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The Double-period
Distinction Between Bipartite And Tripartite Forms
Lesson 4
The Sonatine Form
The Exposition
The Recapitulation
T The Second Rondo Form
The Necessity Of Form In Music
The Melodic Figure

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The Exposition
The Recapitulation
Repetition Of The Parts
Exact Repetitions
The Principal Song
The Sonata-allegro Form
2 Abbreviation Of The Regular Form
3 Dislocation Of Thematic Members

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Lesson 3
Lesson 11
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The Necessity Of Form In Music

The Necessity Of Form In Music

So much uncertainty and diversity of
opinion exists among music lovers of every grade concerning the
presence of Form in musical composition, and the necessity of its
presence there, that a few general principles are submitted at the
outset of our studies, as a guide to individual reflection and judgment
on the subject.

Certain apparently defensible prejudices that prevail in the minds of
even advanced musical critics against the idea of Form in music,
originate in a very manifest mistake on the part of the formalists
themselves, who (I refer to unimpassioned theorists and advocates of
rigid old scholastic rules) place too narrow a construction upon Form,
and define it with such rigor as to leave no margin whatever for the
exercise of free fancy and emotional sway. Both the dreamer, with his
indifference to (or downright scorn of) Form; and the pedant, with his
narrow conception of it; as well as the ordinary music lover, with his
endeavor to discover some less debatable view to adopt for his own
everyday use,--need to be reminded that Form in music means simply
Order in music.

Thus interpreted, the necessity of form, that is, Order, in the
execution of a musical design appears as obvious as are the laws of
architecture to the builder, or the laws of creation to the astronomer
or naturalist; for the absence of order, that is, Disorder, constitutes
a condition which is regarded with abhorrence and dread by every
rational mind.

A musical composition, then, in which Order prevails; in which all the
factors are chosen and treated in close keeping with their logical
bearing upon each other and upon the whole; in which, in a word, there
is no disorder of thought or technique,--is music with Form (i.e.
good Form). A sensible arrangement of the various members of the
composition (its figures, phrases, motives, and the like) will exhibit
both agreement and contrast, both confirmation and opposition; for we
measure things by comparison with both like and unlike. Our nature
demands the evidence of uniformity, as that emphasizes the
impressions, making them easier to grasp and enjoy; but our nature also
craves a certain degree of variety, to counteract the monotony which
must result from too persistent uniformity. When the elements of Unity
and Variety are sensibly matched, evenly balanced, the form is good.
On the other hand, a composition is formless, or faulty in form, when
the component parts are jumbled together without regard to proportion
and relation.

Which of these two conditions is the more desirable, or necessary,
would seem to be wholly self-evident.

The error made by pedantic teachers is to demand too much Form; to
insist that a piece of music shall be a model of arithmetical
adjustment. This is probably a graver error than apparent
formlessness. Design and logic and unity there must surely be; but any
obtrusive evidence of mathematical calculation must degrade music to
the level of a mere handicraft.

* * * * * *

Another and higher significance involved in the idea of Form, that goes
to prove how indispensable it may be in truly good music, rests upon
the opposition of Form to the material.

There are two essentially different classes of music lovers:--the one
class takes delight in the mere sound and jingle of the music; not
looking for any higher purpose than this, they content themselves with
the purely sensuous enjoyment that the sound material affords. To such
listeners, a comparatively meaningless succession of tones and chords
is sufficiently enjoyable, so long as each separate particle, each beat
or measure, is euphonious in itself. The other class, more
discriminating in its tastes, looks beneath this iridescent surface and
strives to fathom the underlying purpose of it all; not content with
the testimony of the ear alone, such hearers enlist the higher, nobler
powers of Reason, and no amount of pleasant sounds could compensate
them for the absence of well-ordered parts and their logical

This second class is made up of those listeners who recognize in music
an embodiment of artistic aims, an object of serious and refined
enjoyment that appeals to the emotions through the intelligence,--not
a plaything for the senses alone; and who believe that all music that
would in this sense be truly artistic, must exhibit Form as the end,
and Material only as a means to this end.

* * * * * *

Still another, and possibly the strongest argument of all for the
necessity of form in music, is derived from reflection upon the
peculiarly vague and intangible nature of its art-material--tone,
sound. The words of a language (also sounds, it is true) have
established meanings, so familiar and definite that they recall and
re-awaken impressions of thought and action with a vividness but little
short of the actual experience. Tones, on the contrary, are not and
cannot be associated with any definite ideas or impressions; they are
as impalpable as they are transient, and, taken separately, leave no
lasting trace.

