Do not be afraid of it! This theme cannot be skipped; it isn’t much, and it isn’t hard!


Studies of form



In the world of fine arts the relationship between form and content is often debated. I will begin with the following words. In classical music it is exceptionally important which artistic trend, form and content, perfect unity of part and whole does the music itself endeavors. The relation of part and whole is discussed on the “Workshop secrets” page.


What is “form”? Latin word, meaning: shape, figure.

In a general and formal sense: A philosophical notion meaning the relation between the constituents of a phenomenon; its counterpart category is content.


“Content” in a general sense is the internal, essential part of a phenomenon, which also determines the form of said phenomenon, and creates a dialectic unity with it.


The definitions are from a Lexicon of Aesthetics; I promise to be simpler from here on, but I have to add that we cannot talk about art without aesthetic knowledge, or the aesthetic language. We often have to look up different things.


Before we analyze each symphony, I will write about a few basic notions, and the study of from.



The question occurs::What is symphony?


The word is of Greek origin, symphonia = agreement or concord of sound.

From the XIV. – XV. century the word symphonia (German word) is used to mark polyphonic instrumental musical pieces.

Around the year 1750 the form of the symphony changes, reaching its four-movement form through Haydn’s work, while ascending to its climax in Beethoven’s art.


The symphony is an orchestral piece. It consists of four large sections, these are movements.

Movements are marked with Roman numbers.


Each movement has a different form, tempo, and character:


form                    tempo                  character


I. movement    sonata form        fast             dramatic


II. movement   songform             slow           lyrical


III. movement minuet/scherzo    fast             dance/joy/humor


IV. movement rhondo from       faster                   carefree happiness



Next I will write about the form of each movement in detail. I will describe each musical form based on different symphony movements, and after the explanations musical examples will follow.


The “I. movement. Sonata form.


This is the most important movement of the symphony! The structure and form is precisely defined by the rules of the sonata form. Often there is a slow introductory section before the movement and the first theme, this is the introduktio.


Word definition: the word sonata, meaning musical piece performed on an instrument, is different from sonata form, which is a musical from.


The sonata form is the “obligatory” form of the first movement of a symphony, a sonata /as well as the overture, the string quartet and the concerto/. Its content is the 1/ introduction of musical themes, 2/ elaboration, 3/ repetition, then the movement’s closing theme, the coda.


So the sonata from is divided into three parts: exposition, elaboration, reexposition, which is the return /repetition/ of the exposition, which is closed by the coda.


Exposition – This is the part where the musical themes are introduced: firth theme, second theme, third or closing theme. /exposition/


o   first theme:                 a melody usually in major tone, with an indefinite melody line and rhythm


o   second theme:            it has a softer tone; it can be similar to or different from the characteristics of the first theme


o   third or closing theme:            as a third theme it closes the

                                               introduction of the themes.


It is a rule, that after the introduction of the themes (this is the exposition’s introductory line) they have to be repeated once unaltered. Of course there is an exception. The composer doesn’t always include the repetition of the introductory line.


Chosen example: I. symphony II. movement, which is exceptionally in sonata form. We are listening to its themes!


First_theme         1                 01_first_theme   

Second_theme   2          02_second_theme        

Closing_theme   Z                  03_closing_theme




Legend of used symbols:


1 – first theme

fugato – the musical theme is in fugato development (think of the canon!)

2 – second theme

2v – second theme’s variation development

2cp2 – second theme’s consequent part; it is repeated (This is what the upper case number indicates: 2 )

Cl – closing theme

l/4 – this is the so called quartet-motif, consisting of two notes; the first theme’s first two notes




We are listening to the exposition!

As we can see, the exposition’s introductory line is repeated.

exposition          04_exposition


1 fugato     2     2v    2cp2    Cl    1-4                                             -51    1.07      -22          -44      -59

1 fugato     2     2v    2cp2    Cl    1-4





Elaboration – In this section a selected motif from the first theme – introduced in the exposition – is developed. How is the elaboration done? With the performance of a musical theme in a different tone, in variation form, in fugue development, or by the motivic alteration of a motif or a selected section of the theme, or the development or weaving of a motif; and in many other ways.

