37. Ternary and also Rondo Forms37.1 Introduction

In our conversation of rounded binary type (Chapter 36) we saw exactly how music from the beginning of a composition might come back after that in the item with brand-new purpose. For plenty of listeners, this deserve to be a particularly enjoyable event, combine the satisfaction of recognition with the excitement of re-contextualizing acquainted material. In this chapter, us will talk about several formal designs in i beg your pardon the return the the opened music is the foundational principle.

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We will begin with ternary form, a three-part form where the opening section comes back more or less undamaged after a contrasting center section. Native there we will move on come rondo forms wherein the opening section is repetitive two or an ext times, every after a different contrasting passage.

37.2 Ternary form

As you listen to the sonata motion below, keep the adhering to questions in mind:

How would you characterize the opened melody?Where does the opened melody end?Does the opened melody return later in the piece?If so, how would you characterize the intervening material?
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In this piece, the opening ar is 14 bars long and ends v a PAC in the home an essential of G major. A double barline in ~ the finish of m. 14 provides a intuitive cue that something is about to happen and also the material that follows has a remarkably different character. Conversely, the opening design template is serene and smooth, flow from start to end without a solitary rest, the object material start in m. 15 seems stilted, is much more forceful, and has sharper attacks. The readjust of vital to E minor additional emphasizes this contrast. Once the opening material returns v the pickup to m. 35, the minute stands out, not just since of the reappearance that a familiar melody, yet by virtue the the dramatically various material heard in between. The item closes v a replaying of the whole opening section (compare mm. 1–14 v mm. 35–50), differing only in the last bars, where the music has actually been modified to provide a more conclusive ending. Just like the opened section, the closing ar begins and also ends conclusively in G major.

The following table summarizes the form of this movement:


instance 37–2. Type diagram of Robert Schumann, Kinder Sonate No. 1 in G major (Op. 118), I. Allegro.

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This piece is in ternary form. Conversely, the prefix “bi-” in “binary form” indicates that there room two unique sections, the prefix “ter-” shows that a ternary kind has three distinct sections: || A || B || A(′) ||. There are, however, several added qualifications pertaining to the thematic and harmonic framework of together a piece.

The degree of contrast in between the A sections and the B section heard between them is common of a ternary form. Uneven binary forms—which have actually some moderately difference material but are usually more or much less thematically unified—ternary creates tend to have actually dramatically various middle sections. The B section will often be collection off indigenous the A sections about it and also will feature conveniently noticeable differences in rhythm, meter, tempo, articulation, and dynamics.


Note: ABA and also ABA′ room the most typical ternary forms. Over there are, however, other three-part forms. A item may, for example, continue through 3 contrasting sections (ABC) or with three different versions that a solitary section (AA′A″). Alternatively, the repeat the the opening section may appear before the second section (AAB) or the 2nd section may repeat to end the piece (ABB). Be aware, though, that since these alternate formats are much less common, plenty of texts and teachers border their meaning of ternary type to just ABA and ABA′.


With regards to the harmonic framework of a ternary form, there room two important features to save in mind. First, the A section tends to be tonally closed. (Compare this through the opening section of a binary kind which may be tonally closed yet is much more frequently tonally open.) once a ternary A section returns, its harmonic structure does not should be adjusted to finish the piece in the residence key. The B section may be tonally close up door or open. As soon as the B section is tonally open, there might be a short transitional or bridging passage that connects earlier to the home vital for the return of A. In instance 37–1, ~ above the other hand, the B section ends through a strong E-minor PAC in m. 34, and also the finish A ar starts instantly after.

Second, the vital of the middle section is regularly selected because that the services of emphasizing the contrast described above. Ternary kind B sections sometimes show up in the very same closely-related keys generally found in binary forms: the dominant or relative. Often, however, they are collection in some much less predictable key. In the history speaking, ternary kind developed later on than binary form. Numerous composers—particularly those working in the nineteenth century and also beyond—favored harmonically adventurous an essential areas and also this preference is obvious in plenty of ternary forms from the era.

