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A brief note on Baroque structural principles

November 1, 2007

First of all what is a structural principle? That’s quite a difficult question to give a short answer to. A structural principle is not the same thing as a musical form. You could say that fugue is a form but it is not a structural principle. Rather it is based on structural principles.

One thing we can say about structural principles – while there may be a proliferation of musical forms there are not going to be very many structural principles.

So what structural principles are found in Baroque music?

We can look at a number of things, for example-

large scale structures created from a series of short movements
unity created by the use of ritornelli
the hierarchy of keys
binary form
ternary form
single-Affekt movements

To focus on one of the most important of these-

The Ritornello Principle

A ritornello is a passage of music that returns. It acts as a unifying factor.

The Ritornello principle is therefore the practice of using a repeated section to help unify a piece of music.

The earliest ritornellos were passages repeated without variation. e.g. in C. Monteverdi`s L`Orfeo.

The use of the ritornello principle is found throughout the Baroque period. It is found in many forms, e.g. fugue, the da capo aria, the concerto.

The basic pattern for a movement that is based primarily on the ritornello principle is

ritornello
episode
ritornello
episode
ritornello
(etc.)
ending with a ritornello and/or a coda.

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