Binary Form Basic Concepts 1. Binary form consists of two parts, usually designated A and B, although sometimes it is characterized A and A' (read A prime). 2. Binary form is harmonically open, meaning that the A section proceeds away from tonic and requires the B section to close the harmony back to tonic. In major, the first section usually proceeds to the dominant; in minor, it usually proceeds to the relative major. 3. The most basic construction using binary form is the melodic period, an antecedent phrase leading away from tonic followed by a consequent phrase leading back to tonic. Whole movements or compositions may be composed in binary form as well. 4. Often, binary form will be incorporated into a part of a movement. For example, in a theme and variations movement, the "theme" may be in binary form. See Mozart Sonata in D major, K. 284, movement 3 for an example of this. 5. One must be flexible with definitions of form since the various forms come in many permutations. Therefore, allow the music to tell you its form; do not impose a specific form on the music. It is best, when unsure of the exact form, to choose the form that most closely describes the actual music, then write about what makes it like that form, and how it differs. Rounded Binary form Basic Concepts 1. Rounded Binary form is simply binary form with a restatement of the A section. 2. This means that it is harmonically open, the A section ending on harmony other than tonic and requiring a B section to close the harmony back to tonic. 3. The primary difference between rounded binary form (ABA) and ternary form (also ABA), is the treatment of the harmony. The A section in ternary form is harmonically closed, so it can end the composition without alteration, since it ends with tonic. The A section of binary and rounded binary leads away from tonic and requires the B section to bring back the tonic. In rounded binary, since it ends with a restatement of A, the second A section is altered so it ends with tonic. Therefore, if it is marked with da capo, it will require a second ending device. 4. Another usual difference (and there are exceptions) between rounded binary and ternary are the characteristics of the A and B sections. The B section of the binary forms is often related in character to the A section. Sometimes it will develop a theme, for example. The B section of a ternary form is usually contrasting in character. Often this section will be in another mode or key. Ternary form Basic Concepts 1. Ternary form is usually thought of as three-part form. This is not exactly accurate, but you need to be aware of this consideration. It is usually characterized as ABA. Notice that, while there are three components in ABA form, two of the components are the same (A and A). 2. Ternary form is harmonically closed, meaning that each section stands on its own harmonically, ending on the tonic, not requiring another section to bring the harmony to a close. Sometimes, however, the B section is not closed in itself, but leads back to the A section. This works, in part, because we have already heard the A section, so we can distinguish it from the B section without the added assistance of a final cadence. 3. The two sections, A and B, usually are different one from the other. Often, B will be in a different key. 4. The two A sections are usually exactly or nearly the same. 5. Many compositions in ternary form feature the D.C. al Fine mechanism. These are easily identified since the Fine will usually accompany a double barline in the middle of the piece. Think about this for a minute. If there is a conclusion halfway through the piece, the resolution of tonic has been achieved. Anything that happens after that may be considered a new section. 6. Compound ternary form may be thought of as form within a form or a nesting of forms. For example, the Scherzo of Brahms' Piano Sonata in F minor, Op. 5 has a macro ternary form, A-B-D.S. al Fine (The segno appears in measure 2). The A section may also be considered ternary form within itself, while the B section is binary form. Rondo Form Basic Concepts 1. Rondo form usually follows a general plan that may be characterized by A-B-A-C-A. 2. The A section is often termed "refrain" or "rondo". It most often recurs in the tonic key. This is a fundamental difference between rondo form and ritornello form. 3.The A section often will be in binary form and will sometimes be altered in its restatements. Therefore, you might have an entire binary form refrain at the opening of the movement, and later you may only hear the A section of the refrain. 4. The sections that alternate with the A section are often termed "episodes" or "couplets". These will usually explore key areas other than the A section. 5. Be prepared to see different variations on the A-B-A-C-A plan. Sometimes it will appear A-B-A-CB-A or in another sequence. Sometimes it will be extended to three or more episodes. One must always allow the music to lead the analysis. Do not stamp "rondo" onto a movement and force it to fit. Theme and Variations Basic Concepts 1. Theme and variations form is one of the simpler forms. Movements in this form often sport "Theme" at the head of the A section and "Var. #" over each succeeding section. 2. The theme is usually a self-contained section that ends with a double bar line. Often, the theme is in binary form. 3. Most often, the movement states the theme, then each succeeding variation restates the theme in a new light. Usually, if the theme is in major, there will be a variation in a minor key. Also, the there will be a metrical variation. Sonata form Basic Concepts: 1. One good way to understand sonata form is to use the framework of rounded binary form and add the necessary components. Be careful though, sonata form expands rounded binary form; rounded binary is not sonata form. 2. Therefore, sonata form consists of an A section with open harmony that needs a B section to bring back the tonic. After the B section, elements of the original A section return to close the overall ABA form. In these aspects, it is the same as rounded binary form. The similarity ends here. 3. The A section in sonata form most often (but not always) consists of two themes, generally following a tonic-dominant (in minor, a tonic-relative major) harmonic scheme. Often the themes are better considered theme groups, since the actual theme may only be a few measures long, while the section relating to that theme may be quite long. 4. Because of the harmonic nature of the two theme groups in the A section, it is harmonically open. The first theme (group) is usually in tonic while the second theme (group) is in the dominant key or key area (or relative major if the first theme is in minor). This A section is usually referred to as the "Exposition." 5. The B section, then, has the job of bringing the harmony around to the tonic again. Usually it will do this by visiting other key areas or actually modulating. The B section usually treats one or both of the themes from the A section and is related in general character. The B section is usually referred to as the "Development" (since it develops the themes). 6. Finally, and quite importantly from the standpoint of defining sonata form, the return of the A section presents the two themes again, this time, both in tonic (usually). The themes in tonic close the harmony of the original A section. This returning A section is usually referred to as the "Recapitulation." 7. Do not confuse sonata form with the title of many compositions "Sonata." While many piano and violin sonatas have a first movement in sonata form, not all of them do.
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