FORM. The means by which unity and proportion are arrived at in musical works are the relative distribution of keys and harmonic bases on the one hand, and of 'subjects' or figures or melodies on the other; and this distribution is called the Form of the work. The order of distribution varies greatly with the conditions. Music set to poetry with a 'burden' to each verse would naturally adopt the form of repeating the same melody to each recurrence of the burden; and when the words implied similar circumstances and feelings would adopt repetition of similar or allied phrases. In dramatic works the order of distribution must vary with the development of the emotional crises, and in such cases will be rather a distribution of culminations and gradations of intensity of passion and emotion, than the more obvious one of key and figure; though, if the relation between important figures of melody and the special circumstances to which they are appended be observed, the notion of form as defined by subjects will still continue to be perceptible. Analogously, in music which is supposed to represent some story or idea, such as is now known by the name of Programme Music, the form must be developed with the view of interpreting that programme truly and consistently. Such music may be compared in this to the work of a painter who trusts rather to the stirring nature of his subject than to the perfection of its composition to engage and delight the beholders, while in a portrait or picture of less vivid interest the element of composition, following generally and easily recognised principles, would be of vital importance. Similarly in programme music the composer may choose to follow the established so-called classical models, but it can hardly be doubted that a genius deeply impregnated with the spirit of his subject would seek to create a form of his own which should be more in consonance with the spirit of his programme—even as Beethoven did without programme, expressing some marvellous inner workings of his emotions, in the first movement of the Sonata in E, op. 109. But even with Beethoven, in the case of music without either programme or words to explain its purpose, such irregularity is rare. It is here especially that the nature and capacity of the minds of the auditors play an important part. Their attention has to be retained for a space of time, sometimes by no means insignificant; and connection has to be established for them without the aid of words or other accessories between parts of the movement which appear at considerable distance from each other, and the whole must be so contrived that the impression upon the most cultivated hearer shall be one of unity and consistency. In such a case Form will inevitably play an important part, becoming more and more complex and interesting in proportion to the development of readiness of comprehension in the auditors. The adoption of a form which is quite beyond the intellectual standard of those for whom it is intended is a waste of valuable work; but a perfect adaptation of it to their highest standard is both the only means of leading them on to still higher things, and the only starting point for further progress. From this it will be seen that in musical works which are connected with words or programme—whether choruses, songs, arias, or ballads, etc.—Form is dependent on the words; and such works, as far as they are reducible to any definable system, are reducible only to the simplest, and such as admits of infinite latitude of variation within it limits. But in instrumental music there has been a steady and perceptible growth of certain fundamental principles by a process that is wonderfully like evolution, from the simplest couplings of repeated ideas by a short link of some sort, up to the complex but consistent completeness of the great instrumental works of Beethoven.
There can hardly be any doubt that the first attempts at Form in music were essentially unconscious and unpremeditated. Therefore if any conformity be observed in the forms of early music derived from various sources, it would seem to indicate a sort of consensus of instinct on the part of the composers which will be the true starting point of its posterior development. It must be remarked by way of parenthesis that in the early days of modern music—apart from the ecclesiastical music of the Roman Church—the instrumental and vocal orders were not nearly so distinct as they are now, for the tendency to strongly and clearly marked distinction in kind is notoriously a matter of slow growth. Hence examples may be drawn with perfect safety from both kinds wherever they can be found.
The first basis of true Form, apart from the balance of groups of rhythms, is essentially repetition of some sort, and what is most vital to the question is the manner of the repetition. The simplest and most elementary kind is the repetition of a phrase or bit of melody with a short passage in the middle to connect the two statements. As an early example of this form may be taken an ancient German chorale, 'Jesus Christus unser Heiland, Der den Tod überwand' (1535), which is as follows:—
In this the bars bracketed are the same, and the phrase which connects them is very short; and the whole presents about as simple and unsophisticated a specimen of Form as could well be conceived. The simple basis of which this is a type is the origin of the Rondo-form, which has survived with great variety and modification of treatment till the present day. The first advances upon the above example which offer
- For instance, the old English madrigals were published as 'apt for Violos and Voices.'