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5.4: Sectional forms

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    Sectional forms happen when the musical piece contains multiple, identifiable sections. Sometimes these sections are completely different and do not repeat. It is often that a piece of music will return to one section. This creates a sense of expectation fulfilled within the music.

    Sectional forms with cycles


    Layered cycles that change in differing sections of a piece are a feature of several Asian musical genres. Sometimes the pieces will have an introduction section before the cycles begin. In Javanese Gamelan there are both rhythmic and melodic cycles at the core of the form. In ketawang (16 beat cycle) works each gong cycle constitutes the repeating form of the piece. Cyclical melodies of varying lengths and speeds are layered on top of the gong cycle. The kendhang drum guides players by signaling changes over the constant gong cycle.

    Arabic Music

    In much Egyptian (Arabic) music sections of music are often repeated as many times as the performer chooses. In traditional performances the melodies (maqam) are varied and expanded through improvisation in each cycle. The ultimate aesthetic goal is to bring about state of emotional excitement or ecstasy. The effort to explore and heighten an emotion through music is notable. This practice results in performances where it is common for one piece to last over and hour. Oum Kulthum is a famous Egyptian singer that is revered for her emotive impact. She performed with an orchestra (takht) filled with virtuoso musicians. She was favored for her traditional Arabic presentation at a time when Western influences and aesthetics were challenged in Egypt. Much music that she performed has become part of a cannon of Arabic music. One of the songs that she popularized is titled Ana Fi Intizarak. In this piece there are several sections that build for over thirty minutes as Kulthum increases the emotion. The formal arrangement of these sections is complex because it is based upon the poem that is being sung. Occasionally the piece returns to an instrumental chorus that is heard at the introduction. The musicologist, composer, performer, and Arabic scholar David Marcus wrote in an email to the author:

    “In terms of lyrics and emotion, Ana Fi Intizarak's singer is getting more and more distressed in each verse, as she waits and imagines each footstep to be the arrival of her lover, who never comes. It's as if she is slowly going crazy, and then each Ya Reyt chorus ("I wish I had never fallen in love!") releases the energy. The song is in Egyptian Colloquial (or Spoken) Arabic, as opposed to Formal (or Classical) Arabic.” (Marcus, 2017)

    The cyclic form allowed Kulthum to customize each performance extending or contracting the length of works based upon the emotional content, audience response and creativity.

    Hindustani Music

    In Hindustani musical traditions improvisatory explorations of ragas and talas travel through formal sections that come together in the badhat form. The form contains a series of guideposts that facilitate virtuosic performance resulting from years of study and practice. The overall badhat form is a gradual crescendo of intensity that peaks at the end of the work. Musicians grow the “raga” or scale according to traditions combined with their own creativity. They build the intensity of the music over the cyclical tala. In music where there is no melody/only tala the percussion is accompanied by a melodic cycle called a lahara.

    There are several sections that offer guideposts within badhat form. The first is the alap. The alap section serves as an introduction to the notes of the raga that is being performed. This offers the audience the opportunity to hear principal notes, motives, and extra-musical ideas (such as mood=rasa) that will be used throughout the piece. The alap section is identifiable because it is a melodic improvisation (with drone) that has no steady background pulse.

    Jor is a transitional section that facilitates the move from the alap to the main melody section known as gat. In the jor the melodic instrument becomes more rhythmically active by adding a pulse. This is part of the overall buildup of intensity that happens in barhat form.

    The gat section contains the main melody(s) of the performance. This melody serves as a foundation for melodic and rhythmic improvisation throughout the gat section. The gat is performed over a tala (rhythmic mode) and is accompanied by the percussion instrument (usually tabla).

    Jhala is an intense section that serves as a musical climax and ending. In the jhala musicians often alternate playing melodic/fretted strings with the fixed pitch/drone strings on the instrument. This serves both to intensify rhythm and to reinforce the primary note of the rag called sa (to which the drone strings are tuned). Jhalas happen at the end of the performance but they can also exist at the ending of the jor before the tala begins.

    In a typical performance the growth of the raga through the badhat form can progress for half an hour. The beginning is calm and slow and the end is a fiery display of virtuosic ability. The growth that happens from the slow beginning to the virtuosic and fast ending is often compared to the growth of a plant from seed to flower. The performance of a raga is devotional and is seen not only as musical but also spiritual practice, with the ultimate goal being Nada Brahma (“the sound of God”). (Bakan 2012, 135)

    Sectional forms in pop music

    When analyzing the form of pop music the terms verse, chorus, and bridge are often utilized. These terms each represent contrasting sections of the music. In many pop and folk genres the melody that is heard in the chorus is considered to be the main melody or “hook” of the piece. Often the verses have lyrics that tell a story and the chorus expresses the emotion. If the verse and chorus repeat with only lyric alteration then they can be considered one section and the form can be called strophic. When the bridge sections offers contrast to the verse and chorus it often creates a form called standard song form. Figure 2 illustrates how this form is often utilized in popular music.

    Figure 2: Song Form

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    A simple form that is often used to describe the structure of melodies is called binary form. In binary form the tune has two distinct sections. Examples of binary melodies are the pieces Turkey in the Straw, Yankee Doodle and Greensleeves.These pieces show the contrast of the A section and the B section. This contrast often is both melodic and harmonic.