Here it is done by repetitions, with a beating accompaniment.

elaboration                    05_Elaboration


1-4   1-4   1-4   1-4   1-4       1-4   1-4   1-4  1-4  <csp >

                            - - - - - - - - -                   kd-kd-kd-kd




Reexposition – In this section the introduced musical themes in the exposition are repeated, to which the closing theme, the coda joins. /coda/

reexposition                  06_Reexposition


1 -ep      2    2v    2cp     Cl     1-4

    -48   1.04     -26        -41       -55


        Coda:     1   1m –Cl-m           1-4 1-4     ho 4 –Cl-m

                         -17                                      -38                -54


For over 200 years, musicologists claim that the »sonata form« is the best way to express ideals and emotions in music!



I present you the rough build and structure of the sonata form:


Exposition:          1       2       3  -  the exposition’s introductory line

1       2       3  -  the repetition of the introductory line (it is sometimes omitted!)


Elaboration:         1       2,   m  - very often the motif/s/ are being developed


Reexposition:      1       2       3  - the repetition of the exposition

+ coda - summarizes the musical material and closes the movement


We are listening to the whole movement!

The purpose is to notice the themes and observe the elaboration!

II_MOVEMENT        07_II_movement


Exposition:             1 fugato     2     2v    2cp    Z    1-4

                            1 fugato     2     2v    2cp    Z    1-4


Elaboration:         1-4   1-4   1-4   1-4          1-4   1-4   1-4  1-4  <cli >

                                     - - - - - - -                      kd-kd-kd-kd


Reexposition:      1 -ep      2    2v    2cp     Cl     1-4


                   Coda:     1   1m –Cl-m           1-4 1-4     ho 4 –Cl-m



This structure is ancient as well as modern. First the Greek used it in rhetoric, where the structure of the speech was divided into an Introductory part, a Main part, and a Concluding part. We use it even today. /rhetoric/


The role of the coda, following the reexposition, becomes extremely important with Beethoven! Even so, it became invaluable as in it, Beethoven concludes and emphasizes, or sometimes trumpets abroad the essence of the music’s message.


Why are there three themes /melodies/ in the movement?


In a Hungarian elementary school essay, where there are 6 introductory sentences, 25 main sentences and 5 concluding sentences, the total number of sentences is 36. A novella or a novel consists of significantly more.


Think about it: if a movement’s music consisted of 36 melodies /or only of 10 melodies/ would we be able to memorize them all? It would be impossible. Musical language does not permit it. This is why there are only two-three melodies, musical thoughts express the message and content the music carries.. The closing theme does not carry any message! Its role is solely to conclude.


We have arrived to the word content. Form is the counterpart of content, as a philosophical notion. As I have written before, form and content does not exist without each other. The connection between them is so strong as two constituents within an alloy, inseparable. This applies to music as well.


Describing with a comparison: A farmer plows the field. This is a declarative sentence, more precisely a divided, whole, simple, complemented sentence, as it has a subject, a predicate, and an object. The structure of the sentence can be marked as follows: S P O.

Many similar sentences can be formed or said.

The sentence’s structure /structure/ is defined /S P O/, but its content is different; there can be billions of different contents.


Thus when I say or write down a declarative sentence, I give the form content. They can only exist together, assuming each other, this is why I used the word alloy to describe their relationship. Neither is more important than the other, neither is primary. The unity of form and content is inseparable.


I wrote about this because among the aesthetics, the question and relation of form and content is always debated. The theory is far-reaching and unconcluded. It is no surprise that Croce Benedetto /1866 – 1952/ Italian aesthete wrote the following sentence: “Content and form is the most famous passive of aesthetic richness.” 


