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Flipping through the pages of several newly published theory books, I was astonished to realize that, in some cases, their authors seem to assess musical form more visually than aurally. As a result of that kind of mechanical analysis, clear-cut small ternary forms are pronounced as "rounded binary". Regarding these "new observations" I want to state:
A two-reprise design is not an immediate equivalent of a binary form! Repetitions signs neither make or alter a true formal design!
If the form is ABA, and sections BA are repeated together, this does not mean that it is a rounded binary form! The latter has a general AB design, where section B contains an underdeveloped recapitulation of section A. As a compromise, this could be visually shown as (A) (Ba) – two main parts.
These sections may be repeated as in A://Ba:// and that would be a two-reprise rounded binary form.
Therefore A: // BA: // is not a binary form but a ternary form. Whether A is absolutely the same or varied (A') – it makes no difference. In some instances, where only sections BA are repeated together but the initial A is not, some musicians call this "a five-part ternary form" ABABA, which could be written also as
A // BA://
I was advised that the "new" concept (about the two-reprise form being an equivalent of binary) was typical for American music theory, but this statement proved false. As soon as you open the textbook of Kostka/Payne, you will realize that they explain clearly the rounded binary as a binary form with an underdeveloped recapitulation, and label it as A B 1/2A. Curiously enough, I was taught the same concept in my student years in Europe, only that my teachers labeled it as AB and explained to us that a small recapitulation is attached part B but it does not make a stand-alone musical thought. This international coincidence in teaching methods means that there is some widely-spread practice of teaching this form with the clear understanding that repetitions signs do not alter the true formal design. Notice the term "a two-reprise ternary form" is used a few times in the Kostka/Payne book. It reveals the fact that parts 2 and 3 of a ternary form are repeated together.
Moreover, the thin line between small ternary and small rounded binary is the size of the recapitulation per se. If it is a phrase (even an extended one) - the form is rounded binary, for that phrase is attached to section B and makes a portion of it. If it is an equivalent of a one-part form: a self-standing period or phrase group or sentence of Schoenberg which has at least two phrases – the form is ternary, because part three stands alone as a complete musical thought. But that is not all - even if section A were twice as big (such as a double period or a repeated period, for example) – versus a recapitulation that is only a simple period – the form is still ternary.
Thank you for your attention.
Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas
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