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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Periods - Classical - Form & Structure

In the previous blog we looked at some of the different genres in the Classical Period. In this blog we’ll look at the structure of these.


What It Is: An instrumental piece for solo instrument and orchestra.

Number Of Movements: Three

What Are The Movements: The first movement will be in Sonata Form and will be brisk and lively. The second movement will be in Ternary Form or Theme & Variations. The second movement is usually slower. The third movement will be fast and jolly. It will either take the form of a Rondo, Theme & Variations, or Sonata Form.

Key features: Very often a concerto will have at least one place for the soloist to show off. The orchestra will stop playing and the soloist will (sometimes) improvise demonstrating lots of frills and flourishes. This is called a cadenza and will often be indicated by a pause mark above the score.

A note about the cadenza. In opera during some arias the singer will have a cadenza which serves the same purpose.


What It Is: A dance from France, for two people, in ¾.

Where They Appear: Often in a sonata or symphony. Sometimes as a standalone piece.

Structure: In a sonata or symphony, the minuet is a minuet and trio. The trio is simply another minuet sandwiched between the original minuet. The trio is usually in a related key (dominant or relative minor usually) and would be written for three instruments (hence trio). There are many structures for a minuet and trio and we covered one structure in a previous blog. Here’s another: AABABCCDCDCABA.


What It Is: The fourth movement of a sonata or symphony.

Number Of Sections: Limitless!

Structure: The rondo is similar to the ritornello in the Baroque Period. Section A is your main theme, section B is a contrasting theme which would then go back to section A. Then you’d get section C, which would be contrasting again which would then go back to section A again…and so on. Each section of a rondo is called an episode and section A (the main theme or refrain) is always in the home key, while the other sections are in a related key.


What It Is: Very similar to a minuet just faster. Scherzo in Italian means “joke”.

Where They Appear: Often in a Sonata or Symphony.

Structure: In a sonata or symphony the scherzo will be a scherzo trio. The structure is the same as that of a minuet and trio.


What It Is: An instrumental piece for one, sometimes two, instruments.

How Many Movements: Three or four. There is a pause in between each movement.

Structure: The structure is similar to that of the symphony. The first movement will be in sonata form and fairly lively (to grab the attention). The second will be in ternary form (or variation) and will be slow and lyrical. If the sonata is a three movement one, a lively rondo, variation, or sonata form movement will be played. If the sonata has four movements a minuet will come after the second movement.

Sonata Form

What It Is: A structure for a movement of music.

How Many Sections: Three

What Are The Sections: Exposition - The main themes are played for the first time. It often ends in a different key to the one it started in (the key will be related though). Development comes next. The themes from the exposition are played with different variations (keys, rhythms etc.) to keep the piece interesting. Sometimes a new theme will be introduced during the development. Recapitulation is the third and final section of sonata form. All the themes are brought back, usually in the same order as they were introduced. Sometimes they’ll get shortened or ornamented for difference. For more variety during the recapitulation the composer may write some of themes in a different but related key. Sometimes the composer may write a short link between the sections.

String Quartet

What It Is: A piece of instrumental chamber music written for four instruments.

What Are The Instruments: Two violins, a viola and a cello.

Number Of Movements: Usually four.

Structure: The standard string quartet has a fast first movement in Sonata Form. The second movement will be in a related key and slow. The third will be a minuet (and trio*) and the final movement will be in rondo form or sonata form and be quite lively.

*In a score when you see “Minuet” or “Scherzo” the “and trio” is implied.


What It Is: A large scale work for full orchestra.

How Many Movements: Usually four, occasionally three, sometimes more than four!

Structure: A four movement symphony will start with a lively opening movement in sonata form. The second movement will be slow and often in ternary form. The third movement will be a minuet (and trio) with the fourth movement being a brisk and lively finale either in rondo form or sonata form. You will notice that this is the same structure as a concerto and a sonata.

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