to the feeling of incompleteness (by means of a cadence in another key, deceptive cadence, etc.,) the second phrase giving the effect of completeness by means of a definite cadence at the close.

The second half of the period is sometimes a literal repetition of the first half, in all respects except the cadence, but in many cases too it is a repetition of only one of the elements—rhythm, intervals, or general outline. Figs. 58 and 59 show examples of both types. The principle almost invariably holds that the simpler the music (cf. folk-tunes) the more obvious the form of the period, while the more complex the music, the less regular the period.


[Listen to Fig. 58]

[Listen to Fig. 59]


146. The primary forms are built up by combining two or more periods.

The small two-part primary form (often called song-form or Lied-form) consists of two periods so placed that the second constitutes a consequent or antithesis to the first. The second half of this second period is often exactly the same as the second half of the first period, thus binding the two periods together into absolute unity. The theme of the choral movement of the Ninth Symphony (Beethoven) quoted below is a perfect example of this form. Other examples are "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes," and "The Last Rose of Summer."




The small three-part primary form is like the two-part primary form except that it has a section of contrasting material interpolated between the two periods. This middle part is usually an eight-measure phrase.

The large two- and three-part primary forms usually have sixteen-measure periods instead of eight-measure ones, but are otherwise similar in construction.

These various primary forms are used in constructing many varieties of compositions, among them the theme and variations, the polka, the waltz, the march, etc., as well as most of the shorter movements in sonatas, quartets, etc. They are used in vocal music also, but are less apt to be regular here because the form of vocal music is largely dependent upon the structure of the text.

147. A theme is a fragment of melody used as the subject of a fugue, as the basis of the development section in "sonata form," etc. Sometimes it is a complete tune (often in period form), on which variations are made, as e.g., in the familiar theme and variations.

148. Thematic development consists in taking a short theme (or several short themes) and by means of transposition, interval expansion and contraction, rhythmic augmentation and diminution, inversion, tonality changes, etc., building out of it a lengthy composition or section of a composition. Fig. 60 b, c, d, e, and f show how the theme given in Fig. 60 (a) may be varied in a few of these ways. There are hundreds of other fashions in which this same theme might be varied without destroying its identity. For other examples of thematic development see the development section of Sonata Op. 31, No. 3, as analyzed in Appendix E.




For further illustrations of development in the case of this same theme, see—Christiani—The Principles of Expression in Pianoforte playing, p. 144, ff. from which the foregoing themes have been adapted.

149. A rondo is an instrumental composition (in homophonic style) in which a certain theme appears several times almost always in the same form (i.e., not thematically varied), the repetitions of this theme being separated by contrasting material.

The rondo is the oldest of the larger monophonic forms and has been used in many different ways, but perhaps its most characteristic construction is as follows: (1) Principal subject; (2) second subject in dominant key; (3) principal subject; (4) third subject; (5) first subject again; (6) second subject, in tonic key; (7) coda (or ending).

The student should note particularly the problem of repetition and contrast (mentioned in Sec. 134) as here worked out, as the rondo was the first monophonic form in which this matter was at all satisfactorily solved, and its construction is especially interesting because it is readily seen to be one of the direct predecessors of the highest form of all—the sonata. Examples of rondos may be found in any volume of sonatas or sonatinas.

150. A suite is a set of instrumental dances all in the same or in nearly related keys. The first dance is usually preceded by an introduction or prelude, and the various dances are so grouped as to secure contrast of movement—a quick dance being usually followed by a slower one.

The suite is interesting to students of the development of music as being the first form in several movements to be generally adopted by composers. It retained its popularity from the beginning of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth centuries, being finally displaced by the sonata, whose immediate predecessor it is thus seen to be.

The suite was formerly written for solo instrument only (harpsichord, clavichord, piano) but modern composers like Dvořák, Lachner, Moszkowski, and others have written suites for full orchestra also.

151. Among the dances commonly found in suites are the following:

Allemande—duple or quadruple measure.

Bolero—triple measure.

Bourée—duple or quadruple measure.

Chaconne—triple measure.

Courante—a very old dance in triple measure.

Csardas—Hungarian dance in duple or quadruple measure.

Gavotte—quadruple measure.

Gigue (or jig)—duple measure.

Habanera—Spanish dance in triple measure.

Minuet—slow dance in triple measure.

Mazurka—Polish dance in triple measure.

Polonaise—Polish dance in triple measure.

Rigaudon—lively dance in duple or triple measure.

Sarabande—triple measure.

Tarantella—swift Italian dance in sextuple measure.

The allemande is especially interesting to students of music form because of its relation to the sonata, it being the prototype of the sonata-allegro (i.e., the first movement of the sonata). The sarabande and courante are likewise interesting as the prototypes of the second movement, and the bourée, minuet, etc., for their connection with the third movement.

152. The scherzo (lit. musical joke) is a fanciful instrumental composition. It was used by Beethoven as the third movement of the sonata instead of the more limited minuet, but is also often found as an independent piece.

153. A sonata is an instrumental composition of three or more movements (usually four), the first and last of which are almost always in rapid tempo. Each of these movements is a piece of music with a unity of its own, but they are all merged together in a larger whole with a broad underlying unity of larger scope. The composition receives its name from the fact that its first movement is cast in sonata-form. (See Sec. 157 for description of sonata-form.)

