Rondo is not a word that many of us use when discussing music. However, it is well-known and was widely used during the Classical and Romantic periods. And is still sometimes used today.
So, I decided to take an in-depth look at its form and its structure, and how it works. And ask the question, what is Rondo form in music? But before I do, let’s just remind ourselves what ‘form’ in music is all about.
Form In Music
Music is a way of communicating, in a way like a language. We get emotions from it, and it can move us just like words. And just like words and language, music needs structure. If music can be called a language, then form is its grammar.
Music can be seen to have rules, just like a language. It also has exceptions to those rules, just as in language. But, what they have in common is that they both have a basis for construction and composition.
What Is Musical Form
It is simply a way of describing the song or piece of music by way of its structure. We look at it, then analyze it, and then allocate letters to the various parts so we can recognize it.
For example, let’s think of a modern pop song. We could label a verse as A and the Chorus as B. If the structure of the song was Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Chorus, then we would label the form as A, B, A, B, B.
Form Can Be Complex
That was a very simple example just to show you how it works. But it can get quite complex, especially in some Classical Pieces. But whether these parts are short or long, as in verses or for movements in Classical music, they can be described this way.
So, What is Rondo Form in Music?
Rondo is an instrumental form that can be described as having an initial section or melody that is subsequently repeated. These sections are separated by other music or form that offers a contrast to the original.
In Rondo form, the main theme is sometimes called the Refrain. The pieces it alternates with are known as episodes or couplets.
If you are looking for a well-known example of Rondo form in music from Classical Music, then the ‘Fur Elise’ by Beethoven is a piece you will be familiar with. That has an A, B, A, C, A, form and is a “second” Rondo.
How Many Rondos?
There is more than just one version of what we are calling a Rondo. The Classical era had three main Rondo forms in music that were often used. The forms looked like this:
- The First Rondo pattern was the most simple at A, B, and A.
- The Second Rondo Pattern had a little more with A, B, A, C, and A.
- And the Third was more involved with A, B, A, C, A, B, and A.
It can be looked at as extensions to the Binary and The Ternary Form. Binary is a simple A, and B. Ternary takes that on a bit with A, B, and A.
Rondo takes it further, offering more inclusions and could be A, B, A, C, A, B, and A. In some compositions, you may also come across ‘D’ sections added.
As I have already said, the Rondo theme takes the Refrain or principle section. And then alternates it with various other themes, as I said, episodes.
You will note in the descriptions the continuing repetition of the ‘A.’ This interjected with what we are calling alternative episodes labeled B and C. You can make these repetitions as long as you choose.
There is no rule about how many or how long you can continue, other than what sounds good. You can repeat both Refrains and alternative episodes where you choose to place them.
Returning To The A
So, what we see about Rondo form is this continuous return to the A or first section. Despite how many and how varied the episodes are, it always returns to the A.
But whilst it returns to the Refrains, these refrains can vary tonally and even thematically. That is why the Rondo form in music is so unique when compared to other musical forms. Figuring out how to tell if a piece of music is in Rondo form is relatively easy. If you hear the music continually returning to the A section, it’s most likely in Rondo form.
Other examples of Rondo Form
The Rondo form is usually quite lively, often at a reasonably quick tempo, and of course, can be quite repetitive. I mentioned Beethoven’s Fur Elise is a good example of the Rondo form. Other popular Classical pieces in Rondo form include:
- Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.
- Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nacht Musik.
- Bach’s E major Violin Concerto.
Today, the pieces are much less in number and not so well-known. Of course, Lennon and McCartney did a “Rondo-based” song. Not surprising, really, they did everything else. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is not a classical Rondo form, but it is close with its continual return to the A section.
There is one thing that must apply in Rondo form. The ‘A’ theme has to be in the tonic key. Major or Minor, it doesn’t matter which, as long as it is in the same key.
Just another part of musical theory to grapple with and understand. If you want to learn about the importance of forms in music, then you’ll find these very useful…
- Anthology of Musical Forms – Structure & Style-The Study and Analysis of Musical Forms
- Musical Structure and Design
- Musical Forms Made Easy: A Thorough Demonstration of Each Form
Want to Learn More Music Theory?
Our experts can help with that. Take a look at our handy guides to What is Strophic Form In Music, The Mixolydian Mode, The Phrygian Mode, The Dorian Mode, What Is Homophonic Texture In Music, What is Melody in Music, What Is Timbre In Music, and What is a Refrain in Music for more useful musical information.
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What Is Rondo Form In Music – Final Thoughts
Musical Forms are the language that music speaks. It is how we understand it and how we analyze what is going on. The Rondo form is a great example of how returning to a theme can have such a profound effect on the music and its structure.
Until next, let your music play.