    Figure 3: Sample Binary Form

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    Western art music sectional forms

    In Western music realization of formal markers (often identifiable melody) is a highly valued aesthetic. Listeners are often aware of the design of complex forms and thus listen for how composers’ use the form to create a work of art. They listen for the development and variation of melodic themes and motives. In many genres the listeners even listen for the expected tempos and harmonic progressions. Through awareness of form a greater understanding of Western art music can be realized.

    Arguably the most important of the Western art forms is a multi-movement form called the sonata cycle. Sonata cycles came into vogue as a form in the Classical style period (1750-1820). It was at this point that composers established many of the genres that we hear in modern concert halls. The four genres that utilize the sonata cycle are the sonata, the concerto, the string quartet, and the symphony. Because they all use the sonata cycle they typically have a fast (allegro) first movement, a slow second movement, and a fast closing movement. The sonata and concerto only have these three movements while string quartets and symphonies also have a fourth movement, a dance (minuet and trio) inserted between the slow movement and the closing fast movement. Pauses often happen between movements in the performance these genres. In these pauses musicians and audience members adjust and prepare for the next movement. In the 20th century it became standard not to applaud between movements, instead saving applause until the end of the entire work.

    Symphonies are works for orchestras (also know as symphony orchestras or philharmonic orchestras) that are composed using the four-movement sonata cycle form. String quartets use the same form as a symphony but are written for an instrumentation of two violins, a viola, and a ‘cello (string quartet). Concertos and sonatas are written using the three-movement cycle. A concerto is a work for solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra. The term sonata can be confusing because of its many related uses. The genre called sonata has many historical variations but it is generally considered to be a work for a solo instrument (or instrument with piano accompaniment) that is composed using the sonata cycle three movement fast-slow-fast structure. As mentioned above the second use of the term sonata is in the form called sonata cycle. The third use is in the term sonata- allegro form. This refers to the form of the first movement of the sonata cycle.

    Figure 4: Sonata cycle= used in sonatas,

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    In the sonata-allegro (first movement) form composers use three melodies as the source material for building the piece. These melodies are called themes. Theme one is the most important theme in the piece. The first step in listening to sonata form is to recognize theme one and to listen for each appearance of it. There are three main sections of Sonata-allegro form called the exposition, development and recapitulation. In the exposition the three themes are presented (exposed).
    The first theme will be in the tonic key area. For example: In Symphony No. 1 in C major the first theme will be written in C major. A transition sections follows in which the music modulates (changes key area) to a relative key. For example: In Symphony No. 1 in C major theme two might be in the dominant key area of G major. The closing theme will be in the same key as theme 2. Expositions are repeated.

    The development section of sonata-allegro form contains the least amount of established structure. In this section the composer may present themes out of order, fragment themes, sequence themes, or develop them in other ways. The ultimate goal of the development is to set up the cadence from back to tonic for the return of theme 1 in the recapitulation. The recapitulation is another presentation of the themes from the exposition in the same order. The main difference is that all themes will be presented in the tonic key area.

    Figure 5: Sonata-allegro form

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    Like all other forms discussed there can also be an introduction and/or a coda. In codas, composers wrap up the piece by emphasizing the tonic chord (home chord). This is done by drawing out cadential material. A cadence is a resting point provided by the harmonic progression. The strongest cadences in tonal music are V-I (dominant to tonic). Tonal centers or key areas are important parts of the sonata forms. All movements are expected to begin and end in a tonic key. The harmonic path away from the tonic is also determined by the sonata form. See figure 4 for a map of sonata-allegro form. Classically trained musicians and enthusiasts spend much time analyzing music to identify each formal marker.

    Programmatic Form

    In movies, video games, television shows, epic folk tales and other genres music is composed to support a story. Often the forms used for the music will be directly related to the story. Composers who score films are often asked to create customized accompaniment that follows the action on screen. If the composer wants to create music that identifies or supports characters, themes, or actions then they might compose a musical theme that is representative. One needs only to hear the Imperial March from the Star Wars movies to get a visual image of Darth Vader. This is because when John Williams scored these films he utilized the concept of “leitmotif” that had been used in opera for a century. “Leitmotif” is a term that Wagner used to describe themes that represent characters, ideas, or other objects in his music dramas (operas).

    Within an opera, cantata, oratorio or other Western Art genres that have a narrative and involve singing it is common to have three acts that each include arias, recitative, and chorus pieces. Arias are the “hit songs” of the opera and may be composed for solo, duos, or groups of singers. In the aria the emotions of the character are often revealed and expounded upon. Imagine the emotional release song in any Disney movie. This is akin to opera arias. Recitative advances the plot between these arias. Usually arias have some sort of repetitive sectional form. Recitatives are often non-repetitive because they follow the text. If no organizational units or repetitive structures are present in the music then the form is called through-composed.

    Analyzing form:

    1. Does the music have a preconceived form or is it improvised?
    2. Is the form of the music a section that repeats over and over?
    3. Is the form established for the genre?
    4. Do you notice any repetitive formal markers?