Therefore, whatever stability and palpability a musical composition is
to acquire, must be derived from its form, or design, and not from
its totally unsubstantial material. It must fall back upon the network
traced by the disposition of its points and lines upon the musical
canvas; for this it is that constitutes its real and palpable contents.

THE EVIDENCES OF FORM IN MUSIC.--The presence of form in music is
manifested, first of all, by the disposition of tones and chords in
symmetrical measures, and by the numerous methods of tone arrangement
which create and define the element of Rhythm,--the distinction of
short and long time-values, and of accented and unaccented (that is,
heavy and light) pulses.

This is not what is commonly supposed to constitute form in music, but
it is the fundamental condition out of which an orderly system of form
may be developed. As well might the carpenter or architect venture to
dispense with scale, compass and square in their constructive labors,
as that the composer should neglect beat, measure and rhythm, in his
effort to realize a well-developed and intelligible design in the
whole, or any part, of his composition. The beats and measures and
phrases are the barley-corn, inch and ell of the musical draughtsman,
and without these units of measurement and proportion, neither the
vital condition of Symmetry nor the equally important condition of
well-regulated Contrast could be clearly established.

The beat is the unit of measurement in music. The measure is a
group of beats,--two, three, four, or more, at the option of the
composer. The bounds of the measures are visibly represented (on the
written or printed page) by vertical lines, called bars; and are
rendered orally recognizable (to the hearer who does not see the page)
by a more or less delicate emphasis, imparted--by some means or
other--to the first pulse or beat of each measure, as accent, simply
to mark where each new group begins. Those who play or sing can
imagine how vague, and even chaotic, a page of music would look if
these vertical bars were omitted; and how much more difficult it would
be to read than when these (not only accustomed, but truly necessary)
landmarks are present. Precisely the same unintelligible impression
must be, and is, conveyed to the hearer when his landmarks, the
accents, are not indicated with sufficient emphasis or clearness to
render him sensible of the beginning of each new measure.

* * * * * *

The same primary system of measurement and association which is
employed in enlarging the beats to measures, is then applied to the
association of the measures themselves in the next larger units of
musical structure, the Motive, Phrase, Period, and so forth. Unlike
the measures, which are defined by the accents at their beginning,
these larger factors of form are defined chiefly at their end, by the
impression of occasional periodic interruption, exactly analogous to
the pauses at the end of poetic lines, or at the commas, semicolons and
the like, in a prose paragraph. These interruptions of the musical
current, called Cadences, are generally so well defined that even the
more superficial listener is made aware of a division of the musical
pattern into its sections and parts, each one of which closes as
recognizably (though not as irrevocably) as the very last sentence of
the piece.

Cadences serve the same purpose in music, then, as do the punctuation
marks in rhetoric; and an idea of the senselessness and confusion of a
musical composition, if left devoid of cadences in sufficient number
and force, may be gleaned from an experimental test of the effect of a
page of prose, read with persistent disregard of its commas, colons,
and other marks of cadence.

* * * * * *

Another evidence of Form in music, that is at once subtle and powerful,
rests upon what might be termed the linear quality of melody. The
famous old definition of a line as a succession of points, tallies so
accurately with that of melody (as a succession of single tones),
that it is not only proper, but peculiarly forceful, to speak of
melodies as tone-lines. Our conception of a melody or tune, our
ability to recognize and reproduce it, depends far more upon its
undulations, its rising, falling, or resting level, than upon its
rhythmic features (the varying lengths of its tones). These movements
trace a resonant line before our mind's eye as surely, though perhaps
not as distinctly, as the pencil of the artist traces the lines of an
image upon the paper; and this process is going on constantly, from
beginning to end, in every piece of music. In a portrait it describes
the contours of face and figure,--in a word, the Form; in the musical
composition it fulfils, to a great extent, the self-same mission, that
of defining the Form. One clear, predominating tone-line traces the
air or tune of the piece; and this is often the only line that
arrests the hearer's attention; but there are other tone-lines, less
prominent and less extended and coherent, gliding along harmoniously
beside the Melody proper, which (something like the shading in a
picture) contribute to the richness of the design, and perform their
share in proving and illuminating the Form of the whole.

This is most salient in music for orchestra, where each player
describes an individual tone-line, rendered all the more distinct and
recognizable by the specific color of his instrument; and that is the
chief, perhaps the sole, reason why the orchestra is esteemed the most
complete and perfect medium of musical expression.

Next: Unity And Variety

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