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date: 29 November 2020


  • Arnold Whittall


The constructive or organizing element in music. This article is concerned with the concept of form itself, not with the historical evolution of particular forms or genres (for which see articles under appropriate titles). Form might be defined simply as what forms have in common, reflecting the fact that an organizing impulse is at the heart of any compositional enterprise, from the most modest to the most ambitious. Yet the act, and art, of composition is not synonymous with the selection and activation of formal templates, and composers oblige writers on music to confront the infinite flexibility of the relation between ‘form’ as a generic category (such as ternary, canon, sonata) and the musical work as the unique result of the deployment of particular materials and processes. Practice particularizes, just as theory generalizes, and discussion of musical form has been especially vulnerable to the tensions which arise between these very different ways of thinking....

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