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Ternary form

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Title: Ternary form  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Binary form, Musical form, Minuet WoO 10, No. 2 (Beethoven), Étude Op. 10, No. 4 (Chopin), Dante Symphony
Collection: Musical Form, Song Forms
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Ternary form

Ternary form, sometimes called song form,[1] is a three-part Handel's Messiah, Chopin's Prelude in D-Flat Major (Op. 28)[2] and the opening chorus of Bach's St John Passion.


  • Simple ternary form 1
  • Compound ternary or Trio Form 2
  • Ternary form within a ternary form 3
  • See also 4
  • Sources 5
  • External links 6

Simple ternary form

In ternary form each section is self-contained both thematically and tonally (that is, each section contains distinct and complete themes, and ends with an authentic cadence.[1] The B section is generally in a contrasting but closely related key, usually a perfect fifth above or the parallel minor of the home key of the A section (V or i); however, in many works of the Classical period, the B section stays in tonic but has contrasting thematic material.[3] It usually also has a contrasting character; for example section A might be stiff and formal while the contrasting B section would be melodious and flowing. Da capo arias are usually in simple ternary form.

Commonly, the third section will feature more ornamentation than the first section (as is often the case with da capo arias). In these cases the last section is sometimes labeled A’ or A1 to indicate that it is slightly different from the first A section.[4]

Compound ternary or Trio Form

In a trio form each section is a dance movement in binary form (two sub-sections which are each repeated) and a contrasting trio movement also in binary form with repeats. An example is the Minuet and Trio from the Haydn's Surprise Symphony. The Minuet consists of one section (1A) which is repeated and a second section (1B) which is also repeated. The trio section follows the same format (2A repeated and 2B repeated). The complete Minuet is then played again at the end of the Trio represented as: [(1A–1A–1B–1B) (2A–2A–2B–2B) (1A–1A–1B–1B)]. By convention in the second rendition of the minuet, the sections are not repeated with the scheme [(1A–1A–1B–1B) (2A–2A–2B–2B) (1A–1B)]. The trio may also be referred to as a double or as I/II, such as in Bach's Polonaise and double (or Polonaise I/II) from his second orchestral suite and his Bouree and Double (or Bouree I/II) from his second English suite for harpsichord.

Diagram of a minuet and trio

The Scherzo and Trio, which is identical in structure to other trio forms, developed in the late Classical period. Examples include the Scherzo and Trio (second movement) from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and the Scherzo and Trio in Schubert's String Quintet.[5] Another name for the latter is "composite ternary form".. Trio form movements (especially scherzos) written from the early romantic era sometimes include a short coda (a unique ending to complete the entire movement) and possibly a short introduction. The second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is written in this style which can be diagrammed as [(INTRO) (1A–1A–1B–1B) (2A–2A–2B–2B) (1A–1B) (CODA)]

Polkas are also often in compound ternary form.

Ternary form within a ternary form

In a complex ternary form each section is itself in ternary form in the scheme of [(A–B–A)(C–D–C)(A–B–A)] By convention each part is repeated and only on its first rendition [(A–A–B–B–A)(C–C–D–D–C)(A–B–A)] .[6] An example are the Impromptus (Op. 7) by Jan Voříšek.[7]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Binary and ternary form" in the Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged (1969). Willi Apel, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  2. ^ White, John D. (1976). The Analysis of Music, pp. 53–54. ISBN 0-13-033233-X.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Bartlette, Christopher, and Steven G. Laitz (2010). Graduate Review of Tonal Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 197–206. ISBN 978-0-19-537698-2
  5. ^ See "Trio (2)" in the Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged (1969). Willi Apel, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
  6. ^ Benward & Saker (2003). Music: In Theory and Practice, Vol. I, p. 315. Seventh Edition. ISBN 978-0-07-294262-0.
  7. ^ "An Analysis of Three Impromptus for Piano Op. 68 by Lowell Liebermann" by Tomoko Uchino.

External links

  • "Small Ternary Form" by Jon Brantingham, 17 October 2011,
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