6.6 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 ballad, barcarolle and ouverture. You will also learn about ostinato.

1. Ballad


ballad instrumental (mostly piano) music in free form with narrative character.


A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads derive from the medieval French chanson balladée or ballade, which were originally "dance songs". Ballads were particularly characteristic of the popular poetry and song of Britain and Ireland from the Late Middle Ages until the 19th century. (Wikipedia)

The term ballade was used by Chopin in the sense of a balletic interlude or dance-piece, equivalent to the old Italian ballata, but the term may also have connotations of the medieval heroic ballad, a narrative minstrel-song, often of a fantastical character. There are dramatic and dance-like elements in Chopin's use of the genre, and he may be said to be a pioneer of the ballade as an abstract musical form, as his famous Ballade No. 1 opus 23.

2. Barcarolle


barcarolle boat song.


A barcarolle (from barca 'boat') is a traditional folk song sung by Venetian gondoliers, or a piece of music composed in that style. (Wikipedia)

In classical music, two of the most famous barcarolles are Jacques Offenbach's "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour", from his opera The Tales of Hoffmann, and Frédéric Chopin's Barcarolle opus 60 for solo piano.

3. Ouverture


ouverture orchestral introduction to an opera, but also an independent instrumental work.


Overture (from French ouverture, lit. "opening") in music was originally the instrumental introduction to a ballet, opera, or oratorio in the 17th century. During the early Romantic era, composers such as Beethoven and Mendelssohn composed overtures which were independent, self-existing instrumental, programmatic works that presaged genres such as the symphonic poem. These were "at first undoubtedly intended to be played at the head of a programme". (Wikipedia)

There are many famous overtures, such as Rossini's Guillaume Tell overture.

4. Ostinato


ostinato obstinate, persistent; constantly repeated melodic or rhythmic figure.


In music, an ostinato (derived from Italian: stubborn, compare English, from Latin: 'obstinate') is a motif or phrase that persistently repeats in the same musical voice, frequently in the same pitch. The repeating idea may be a rhythmic pattern, part of a tune, or a complete melody in itself. Strictly speaking, ostinati should have exact repetition, but in common usage, the term covers repetition with variation and development, such as the alteration of an ostinato line to fit changing harmonies or keys. (Wikipedia)

A famous piece of music that uses the ostinato style is Simeon ten Holt's Canto Ostinato for four pianos.