Rondo limits

April 12, 2010

A rondo, for the sake of my readers who do not know the term, is a musical form used in songs, but usually instrumental compositions. The rondo form is: ABACADA….

Imagine a catchy, pithy theme–we’ll call it the RONDO THEME– that section we’ll call A. It’s sticky, memorable, something we want to hear again.

Now, we do something compositionally DIFFERENT. We’ll call that B. If the A section was chordal, let’s do something melodic. If the A section was loud, let’s do something SOFT. Something DIFFERENT.

Now, let’s have a musical transition from where we just were in the B section, and go back to the A section. The listener thinks: hurrah! I know where I am. Aren’t I smart, and, gee, I like this theme.

Then we move to a contrasting C section. Something even more different than the A or the B sections. It’s whatever those musics were not. Something different.

Then we go back to the A section: tra la, tra la. The mind tucks this music away into the background as we ponder what we’ll be doing later in the day. We’ve already heard this music twice before: I’ve got it, I’ve got it.

Sometimes a composer gives you one more music chunk: the D section. And like before, it has music that is different (to an extent) than the other three sections. In this section, the composer may embed the climax of the movement and build and build and build until we finally get one last return of the A section. We all stand, sing the theme one last time, and clink our beer steins together in brotherly harmony.

As I was throwing the ball for the dogs today, I realized that we rarely have an E section in rondos. One loves the concept of a piece that goes: ABACADAEAFAGAHAIAJA… und so weiter. But in reality, people really can only stand four reiterations of the nifty rondo theme. We seem to be able to effectively perceive four chunks/sections of music in a single movement–especially at the end of a multi-movement composition, which is where the rondo usually occurs.

This is not a scientific study, only a casual observation and recommendation for a future dissertation, but it seems composers have a ceiling of four sections in rondos (ABCD) and no more than four statements of the rondo theme (ABACADA and it’s easier-to-digest little sister ABACA)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Aaron Fryklund April 13, 2010 at 3:22 am

That is a good point. I agree that there is something about four sections that satisfies our cognition. A few years ago I composed a rondo that had five or six middle sections, however after each middle section I changed the A section a bit, as if it had been processed by the section that proceeded it and given a new context in which to rest. It might be a fun exercise to attempt to write some sort of micro-rondo that had dozens of sections that are extremely short, albeit still thematic.

Leonid April 14, 2010 at 6:47 am

Roger, thanks. It’s interesting that the seemingly irrational realm of music can be described in rational, almost algorithmic terms.

The sheer amount of building blocks, of various shapes and sizes, and their recombinations, is stunning.

Getting a computer to write music in the style of Bach or Mozart is not such a productive idea. It may sharpen our understanding of form, but that’s about it.

There’s no universal algorithm, no one secret formula or some theoretical, unversal generator, that would produce music of any style.
It’s much like speech and human emotions. No, it’s not “code”, at least it’s much more than that. There are concepts of style, imagery that escape the computer. Art is about thinking in images.

I want to know what a series of notes means to ME and to MY FRIENDS, a computer doesn’t have that

(BUT there is an interesting procedure of transforming an existing, “human” series using a Markov matrix, some transformations of material are surprisingly interesting; it’s feedback from the machine on YOUR material).

All that said, some computer music is truly stunning:

It’s dry, intellectual, and rich in sound, with a jazzy, toccata-like feel to it.

And here’s a Chebyshev song:

It’s based on a simple linear congruential pseudo-random sequence generator.

Roger, it all has it limits, of course. Much like rondo. I find the picture of a bicyle MIDI-controller to be anti-music.

You can call it music, much like you can call a cat a dog, if you want, but it’s a characterization issue.

To me, music is first and foremost, about thrilling performance, spontaneity and energy flow.

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