5.5 Musical forms


Category: Elementary music theory | Tags: Musical forms

The term musical form (or musical architecture) refers to the overall structure or plan of a piece of music, and it describes the layout of a composition as divided into sections. In this chapter you will learn about the aria and menuet. You will also learn about the song form and rondo form.

1. Aria


aria music for voice and instrumental accompaniment or instrumental composition with song-like character.


In music, an aria (Italian: air; plural: arie, or arias in common usage, diminutive form arietta, plural ariette, or in English simply air) is a self-contained piece for one voice, with or without instrumental or orchestral accompaniment, normally part of a larger work. An aria is a formal musical composition unlike its counterpart, the recitative. The typical context for arias is opera, but vocal arias also feature in oratorios and cantatas, sharing features of the operatic arias of their periods. The term was originally used to refer to any expressive melody, usually, but not always, performed by a singer. (Wikipedia)

There are many famous arias, such as the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute. But there are also instrumental arias, such as the famous aria for piano from Bach's Goldberg variations. This aria is followed by 32 variations.

2. Menuet


menuet, minuet ancient dance at moderate pace in three-four meter.


A menuet (also spelled minuet) is a social dance of French origin for two people, usually in 3/4 time. The word was adapted from Italian minuetto and French menuet, possibly from the French menu meaning slender, small, referring to the very small steps, or from the early 17th-century popular group dances called branle à mener or amener. The term also describes the musical form that accompanies the dance, which subsequently developed more fully, often with a longer musical form called the minuet and trio, and was much used as a movement in the early classical symphony. (Wikipedia)

Anyone who has ever been to the Efteling knows the Menuet in G major. This menuet is from Das Notenbuchlein fur A.M. Bach. A famous minuet for orchestra is from Luigi Boccherini.

3. Song form


song form musical form, usually a simple ABA form.


Ternary form, sometimes called song form, is a three-part musical form consisting of an opening section (A), a following section (B) and then a repetition of the first section (A). It is usually schematized as A–B–A. Prominent examples include the da capo aria "The trumpet shall sound" from Handel's Messiah, Chopin's Prelude in D-Flat Major "Raindrop", (Op. 28) and the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion. (Wikipedia)

Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte) is a series of short lyrical piano songs by the Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. The songs are relatively short. The form of almost all pieces is based on the song song with A-B-A structure. Listen to Mendelssohn's Lieder ohne worte opus 19 no. 1.

4. Rondo form


rondo form musical form, the main theme (chorus) is varied by alternating verses, ABACADA etc.


Rondo is an instrumental musical form introduced in the Classical period. The English word rondo comes from the Italian form of the French rondeau, which means "a little round". Despite the common etymological root, rondo and rondeau as musical forms are essentially different. Rondeau is a vocal musical form that was originally developed as monophonic music (in the 13th century) and then as polyphonic music (in the 14th century). Notably, both vocal forms of rondeau nearly disappeared from the repertoire by the beginning of the 16th century. In French, rondeau is used for both forms, while in English rondeau is generally used for the vocal musical form, while rondo is used for the instrumental musical form. (Wikipedia)

An example of a rondo is the 3rd movement of Beethoven's Piano Sonata opus13 -"Pathétique". Another characteristic example is the 3rd movement of Mozart's Piano Sonata KV 333.