I will shed light on the relation of form and content with another example. Think about the human skeleton, and the body that builds upon it. The skeleton, the structure is always the same / this is form/, but the body connected to it /this is content/ is always different, and we call it human. Every human being is unique. Philosophically, we could say that the skeleton is the “general”, while the human is the “unique”.


My aim with this short analysis was to divert attention to the theory and study of artistic questions, and I recommend to read and immerse in the questions of aesthetics.


In conclusion


The sonata form as a musical structure is what provides a composer with the ability to fill it with content. The content and its quality solely depends on the composer. We can say that each sonata, each symphony movement is unique; there are no two outcomes that would be the same.



The “II. movement.


This is the slow movement in which the lyrical aspect comes into the limelight. It is characterized by emotionally rich melodies. The form is less defined and it can vary:


a/ simple three-part form: structure scheme: A– B–A


b/ Romance form: a developed version of the previous form, its scheme is also A–B–A, where the main melody surrounds a melody with the opposite mood.


c/ Rhondo form: letter scheme: A–B–A–C–A–D, where the main melody (A) is repeated, between the repetitions there are so called episodes (BCD). Read more at the IV. movement!


d/ Variation form – It is ruled by a single theme, a single melody, which appears again and again in variation developments. (Listen to the II. movement of Haydn’s Kettledrum symphony at the variation headword!)


Beethoven did not compose the II. movements in his symphonies according to the rules of form, he tends to the sonata from in most cases. For him the rules of form are governed by musical themes and motifs. The II. movement of his III. EROICA symphony is a really free sonata form; in fact, it is a musical masterpiece, however masterpiece of grief and pain.


I have chosen the II. movement of the V. symphony, which is a so called “free variation” movement. as an example. The movement can be divided into four large blocks, marked by the letters A, B, C and D, each consisting of two themes. We are listening to the themes!


First theme 1                08_fate_first_th         

Second theme   2           09_fate_second_th


Legend of used symbols:


1cp – first theme’s consequent part

Tr – musical transition

1v – first theme’s variation

fe = fermata – hold at one note

il – interlude

ch-fi – chord figurations, here they serve as transition


1 minor – first theme in minor tone

Cl – Closure

1m – first theme’s motif




A_block     10_A_block

1  1cp      2   <    2  tr >

                                                    -35          -52      112    -28




B_block      11_B_block

1v  1cp    2    <   2   tr  > 

                                                    -32     -50        110  -26





C_block      12_C_block

1v 1v 1v      -fe-         - il -    < 2 >  ch-fi

                             -19    -37       54 - 105          106-53         -54          217


D_block     13_D_block

1-minor     tr    Cl:1m    1cp

                      -20            -36       109




We are listening to the movement in whole!


V_symphony_II_movement   14_II_movement


            A block                               1  1cp      2   <    2  tr >



         B block                         1v  1cp    2    <   2   tr  >



C block               1v 1v 1v      -fe-     - il -    < 2 >  ch-fi




D block                1-minor     tr    Cl:1m    1cp







Example for the songform:

Beethoven: Opus 13. „pathetique” piano sonata II. movement, which is in songform, with two sequences in the middle.                                    

songform             15_songform


                   A         B        A         C          A         Coda

                             105  202     235    330       433




The “III. movement.  Minuet/scherzo. /scherzo/


It is a moderately fast paced, but often slow movement. This movement of a traditional symphony was called minuet, but later changed to scherzo, but the three-part form remained: A-B-A.

The minuet, as we know, was a common dance. Beethoven left out the minuet signal, and often the scherzo as well, and only wrote tempo designation e.g. Allegro, Presto.


The meaning of the word scherzo: fun. To it dancelike character comes high spirits, humor and serenity. since the age of romance it also appears as a standalone character piece.


Chosen example: I. Symphony III. movement. – Menuetto. Allegro molto e vivace, ¾


The menuetto’ theme:  

menuetto (main melody)                  16_minuet_theme                 


The Trio’s theme:                            17_trio_melody  



Pay attention! The track starts in forte volume, which sounds at the end of the scherzo, and after it begins the trio’s melody. Based on what you have read about so far, observe the motivic play and repetitions that follow the performed theme, which all make up the chief characteristic and style of classical music. Furthermore, notice the rhythmic play and diversity. 