When the sonata has four movements, these are usually arranged as follows:

1. A quick movement (allegro, presto, etc.), often preceded by a slower introduction.

2. A slow movement (largo, andante, adagio, etc.).

3. A minuet or scherzo, often with a trio added, in which case the part preceding the trio is repeated after the trio is played.

4. A quick movement—the finale, sometimes a rondo, sometimes another sonata-form, sometimes a theme with variations.

These movements are all in closely related keys, but in a variety of contrasting rhythms.

154. A trio is a sonata for three instruments (such as piano, violin, and cello), while a quartet is a sonata for four instruments, the most common quartet combination being as follows: First and second violins, viola, and violoncello.

The term chamber music is often applied to instrumental music for trio, quartet, quintet, and other similar combinations which are suitable for a small room rather than for a large concert hall.

The words trio and quartet are also applied to vocal works for three and four voices respectively, these having no relation whatsoever to the sonata as described above. The word trio is also applied to the middle section of minuets, scherzas, marches, etc., the term originating in the old usage of writing this part for three instruments only.

155. A concerto is a sonata for a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment, the form being usually somewhat modified so as to adapt it to a composition in which there must necessarily be opportunity for a good deal of technical display. There are usually but three movements in the concerto.

The great majority of concertos are for piano and orchestra, but examples of concertos for violin, cello, flute, oboe, and other solo instruments (all with orchestral accompaniment) have also been written. A few modern composers have applied the term concerto to certain large organ works (with no orchestral accompaniment, the composition being written for just the one instrument), but this use of the word is so contrary to the accepted definition that it is hardly justifiable.

When a concerto is played on two pianos (without orchestra), this does not mean that there is no orchestral part, but that there is no orchestra to play it, and so the parts that should be played by the orchestral instruments have simply been arranged for a second piano (sometimes organ).

156. A symphony is a sonata for full orchestra. In general its construction is the same as that of the sonata, but it is usually of much larger proportions and has in it much greater variety of both tonal and rhythmic material. The symphony is generally conceded to be the highest type of instrumental music ever evolved.

The symphony was accepted as a standard form in the time of Haydn (1732-1809) and was developed enormously by Haydn himself, Mozart (1756-1791), and Beethoven (1770-1827), reaching perhaps its highest point in the famous "Nine Symphonies" of the last-named composer. Later symphony writers whose works are at present being performed include Schumann, Tschaikowsky, and Dvořák.

The word symphony was formerly used synonymously with ritornelle, both words being applied to instrumental interludes between parts of vocal works, but this usage has now entirely disappeared.

157. Sonata-form (sometimes called sonata-allegro) is a plan for the construction of instrumental music (sonatas, quartets, symphonies, etc.), in which three rather definite divisions always occur, the third division being a more or less literal repetition of the first.

These three parts of sonata-form with their usual subdivisions are:

I. Exposition

(1) Principal theme (or first subject).

(2) Link-episode (or modulation group).

(3) Secondary theme (or song group), always in a nearly related key.

(4) Closing group.

(5) Coda.

II. Development Section

Treating the themes introduced in the exposition in an almost infinite variety of fashions, according to the principles of thematic development. (See Sec. 148).

III. Recapitulation (or Reprise)

Consisting essentially of the same subdivisions found in the exposition, but differing from this first section in one essential point, viz., that instead of stating the secondary theme in a related key, the entire recapitulation is in the principal key. This third section is always followed by a coda (which may either be very short or quite extended), bringing the whole movement to a more definite close.

The second part of sonata-form (the development section) is sometimes the longest and most intricate of the three divisions, and it is at this point that the composer has an opportunity of displaying to the full his originality and inventive skill. It is principally because of this development section that the sonata is so far superior as a form to its predecessors. For an analyzed example of sonata-form, see Appendix E. The student is advised to take other sonatas and go through the first movements with a view to finding at least the three main divisions mentioned above. In some cases the form will of course be so irregular that all the parts indicated cannot be discovered, but the general outlines of the scheme will always be present.

158. A sonatina, as its name implies, is a little sonata. It differs from the sonata proper principally in having little or no development, the second section being of slight importance as compared with the corresponding section of a sonata.

A grand sonata is like an ordinary sonata in form, but is of unusually large dimensions.

159. Program music is instrumental music which is supposed to convey to the listener an image or a succession of images that will arouse in him certain emotions which have been previously aroused in the composer's mind by some scene, event, or idea. The clue to the general idea is usually given at the beginning of the music in the form of a poem or a short description of the thing in the mind of the composer, but there are many examples in which there is no clue whatsoever except the title of the composition.

Program music represents a mean between pure music (cf. the piano sonata or the string quartet) on the one hand, and descriptive music (in which actual imitations of bird-calls, whistles, the blowing of the wind, the galloping of horses, the rolling of thunder, etc., occur), on the other. Most program music is written for the orchestra, examples being Liszt's "The Preludes," Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegel," etc.

160. A symphonic poem (or tone poem) is an orchestral composition of large dimensions (resembling the symphony in size), usually embodying the program idea. It has no prescribed form and seems indeed to be often characterized by an almost total lack of design, but there are also examples of symphonic poems in which the same theme runs throughout the entire composition, being adapted at the various points at which it occurs to the particular moods expressed by the program at those points.

The symphonic poem was invented by Liszt (1811-1886) and has since been used extensively by Strauss, Saint-Saëns and others. It came into existence as a part of the general movement which has caused the fugue and the sonata successively to go out of fashion, viz., the tendency to invent forms which would not hamper the composer in any way, but would leave him absolutely free to express his ideas in his own individual way.

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