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Section 25.3 Rondo Form

A rondo is a piece that begins with a refrain (an A section) that alternates with episodes (B and C). The 5-part rondo, an example of which we encountered in an earlier chapter, has ABACA form or ABABA form. The 7–part rondo typically has ABACABA form, although other designs exist. A diagram for 7–part Classical form is shown below.

The refrain (the A section) is always in tonic. The first episode (the B section) was typically in a closely related key—the dominant (V) if in major or the mediant (III) if in minor. There was greater variety of keys used for the second episode (the C section), including tonic minor in a major sonata or the submediant (vi or VI). A retransition in this case is defined as a transition returning to material previously heard.

Note that the B section being first stated in the dominant then later in tonic is an example of sonata principle, a principle which occurred in many Classical era pieces (see Charles Rosen’s Sonata Forms for more on sonata principle).

An example of Classical seven–part rondo form is found below in the third and final movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13.

Figure 25.3.1 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III (1798), Refrain

A brief sequential transition follows, leading to the mediant (E♭ major).

Figure 25.3.2 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Transition

The first episode (the B section) is in the mediant, Eb major, the relative major of C minor. The primary purpose of this first episode to establish a key different than the starting key. Notice that the themes during this episode are not particularly tuneful.

Figure 25.3.3 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, First Episode

The final melody of the first episode is clearly in the form of a parallel period.

Figure 25.3.4 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Conclusion of First Episode

A retransition follows and leads to a half cadence on a G major chord. The refrain follows in C minor.

Figure 25.3.5 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Retransition to Second Refrain

The second episode (the C section) follows immediately after the refrain. The second episode is in A♭ major, the submediant (VI) of C minor.

Figure 25.3.6 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Second Episode

A retransition follows the second episode, ending on a half cadence on G major.

Figure 25.3.7 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Retransition to Third Refrain

An abbreviated version of the refrain follows, leading directly to a restatement of the second episode (the B section), this time in tonic major (C major).

Figure 25.3.8 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Third Refrain and Second Episode restated in tonic

Following the Second Episode is brief retransition that develops final motives of that episode through sequences.

Figure 25.3.9 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Retransition to Final Refrain

After one last statement of the refrain in C minor, the Coda begins immediately after the cadence closing the refrain.

Figure 25.3.10 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Final Refrain
Figure 25.3.11 Beethoven, Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13, III, Coda

To review a simple, five-part rondo form, see the section on the second movement of Eine kleine nachtmusik in the chapter on Creating Contrast Between Sections.

Subsection 25.3.1 Sonata Rondo Form

Sonata rondo form is a rondo in which the second episode (the C section) is replaced by a development section, resulting in a design of A-B-A-Dev.-A-B-A.