The Performers


A movement is the term given to the main division of a piece of music. It is a complete section that makes sense in its own right, but that is most normally performed within the context of the whole piece.


There are now two types of overture: First, the sort that is meant specifically to be played at the start of an opera, oratorio or ballet and, second, the sort that is specifically written to be played on its own at the start of a regular orchestral concert. Just to confuse matters, however, it is quite common to hear overtures from operas performed out of context at the start of concerts.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries an overture implied a piece in three movements: Italian overtures would be quick-slow-quick, while french overtures would be slow-quick-slow. Later in the eighteenth century it was the composer Gluck who decided that an overture should be used 'to prepare the audience for the plot of the play'.

Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and later, Wagner all thought this was a good idea and that is how it remains today.


Usually second in a standard orchestral concert programme, a concerto is a piece for a solo instrumentalist (or a few solo instrumentalists) playing with an orchestra. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the word concerto merely implied a piece for lots of people playing together.

By the end of the seventeenth century, however, it was generally accepted that a concerto would feature a small group of string players (the concertante, soli, or concertato) playing in alternation with a larger body (the ripieno). The title concerto grosso was introduced, meaning 'great concerto', and the best examples of this type are Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, which feature a small group of soloists playing alongside, and in alternation with, a small orchestra.

The idea developed to the point where Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote concertos purely for a single soloist with orchestra - and this was sometimes called a virtuoso concerto (a virtuoso being someone who is highly skilled in the art of performance), but is now simply called a concerto.


The word symphony comes from the Greek meaning 'sounding together', but like the overture and the concerto it changed its meaning as time went on. Hande put a spanner in the works when he called an instrumental piece in his oratorio Messiah `The Pastoral Symphony', whe it would have made like much simpler to have just called it an overture to the second act.

Symphonies as we know them developed from the sonata form, which was a basic structure for writing pieces in the seventeenth century. As a rule, a symphony would be four movements, although there are plenty of exceptions! The usual pattern for these four movements is fast, slow, minuet, fast; but, as time went on, smome composers changed this format to suit their own particular creative needs, so that the term symphony has been applied to almost all kinds of largish-scale orchestral works that do not feature a soloist.

Symphonic Poem

The composer Liszt is reputed to have invented this term, otherwise known as the 'tone poem' in certain circles. Essentially, a symphonic poem is a piece for orchestra that has some kind of literary, dramatic or pictorial association. It is in one continuous movement that the composer moulds into whatever form he so desires for optimum creative freedom to suit his subject matter. Music with such connotation can also be known as programme music.

The famous writers of symphonic poems are Liszt, Richard Strauss and Smetana, among others.


A suite is the name given to a piece consisting of a chain of dance movements. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was one of the most important forms of music and there are four types of dance which conventionally appear in suites of the Baroque era: the allemando, the courante, the sarabande and the gigue. Interestingly these have four different countries of origin: the allemande from Germany, the courante from France (or Italy), the sarabande from Spain and the gigue from either England or Ireland.

Bach wrote a number of French Suites for keyboard instruments and orchestral suites utilizing the forces of a small chamber orchestra. Later examples can be found in Grieg's Peer Gynt and Stravinsky's Firebird - and these do not strictly conform to the original dance forms but are more contemporary adaptations of the same.

Minuet and Trio

The minuet and trio is another dance type of movement often inserted into later forms of the suite. The minuet originated in France and was one of the approved dances at the court of Louis XIV. It was a gracefu, stately dance, but as time went on Haydn and Mozart livened the whole thing up and in the hands of Beethoven the character changed so much that he eventually replaced it with an even faster movement called the scherzo.

Minuets were expanded to contain another short section within the piece called the trio. This comes as the middle section before a repetition of the original minuet. There are lovely examples of minuet and trios in Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and his Clarinet Quintet K.485, an actual interesting feature of the latter neing that Mozart actually incorporated two trio sections within the whole movement.


The word sonata literally means 'sounded' as opposed to sung. In the seventeenth and early part of the eighteenth centuries there were two varieties: the sonata da camera (chamber sonata) and the sonata da chiesa (church sonata). Both were written for string instruments with keyboard accompaniment, the difference being that the chamber type was based on a series of movements featuring dance rhythms while the church type was altogether more serious in character.

Without getting too technical, it all started to settle down at about the time of Mozart and Beethoven when the established composers decided on a four-movement work rather like the symphony: fast, slow, minuet or schero and finally a fast finale-type movement. Unlike symphonies, however, a sonata is usually played by one or two players.


A sonatina is usually either a short sonata or a lightweight, less developed piece in basically the same form.

Sonata Form

This is the term given to a basic 'blueprint' for composers to follow in order to give a structure to a single movement within a piece of their music. Later composers found this all a bit restrictive and went on to do their own thing. However, the composers in the seventeenth century were very keen on this idea and their works do more often than not stick to the rules of the sonata form.

The piece is split up into three basic sections: the exposition, the development and the recapitulation. AS in the first part of a play we are introduced to the main characters, in the exposition we hear the main tunes, quite often two (the first and second subjects) and this section will be linked by a short bridge passage to the development section in which the composer usually winds things up emotionally and develops the tunes (often to the point where we cannot recognize them) thereby creating tension and drama. The recapitulation is where it all calms down again, often repeating a lot of exposition with a few small changes. Quite often there is also a coda added at the end - a short passage to bring the piece to a close.

Theme and Variations

This is the form that has been commonly adopted by many composers whereby the initial theme is presented and then modified several times over, usually melodically, rhythmically and harmonically. Sometimes composers took a tune by someone else and did their own set of variations on that particular theme. For example, numerous composers have been inspired to write variations on Paganini's 24th Caprice, ranging from Rachmaninoff to Andrew Lloyd Webber.