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4.9: Classical Theme Types - Thematic Function Reference

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    This page is a quick-reference. For examples of these functions in musical contexts, see the resource on Classical theme types.

    Initiating Functions


    Presentation function comes at the beginning of a theme or phrase. It involves the establishment of the primary melodic material (usually through the use of one or more statements of a basic idea) and the establishment of the tonality of the theme (usually through tonic prolongation).


    Antecedent function comes at the beginning of a theme or phrase. It involves the statement of a basic idea followed by a contrasting idea. An antecedent should close with a weak cadence, usually a HC or IAC.

    Medial Functions


    Continuation function comes in the middle of a phrase or theme. It typically involves the breakdown of the primary melodic material and harmonic acceleration towards the cadence.

    Following are important terms/concepts associated with continuation function. Not all need be present for a passage to express continuation function, but some should be.

    • Fragmentation – Breaking the melodic unit into smaller chunks (for example, following two-bar basic ideas in the presentation with one-bar melodic ideas). Note: fragmentation references the breakdown of the size of the units. Those units are not necessarily related melodically.
    • Liquidation – Gradually replacing the characteristic or unique parts of a melody with conventional or common elements.
    • Sequential repetition – Repeating the same melodic or harmonic element two or three times, transposed to different pitch levels. This is often used in conjunction with fragmentation.
    • Acceleration of melodic rhythm – Changing from predominately quarter notes and eighth notes in the melody to predominately eighth notes and sixteenth notes, for example.
    • Acceleration of harmonic rhythm – Chord changes coming more frequently (changing from one chord per bar to two chords per bar, for example).

    #Closing Functions


    Cadential function comes at the end of a theme or phrase. It typically involves a cadential harmonic progression and a conventional, descending melodic pattern.

    A classical cadential progression begins with the last chord of tonic prolongation and ends with a cadential arrival. The three typical types of cadential arrival in Classical music are the perfect authentic cadence (PAC), the imperfect authentic cadence (IAC), and the half cadence (HC).

    A half-cadential progression will begin with the final T chord, progress (optionally) through S, and arrive on a cadential D chord (always D5V or V7):

    T__ (S__) D5

    An authentic-cadential progression will begin with the final T chord, progress (optionally) through S, and end with the cadential D T progression (always D5 T1V(7) I):

    T_ (S_) D5 T1


    Consequent function resembles antecedent function in that it involves the presentation of a basic idea followed by a contrasting one. Unlike the antecedent function, however, consequent function brings completion to a thematic unit. Therefore, it ends with a strong cadence, typically a PAC.

    4.9: Classical Theme Types - Thematic Function Reference is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robin Wharton and Kris Shaffer eds..

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