The adhering to table lists some of the possible vital areas of the middle section in a ternary form:


Traditional:More adventurous:Major keys:Minor keys:
V (dominant)

i (parallel minor)

IV (subdominant)

iv (minor subdominant)

vi (submediant/relative)

bVI (flat submediant)

III (mediant/relative)

v (minor dominant)

I (parallel major)

iv (subdominant)

VI (submediant)


Overall, example 37–1 passes through three keys: it starts with a tonally-closed A ar in G major, moves to a difference B section in E boy (also tonally closeup of the door in regards to its own tonality), and also concludes with the same A section heard at the beginning. Friend may have noticed, however, the these space not the only keys heard in this piece. Within every A section, we additionally hear a quick passage in D major. The following example shows the opening ar with every of the five cadences labeled by form and key:


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Both A sections begin with a four-bar period in G major: the antecedent ends v a HC on the third beat of m. 2 and also the consequent ends with a PAC top top the 3rd beat the m. 4. After ~ this, we discover that every one of the Cs have end up being C#s, saying a relocate to the leading which is subsequently evidenced by an IAC in m. 10. This move to D significant is fleeting: the opening period returns with the pickup to m. 11 and the A section ends in the home vital of G major.

In a sense, the form of the A section resembles the kind of the entirety movement however on a smaller sized scale. The contrasting D-major material in mm. 5–10 is framed by tonally closed sections in G major, choose a miniature ternary form! given that the individual part of a ternary form are regularly tonally closed and could work-related as standalone pieces, that is not unusual for one or both of castle to have actually a recognizable formal architecture of your own. As debated in chapter 36, form in tonal Western arts music often tends to it is in hierarchically structured.


Note: Ternary form is often perplexed with rounded binary form. This is rather reasonable due to the fact that on the surface ar both creates look an extremely similar. In both cases, the opening material comes ago in the original crucial at the finish of the 2nd section. Over there are, however, several essential distinctions that will aid you in getting here at her analytical conclusions:

Most binary-form compositions room continuous, definition that the opening section does not end conclusively with an authentic cadence in the original key and is because of this tonally open. Once such an opened returns at the end of the second section, it will have to be recomposed to ensure the the item ends in the home key. In a ternary form, the opening section is nearly always tonally closed. When it comes earlier at the finish of the piece it will certainly not require considerable revision.In many binary forms, each of the 2 sections is play twice—first the opened section, then the entire 2nd section including both the contrasting material and also the return of the opening: ||: A :||: B A(′) :||. In a ternary form, the three sections are more independent. If the B section repeats, it will certainly repeat through itself, separate from the A(′) that follows.The individual components of a rounded binary room much much more thematically merged than those found in a typical ternary form. If the material in a B section exhibits a dramatically different character native the opening product heard prior to it, the piece is likely in ternary form.

Of course, ambiguous cases do exist. A sectional rounded binary through no repeat signs might easily be heard as a ternary form. (Some theorists require the the opening section be tonally open for a item to be thought about binary for this an extremely reason.) fortunately for the analyst, these pieces room less commonly encountered.


Now take into consideration the following example, another ternary form. This piece features much much more adventurous chromaticism than the movement heard in example 37–1, also in the A sections. Still, the ternary kind is automatically apparent.


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The opening A section is sixteen measures long and, regardless of the plentiful accidentals, we may hear the in F# minor. Furthermore, we might hear these 16 bars as developing a period with progressions the same, similar thing a plagal cadence in mm. 7–8 and an really cadence in mm. 15–16, once the persistent F#s in the base give means to hat3hat4hat5hat1.

The B section is in the contrasting vital of the submediant (D major). Prefer the F#s in the base in the A section, the continual Ds in the B section reinforce the tonality, even in the face of much more adventurous chromaticism. Regardless of lacking also a single traditional cadence, we may hear the B ar as being separated into 4 phrases, each consisting the a series of chords complied with by a pair of scan arpeggios. The very first phrase ends with an arpeggiated ii4/2 and also the second with a tonic triad, again arguing a type of period. This duration repeats with an ext fully-voiced chords in mm. 33–48.

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The opening figures from the A section reappear in m. 49, yet here they space transposed come D through several little alterations. This is no the beginning of the 2nd A section. Rather, the is a bridge ar that reintroduces facets from the beginning, setup up the true return that A in m. 57 adhering to an arpeggiated augmented leading in F# minor. The closing A ar repeats the period heard in ~ the beginning with some variation and also ends in m. 72, after i beg your pardon a quick coda extend the final cadence.

Despite the many evident differences, the overall form of this piece is remarkably similar to that of example 37–1. Compare the adhering to diagram v the one shown in instance 37–2: