Form theory (music)

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The theory of musical forms is a branch of music theory and deals with the history and characteristics of mostly occidental musical forms. Within the epochs, musical forms often undergo numerous changes and extensions, which is why a large number of musical forms (e.g. the motet ) can only be meaningfully illuminated by musicology across epochs.

In addition to the musical genres, the theory of forms examines the basic principles of musical form. This includes the representation of the elements of musical figures (these can be motifs , for example ) and the techniques of their processing as well as combining them into larger units of meaning (such as phrase , theme , suction ghetto ). The development of syntax models (e.g. period , continuation type ) and, in general, the possible forms of grouping of units of meaning (repetition, formation of variants and contrasts, development, series or lack of relationships) are examined. This takes place in representations that differentiate historically and in turn reflect the conditions of the various forms and genres.

The theory of forms thus comes into contact with the theory of composition and at the same time provides basic concepts and criteria for the analysis of musical works.

The scientific theory of forms in the West is based on documents that are either descriptive or even notation .


middle Ages

The first such traditions can be found in Gregorian chant in the early Middle Ages . With the beginning of polyphony, around the second half of the 12th century, as it was cultivated in the Notre-Dame school of Léonin and Pérotin at the Church of Notre Dame de Paris , the Organum and the Conductus arise . Parallel to these art-musical forms, there is already "popular" music in the form of the chants of trobadors , trouvères and minstrels , which are mostly based on simple song forms . As chants that were not notated per se , but rather orally handed down, they can only be reconstructed today because they were often dripped .

During the ars antiqua , the development of the three-part voice can be observed in particular. Here there are pastoral and spiritual works as forms; the discantus joins the cantus and tenor as the third (upper) voice.

The subsequent Ars nova produces an abundance of new forms, the most important of which, alongside the traditional mass, is the church music motet . The political Singspiel as a preliminary form of opera also begins here. In addition, the Virelais , the Ballade , the Caccia and the Rondo were created ; In addition, the compositional technique is developed in a highly mathematical and modern manner using modal figurations . The sometimes extreme melismatics of Ars Nova works culminates in the Ars subtilior , a kind of musica riservata that is full of ramified, highly complex ornamentation.


The renaissance opposes human expression, especially that of the human voice, to the extreme mechanistic worldview of Ars nova . This happens particularly in the often homophonic forms of madrigal and musical drama (a pre-opera form that was taken up much later). In addition, a number of art-musical dances and sophisticated mask games ( masques ) emerged, which were also given on secular occasions. As a secret doctrine, only passed on orally from teacher to student, the systematic exploration of expressive expressions in the form of figure theory also begins in this epoch .


The Baroque is a split epoch in which contrapuntal forms such as trio sonata and fugue predominate on the one hand, and lyrical feelings on the other, for example in character pieces , fantasies and, from around 1730, also in works of the sensitive style . The suite grows from a series of loose dance pieces to an independent form. The toccata becomes an expression of the highest virtuosity . As an epoch with great emphasis on ornamentation , the concert and concerto grosso also emerged from the sacred concert in the Baroque period . The Passion and Oratorio contain recitatives and arias . The opera in the real sense emerged and is particularly widespread in Italy and Hungary. The Catholic Church in particular used baroque music with its splendor as a means of counter-reformation .


In the classical period , sonata and symphony developed and with them the sonata form . The creation of the art song also falls into this epoch. The dominant - tonic (authentic cadenza) harmony scheme, which is often used exclusively, is indicative of this, as it also occurs in folk songs. Individual full cadences alternatively form the degrees. Plagal cadences hardly occur. The opera undergoes a long series of changes and variations. What is particularly remarkable about classical music is that, as the first epoch of music history, it is aware of its historicity. This is particularly evident in the “quotation” or “allusion” of music and styles that are not originally classical, but rather go back to medieval church music and baroque music. This naturally also applies to the world of forms, such as the experiments of the late Ludwig van Beethoven with the fugue or the particularly ingenious sonatas by the often underestimated Joseph Haydn . In this respect, a number of works from the classical era are already formally hybrid .


In the romantic epoch the symphonic poetry developed alongside the symphony . Sonata, symphony, concert, song including chamber music will continue to be cultivated and in some cases extremely expanded. On the one hand, the opera becomes a thoroughly composed form ; on the other hand, the operetta splits off from it . Nocturnes , arabesques and impromptus arise from the character piece , which also continues to exist independently and finds its way into piano cycles . The ballet is born. Originally intended as an instrumental practice piece, the “handpiece”, still known in classical music, breaks away from its original function and as an étude grows into an independent musical genre (see concert études by Chopin, Liszt or Paganini). Richard Wagner appears with his music dramas (a term that refers to the dramma in musica of the Renaissance and aims at the total work of art ). In addition, from the Middle and Late Romantic periods onwards, interest in non-European music also increased, which was gaining influence through world exhibitions and research trips. Musical impressionism, for example, as it is exposed by Claude Debussy , is unthinkable without these influences. Other composers, on the other hand, focus on ethnomusicology .


The 20th century or modernity (as “classical modernism” for works before 1945) brought forth numerous new forms and styles in art music. After an early expressionist phase, neoclassicism and dodecaphony dominate ; after the Second World War , serialism and aleatorics emerged . As far as the theory of forms of the 20th century is concerned, the structure is often in the foreground; The classical forms of music only suffice in individual cases for the complete formal classification of works, because the various structural systems often already have a form-forming effect . As a result, the shapes of the 20th century, similar to the classical epoch, are often also hybrid .

In addition, a number of novel instruments are being created; these are either curious individual pieces or come from the technical world. The consideration of a musical instrument as a machine and therefore also of a machine as a musical instrument produces futurism and bruitism . The separation of electronic musical instruments from purely laboratory equipment also begins at this time. It is noteworthy that modern composers, especially with the increasing industrialization of music by record companies, often tread paths beyond the great consumption streams and look for new, more open ways of listening. The music academies are mostly closed to this world of thought, but it is remarkable that especially the relatively early works of contemporary music from the mid-1980s onwards were taken up and lectured on a large scale by numerous musicians , which is evidence of alertness and openness. The computer music plays at the beginning of the 21st century is already a major role. The history of popular music and jazz form their own historical strands which, although they have produced their own forms, form numerous points of contact with modern music.

Alphabetical list of musical genres and forms

Genus and form are two often overlapping terms that are often used synonymously.

  • Genres are determined in genre theory according to the criteria of cast , text , function , place of performance and sentence structure .
  • Common forms include song form and rondo form .

Further criteria for the systematic classification of music are

Systematic structure approach

Opera - Operetta - Musical - Singspiel - Ballet - Revue
Symphony - symphonic poetry - instrumental concert
String quartet - wind quintet - piano trio - piano quartet
Arie - Song - Art Song - Duet - Trio / Trio - quartet - Madrigal - Motet - Cantata - Choral - hymn - Fair - Oratorio - Requiem
Minuet - Pavane - Courante - Gavotte - Bourrée - Waltz - Mazurka - Polka - Polonaise - Gallop
Sonata - Variations - Nocturne - Fantasy - Etude

See also


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Clemens Kühn: Form theory of music . 5th edition. Bärenreiter, Kassel 1998, ISBN 3-7618-1392-9 .