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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Music Periods - Baroque 4

In the last blog we looked at the music forms (genres) of the Baroque period. In this blog we’ll look at the structure of some of the forms featured.

First of all let me just clarify something. In your exam if you are asked about form it is the structural shape in music. In the previous blog I referred to the various genres used within the Baroque period. Rather unhelpfully, form can also be used to mean genre!

Binary Form

What It Is: Literally means “In two parts”.

Where It Is Used: Usually used in Baroque dances. For example gigue, minuet (on its

own), bourée.

How It Works: Each section (part) is repeated. In letter form this would be AABB.

Identifying Sections: Section B will contrast with Section A. The contrast is often made by

modulating to different keys. If a piece is in a major key it would usually modulate to the dominant (fifth degree of the scale). If a piece is in a minor key it would modulate to the major key.

Example: Here is a gigue in D minor by Handel to demonstrate what a piece in binary

form sounds like.

Da Capo Aria

What It Is: The singer returns to the top of the movement (da capo) and repeats the first

section of music.

Where Is It Used: Several types of vocal music, including opera.

How It Works: ABA

Identifying Sections: The first section is repeated, usually with ornaments.

Example: "He Was Despised" from Handel's "Messiah".

Ground Bass

We touched on this in an earlier blog. Here is a bit more detail.

What It Is: A continuous set of variations. The bass line (ground) never changes

throughout the piece.

Where It Is Used: Dances known as the Chaconne and Passacaglia. Also used in some

songs and instrumental pieces.

How It Works: The ground remains constant and unchanging. Melodies and harmonies

are played over this becoming more varied and complex.

Identifying Features: The two dances that are in ground bass form are quite slow and

stately. But listen out for a repeating bass line which never changes.

NOTE - The bass line that is repeated is also known as a basso continuo (continuous


Minuet And Trio

What It Is: An extended form of the Minuet. The trio is simply another minuet sandwiched

in between the first one!

Where It Is Used: It would often form part of a suite, or be a standalone piece. In the

Classical period it would become a movement of a bigger piece.

How It Works: The Minuet would be in Ternary Form as would the Trio. In letter form it

would look like ABA CDC ABA.

Identifying Features: Very often composers would help listeners identify the trio by

scoring it for only three instruments (hence “trio”).


What It Is: An idea or theme is repeated at various points throughout the piece.

Where It Is Used: Usually found in an Aria (Opera or Cantata)

How It Works: The same idea keeps coming back. In letter form it would be ABACA and

so on.

Identifying Features: A recurring passage interspersed with contrasting episodes.

NOTE - Ritornello got developed and would eventually become RONDO in the Classical


Ternary Form

What It Is: A piece of music in three parts. Parts one and three would be the same (or very

slightly varied).

Where It Is Used: Various works, but always in a Minuet and Trio

How It Works: In letter form it would go ABA, or AABBAA if the sections are


Identifying Features: Section A would usually end on a perfect cadence. Section B would modulate to a related key (relative minor or the dominant) and then return to the home key. Section A would then be repeated exactly as the first time, or with slight variations. If the repeat of section A (after B) has slight variations it would be ABA1.

and trio!)

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