In this symphony it is only the III. movement that forecasts the later unique language of Beethoven’s compositions. They were extremely daring and modern in the days they were composed.


We are listening to the movement’s “A” section, the menuetto.    

menuetto              18_minuet_A


We are listening to the movement’s “B” section, the trio.    

 trio                      19_trio       Watch out! It starts loudly!


We are listening to the movement’s “A” section, the repetition of the menuetto.

menuetto              20_minuet_A



The scherzo of scherzos is the II. movement of the VIII. symphony, however its from is a sonata form without elaboration; we will see it there!




The ”IV. movement. The rhondo.


The rhondo was originally a French round dance. (XII. century)

Rhondo with musical instruments was developed in the XVII. century.

Its essence is a main theme’s alternation with different episodes /couplet/.

Its first great master was Couperin, Francois /1668-1733/.


During the development of the form, the classical one-themed rhondo, the small rhondo is created. In this only the rhondo theme can reprise.

Its structure is: A–B–A–C–A.

“A” section = rhondo-theme; its melody and repetition is easy to recognize even when in variation form; While the “B” and “C” sections are episode-themes; their melody alters.


The rhondo’s most evolved form is the classical two-themed rhondo, called big rhondo or sonata rhondo. In it one of the episode themes also has a reprise, thus becoming the second theme. Its structure is: A–B5–A–C–A–B–A, where B, represents the second theme; The movement can be (also) closed with a coda.

In it merge the principle of the sonata form and the rhondo.

In classical music this form becomes steady in the last movement of sonatas, symphonies, chamber pieces and concertos.


at the beginning of opera performances the Italian audience expected the opera not to end dramatically, but instead have a lieto fine = a happy ending. the same thing happened during the evolution of instrumental music. The audience does not want a dramatic ending, rather a pleasant one. 


The rhondo is usually fast paced with lively rhythm; in terms of content weightless: a simple, “problem-free” music compared to the I. movement. Its musical themes have less emphasis, they are rather light, sometimes more playful.



We will listen to a few examples.


1/ II. symphony IV. movement - exposition, resembling the fast and fluent tempo characteristic of the IV. movement, the music with a lighter tone, one that a music lover listens to with pleasure.

Movement form: a mixture of rhondo and sonata form.

See in more detail during the analysis of the symphony!                   

II_4_movement_exp     21_four_mov_exp



2/ C-major, „WALDSTEIN” sonata Op. 53. III. movement, here I created a flow chart with time staples.

Movement form: rhondo, without sonata principle.


A – rhondo-theme

B, C – episode-themes

ly_M  – lyrical middle section   

Bv – B variation of the episode theme

coda – closing section



       A    B     A    C     ly_M    A    Bv     coda

         123       234      354       456          711      750       915


Waldstein            22_Waldstein


3/ Eine kleine Nachtmusik (Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major), IV. movement –, which is one of Mozart’s most popular masterpieces; it is characterized by folk tone, perfect formal ratio, and clear melody. It is an everlasting piece, one of the most brilliant diamonds of classical music. You’re most probably familiar with it as well. Flow chart is not necessary here.

Nachtmusik_04             23_Mozart



4/ We are listening to the rhondo of a piano sonata, Beethoven: Opus 2. No2 - IV. movement: Rondo. Grazioso.


    A   B   A   C   A    D   A   E   Coda

                047     113     144     320       405     425     456       538


grazioso               24_opus2_No2




Content and form


We are listening to one final musical illustration to understand the relation of content and form. The content here has a real message: the victory of justice. Here is a short excerpt from the III. Leonora overture.


The musical section’s (only one and a half minutes) content can be expressed with words (with my words and thoughts).


