The Classical Period: Part 2
By Nina Pinzarrone
When using a piece of music for class or choreography, it’s helpful to understand its form. Two important musical forms created by 18th-century composers are the sonata and rondo forms.
The sonata form, an outgrowth of the older ABA form, is often seen in the first and last movements of symphonies, sonatas, and solo concertos. The movement’s exposition (A) section presents the main theme and establishes the movement’s key or tonal center; a contrasting secondary theme, in a related key, may also appear. These themes may be original long or short melodic phrases, brief motifs with memorable rhythmic character (Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C Minor, op. 67, is an example), or excerpts from popular songs or folk tunes.
The development (B) section expands on these themes, presenting them in different keys or instrumentation, breaking them into fragments, or combining them into new patterns. The recapitulation (A) section restates the original theme(s) with slight variations.
In a solo concerto, this first movement ends with the soloist playing an unaccompanied cadenza (an improvisation in free rhythm). Today cadenzas are written into scores, and when a concerto accompanies choreography, the rhythm is kept uniform.
The instrumental rondo form was popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It consists of a main theme (A) alternating with two or more secondary themes (B and C), commonly resulting in an ABACA structure. It’s often used in the final movements of sonatas, concertos, string quartets, and symphonies.
Composers intended rondo movements to entertain listeners with memorable melodies, lighthearted style, steady rhythms, and/or popular song or dance tunes. An example is the rondo from Joseph Haydn’s Piano Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVI/37, third movement.
Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.