Ternary form

Last updated

Ternary form, sometimes called song form, [1] 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. Examples include the da capo aria "The trumpet shall sound" from Handel's Messiah , Chopin's Prelude in D-Flat Major (Op. 28) [2] and the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion .


Simple ternary form

In ternary form each section is self-contained both thematically as well as tonally (that is, each section contains distinct and complete themes), and ends with an authentic cadence. [1] The B section is generally in a contrasting but closely related key, usually a perfect fifth above or the parallel minor of the home key of the A section (V or i); however, in many works of the Classical period, the B section stays in tonic but has contrasting thematic material. [3] It usually also has a contrasting character; for example section A might be stiff and formal while the contrasting B section would be melodious and flowing.

Da capo aria

Baroque opera arias and a considerable number of baroque sacred music arias was dominated by the Da capo aria which were in the ABA form. A frequent model of the form began with a long A section in a major key, a short B section in a relative minor key mildly developing the thematic material of the A section and then a repetition of the A section. [4] By convention in the third section (the repeat of section A after section B) soloists may add some ornamentation or short improvised variations. In later classical music such changes may have been written into the score. In these cases the last section is sometimes labeled A’ or A1 to indicate that it is slightly different from the first A section. [5]

Compound ternary or trio form

In a trio form each section is a dance movement in binary form (two sub-sections which are each repeated) and a contrasting trio movement also in binary form with repeats. An example is the minuet and trio from Haydn's Surprise Symphony . The minuet consists of one section (1A) which is repeated and a second section (1B) which is also repeated. The trio section follows the same format (2A repeated and 2B repeated). The complete minuet is then played again at the end of the trio represented as: [(1A–1A–1B–1B) (2A–2A–2B–2B) (1A–1A–1B–1B)]. By convention in the second rendition of the minuet, the sections are not repeated with the scheme [(1A–1A–1B–1B) (2A–2A–2B–2B) (1A–1B)]. The trio may also be referred to as a double or as I/II, such as in Bach's polonaise and double (or Polonaise I/II) from his second orchestral suite and his bouree and double (or Bouree I/II) from his second English Suite for harpsichord.

Diagram of a minuet and trio Compoundbinaryformdiagram.png
Diagram of a minuet and trio

The scherzo and trio, which is identical in structure to other trio forms, developed in the late Classical and early Romantic periods. Examples include the scherzo and trio (second movement) from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and the scherzo and trio in Schubert's String Quintet. [6] Another name for the latter is "composite ternary form".[ citation needed ]

Trio form movements (especially scherzos) written from the early romantic era sometimes include a short coda (a unique ending to complete the entire movement) and possibly a short introduction. The second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is written in this style which can be diagrammed as [(INTRO) (1A–1A–1B–1B) (2A–2A–2B–2B) (1A–1B) (CODA)]

Marches by John Philip Sousa and others follow this form, and the middle section is called the "trio". Polkas are also often in compound-ternary form.

Quasi compound form

Occasionally the A section or B section of a dance like movement is not divided into two repeating parts. For example, in the Minuet in Haydn's String Quartet op. 76 no. 6, the Minuet is in standard binary form (section A and B) while the trio is in free form and not in two repeated sections. Haydn labeled the B section "Alternative", a label used in some Baroque pieces (though most such pieces were in proper compound ternary form). [7]

Ternary form within a ternary form

In a complex ternary form each section is itself in ternary form in the scheme of [(A–B–A)(C–D–C)(A–B–A)] By convention each part is repeated and only on its first rendition: [(A–A–B–B–A)(C–C–D–D–C)(A–B–A)] . [8] An example are the Impromptus (Op. 7) by Jan Voříšek. [9]

Expanded ternary forms are especially common among Romantic-era composers; for example, Chopin's "Military" Polonaise (Op. 40, No. 1) is in the form [(A–A–B–A-B–A)(C–C–D–C-D–C)(A–B–A)], where the A and B sections and C and D sections are repeated as a group, and the original theme returning at the end without repeats.

See also


  1. 1 2 "Binary and ternary form" in the Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged (1969). Willi Apel, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  2. White, John D. (1976). The Analysis of Music, pp. 53–54. ISBN   0-13-033233-X.
  3. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-12-02. Retrieved 2014-03-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. The new Grove dictionary of music and musicians. "Ternary form". Sadie, Stanley., Tyrrell, John, 1942- (2nd ed.). New York: Grove. 2001. ISBN   1561592390. OCLC   44391762.CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. Bartlette, Christopher, and Steven G. Laitz (2010). Graduate Review of Tonal Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 197–206. ISBN   978-0-19-537698-2
  6. See "Trio (2)" in the Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged (1969). Willi Apel, ed. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  7. Belkin, Alan (2018). Musical Composition: Craft and Art. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. pp. 82–83. ISBN   978-0-300-21899-2.
  8. Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p. 315. Seventh Edition. ISBN   978-0-07-294262-0.
  9. "An Analysis of Three Impromptus for Piano Op. 68 by Lowell Liebermann" by Tomoko Uchino.

Related Research Articles


A minuet is a social dance of French origin for two people, usually in 3
. 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.

Sonata form is a musical structure consisting of three main sections: an exposition, a development, and a recapitulation. It has been used widely since the middle of the 18th century.