The innocent state captive languishes in prison, when at last the moment of his freedom comes:


Ø at first we hear a soft music with uncertain rhythm, interrupted by periods of silence, which resembles the prison's dark, stifled atmosphere and hopeless mood,


Ø after a short time, racing passages of string instruments (violins, second-violins, cellos and double basses) represent how the rays of sun and the sunlight enter through the opening prison door,


Ø which is then followed by the unbridled, ecstatic moments of release, the rejoice in happiness, the soul's boundlessly flowing emotions, of course in the language of music.        

01_Leonora                   25_III_Leonora3


Here the content and form is connected to each other like two different metals within an alloy, inseparable.

We feel this connection stronger if we are familiar with Beethoven's opera titled Fidelio, and the plot of the opera itself, as the overture was composed based on a literary work.


This short excerpt can also be used to determine what defines classical music; using only four words.


Fearful vigour /élan terrible/, triumphal success /éclat  triomphal/.


These four words were first used by a French composer, Gossec, F. J. (1769-1868) – for the music of the French Revolution. Listening to Beethoven symphonies may convince the dear audience of how these four words are the most appropriate to describe classical music as well.




The characteristics of each movement in the symphony



movement form                     tempo                  character

I.     sonata form                           fast                      dramatic







II.   simple three-part form          slow                     lyrical

         A BA

            /It can also be romanceform,

            rhondo form, variation form)


III. scherzo                                   fast                      serene merry

         A B A



IV. rhondo                                  even faster           weightless, carefree

         A B A C A D                                                      (lieto fine)  

                (It can also be sonata form, variation form)





The tempo designations


In music the tempo of each movement is defined with the use of Italian words. These describe how fast or slow the movements have to be performed.

Meaning of the word tempo: time. In music it means the absolute specification of the notes' duration. In 1816 a German mechanic, Mälzel, J.N. creates the metronome, which is in international use even today, and it is a tool used to adjust the unit of tempo.



The most common words for tempo:


Adagio – slow and stately (literally, "at ease")

Adagio molto – really slowly

Andante – at a walking pace

Andantinó – slightly faster/slower than Andante

Larghetto – rather broadly (slower than Andantino)


Allegro – fast, quickly, and bright (literally)

Allegro ma non troppo – fast, but not too much

Allegro vivace – very fast and lively


Allegro con fuoco – fast, quickly, with fire

Presto – extremely fast

Presto possibile – as fast as possible




Recommended books:


o   General History of Music is important

o   Musical Lexicon is vital

o   Lexicon of Aesthetics (Do not be afraid of it! If we read into it once or twice, we will grow to like it, whether we want to or not.)

o   a concerto guide

o   and of course a book containing the biographies of favoured composers





couplet fr couplé – a snappish cabaret song with chorus structure, often including timely, veiled references < back


exposition, lat – from the word exhibit, exhibition; the beginning of the musical form, in which the composer introduces the musical themes < back 


coda, it – supplement, closing section < back 


rhetorics, gr-lat  – the study of oration, the theory of speech; its original meaning: the practical science of oration  <back    


scherzo, it – the designation for fun, fast, easily flowing instrumental movements with lively rhythm; during its evolution it replaces the minuet, and achieves its universal character in Beethoven’s symphonic art; it has a light, dance-like character; it is defined by merry mood, joy, musical humour; < back 


structure, a basic notion of modern sciences, philosophy and artistic theory; it derives from the latin word struere (to build). The meaning of the word has widened during the centuries. Anatomy: the position of organs. Linguistics: the position of words in speech. During its development they used the expression structure first for the whole, then for the parts of the whole, and finally for the relation between the parts.

Music: Beethoven’s symphonies, and the structure of the symphonies’ movements not only can be followed and interpreted through hearing, but it can also be written down with the use of symbols. This is what I call a flow chart. See in more detail during the analysis of each symphony, as wel as in the “Semiotics” section under Selections!  < back 


trio, it – originally a piece composed for three instruments; in the 17. century in European chamber music the trio-sonata is a representative genre; at around 1750-1760 Mannheim and Vienna musicians apply the minuet into symphonies, the middle section of which is the trio < back