Cyclic form

From Academic Kids

Cyclic form is a technique of musical construction, involving multiple parts or movements, in which a theme, melody, or thematic material occurs in more than one movement as a unifying device. Sometimes a theme may occur at the beginning and end (for example, in the Brahms Symphony No. 3); other times a theme occurs in a different guise in every part (Berlioz, Symphonie Fantastique).

Examples can be found throughout music history. The Renaissance cyclic mass, which incorporates a usually well-known portion of plainsong as a cantus firmus in each of its sections, is an early use of this principle of unity in a multiple-section form. Examples can also be found in seventeenth century instrumental music, for instance in the suites of dances by Samuel Scheidt in which a ground bass recurs in each movement. When the movements are short enough and begin to be heard as a single entity rather than many, the boundaries begin to blur between cyclic form and variation form.

Typically the term applies to music of the nineteenth century and later, though, most famously including the Cesar Franck Symphony in D Minor, the Symphonie Fantastique, and numerous works by Franz Liszt. By late in the century, cyclic form had become an extremely common principle of construction, most likely because the increasing length and complexity of multiple-movement works demanded a unifying method stronger than mere key relation.

The term is more debatable in cases where the resemblance is less clear, particularly in the works of Beethoven, who used very basic fragments. The argument over whether the occurrence of the triplet figure in the third movement of the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 is an example of cyclic form has had significant proponents on both sides.

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