A scherzo, in western classical music, is a short composition – sometimes a movement from a larger work such as a symphony or a sonata. The precise definition has varied over the years, but scherzo often refers to a movement that replaces the minuet as the third movement in a four-movement work, such as a symphony, sonata, or string quartet. The term can also refer to a fast-moving humorous composition that may or may not be part of a larger work.

Binary form is a musical form in 2 related sections, both of which are usually repeated. Binary is also a structure used to choreograph dance. In music this is usually performed as A-A-B-B.

A suite, in Western classical music and jazz, is an ordered set of instrumental or orchestral/concert band pieces. It originated in the late 14th century as a pairing of dance tunes and grew in scope to comprise up to five dances, sometimes with a prelude, by the early 17th century. The separate movements were often thematically and tonally linked. The term can also be used to refer to similar forms in other musical traditions, such as the Turkish fasıl and the Arab nuubaat.

Symphony No. 8 (Beethoven)

The Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 is a symphony in four movements composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1812. Beethoven fondly referred to it as "my little Symphony in F", distinguishing it from his Sixth Symphony, a longer work also in F.

In music, form refers to the structure of a musical composition or performance. In his book, Worlds of Music, Jeff Todd Titon suggests that a number of organizational elements may determine the formal structure of a piece of music, such as "the arrangement of musical units of rhythm, melody, and/or harmony that show repetition or variation, the arrangement of the instruments, or the way a symphonic piece is orchestrated", among other factors.

Symphony No. 94 (Haydn)

The Symphony No. 94 in G major is the second of the twelve London symphonies written by Joseph Haydn. It is popularly known as the Surprise Symphony.

Piano Sonata No. 29 (Beethoven)

Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 29 in B major, Op. 106 is a piano sonata that is widely viewed as one of the most important works of the composer's third period and among the greatest piano sonatas of all time. Completed in 1818, it is often considered to be Beethoven's most technically challenging piano composition and one of the most demanding solo works in the classical piano repertoire. The first documented public performance was in 1836 by Franz Liszt in the Salle Erard in Paris.

Sonata rondo form is a musical form often used during the Classical music era. As the name implies, it is a blend of sonata form and rondo form.

Cyclic form is a technique of musical construction, involving multiple sections or movements, in which a theme, melody, or thematic material occurs in more than one movement as a unifying device. Sometimes a theme may occur at the beginning and end ; other times a theme occurs in a different guise in every part.

Joseph Haydn completed his Symphony No. 92 in G major, Hoboken I/92, popularly known as the Oxford Symphony, in 1789 as one of a set of three symphonies commissioned by the French Count d'Ogny. Instrumentation for the symphony is: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.

Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 3 in C major, Op. 2, No. 3, is a sonata written for solo piano, composed in 1795. It is dedicated to Joseph Haydn and is often referred to as Beethoven's first virtuosic piano sonata. The three Op. 2 sonatas all contain four movements each, an unusual length which seems to show that Beethoven was aspiring towards composing a symphony. It is both the weightiest and longest of the three Op. 2 sonatas, lasting over 25 minutes, presenting many difficulties, including difficult trills, awkward hand movements, and forearm rotation. It is Beethoven's second longest piano sonata in his early period, only to Beethoven's Grand Sonata in E Major, Op. 7, published a year later.

Piano Sonata No. 1 (Beethoven)

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, Op. 2, No. 1, was written in 1795 and dedicated to Joseph Haydn.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 2, No. 2, was published in 1796 and dedicated to Joseph Haydn. A typical performance lasts 22 minutes.

The six String Quartets, Op. 76 by Joseph Haydn were composed in 1797 or 1798 and dedicated to the Hungarian count Joseph Georg von Erdődy (1754–1824). They form the last complete set of string quartets that Haydn composed. At the time of the commission, Haydn was employed at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy II and was composing the oratorio The Creation as well as Princess Maria Hermenegild Esterházy's annual mass.

The Op. 33 String Quartets were written by Joseph Haydn in the summer and Autumn of 1781 for the Viennese publisher Artaria. This set of string quartets has several nicknames, the most common of which is the "Russian" quartets, because Haydn dedicated the quartets to the Grand Duke Paul of Russia and many of the quartets were premiered on Christmas Day, 1781, at the Viennese apartment of the Duke's wife, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna. The "Russian" quartets were some of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's favorite works by Haydn and in 1785 Mozart dedicated six string quartets to Haydn in admiration of the quartets.

Ludwig van Beethoven's Minuet in G major, WoO 10, No. 2 is a composition originally written for orchestra, but was lost and only an arrangement for piano could be found. It has become very popular.

The Symphony for Solo Piano is a large-scale romantic work for piano composed by Charles-Valentin Alkan and published in 1857.

String Quartets, Op. 50 (Haydn)

The String Quartets, Op. 50, were composed by Joseph Haydn in 1787. The set of six quartets was dedicated to King Frederick William II of Prussia. For this reason the set is commonly known as the Prussian Quartets. Haydn sold the set to the Viennese firm Artaria and, without Artaria's knowledge, to the English publisher William Forster. Forster published it as Haydn's Opus 44. Haydn's autograph manuscripts for Nos. 3 to 6 of the set were discovered in Melbourne, Australia, in 1982.