Form in music

Hi All,

I'm on my never ending quest to make living classical music more popular, so...

I know I can create works that are equal in complexity, diversity and aurally enjoyable by writing everything in free form or a simple form like ABA. Is the sonata, fugue, cantata, mass and other complex forms more interesting because of their form over free form music?



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  • The most important question here is, who is your audience?

    If your audience is classical music fans, then complex forms will draw their interest, because they come expecting forms of that nature. They have already heard enough ABA forms and if that's all you can offer them, then you've lost one level of interest with them.  If you present a more complex form, you may draw their interest more.

    If, however, your audience is an average casual listener with a short attention span, then complex forms will likely quickly lose them. ABA forms will more likely be the appropriate choice here.

    Can the two be reconciled?  Maybe... but it will be harder. Much harder.

  • There are probably as many opinions on this as there are composers. For my own part, I think most classical forms are outdated and sound outdated. 

    • There's still composers writing symphonies and sonatas, but they are in the minority. Most composers are not writing multi-movement form. As a reviewer, I'm finding that classical music literacy from a lot of people today is basically nil. This is evidenced by the number of concerts I go to and hear people clapping after every movement, thinking that a piece is over, even during standard symphonic repertoire.

      So much of the literature on classical is written on form and it's analysis. But, thoses days are over. I love music, not forms or styles. 

  • No doubt there's a large audience that finds fashion and pop boring and turns to "classical" music and a preponderance of those will gravitate toward music with classical forms. It's how they've been brought up. Even popular music usually has an ABA or ABABA form - verse and chorus. Unfortunately a smaller number have got bored with this musical museum and turn to more engaging work - often through-composed, perhaps even formless (as my stuff is getting). For us in this bracket we face a small audience. We're the ones who accept nature in all its forms rather than glossy-brochure nature; we'll go for films that need multiple viewings because there's something unusual about them - no linear story, no situational / liminal spaces that we can recognise from real life (which let's face it, for many is banal). We sense each viewing will bring new experiences. 

    The only way - or perhaps hope - of broadening minds tending toward music is to put it out there wherever possible. Join musical appreciation groups, ask if they can fit in 5 minutes of our own compositions. The audience may balk but one or two of its members might feel refreshed and ready to give some thought to it. I'm going to a session this afternoon and have a slot to play my most recent piece. Whether it's rejected or not remains to be seen. At least I've tried to make it accessible; it isn't just an egotistical splatter of noises on a canvas of time! I recognise that if I have something to communicate I have to give a listener enough means to decode it. There is an awful lot of rubbish out there parading as "modern" or contemporary music, often because its author hasn't a clue of what they've composed. But there is also much that's been properly considered with the semiotics of music in mind.



    • Yes, the majority of people attending a classical music concert are "serious" music lovers. Serious music means compositions in multi-movements with repeating section that develop. I honestly don't think we've lost anything by moving away from form in music. Of course, most music will have a form of some sort, but for me, the days of the fugue are over.

      • My piece went down well enough. I didn't see too much unease. I didn't expect the leader to declare it was me, there, responsible whereupon there was some polite applause and one of the group came up afterwards with some very complementary remarks and asked if I'd do him a copy. In a way, that makes it all worth it!


        • That's great Dane, you're getting out there and getting some recognition. I'm comfortable sitting here in my ivory tower hurling insults at the masses but you're out on the front lines making a difference. There's a saying, an exaggeration I expect but still, "if you can please one person out of a hundred you can fill stadiums around the world with your followers."


          • Ha!

            Kind of you to say so, Ingo, alas I'm still in the queue for a slot if there is one. As you say it may make a difference even a tiny one but we try. Not every pseudo-performance has been well received either. I was hoping for a slot at the Brighton Festival this May but got turned down. Contemporary music is given short shrift there and I've hurled a few insults, I can tell you. It hasn't helped being a white male hetero in Brighton. Maybe if I'd wrapped my application in a rainbow flag I'd have got the nod... a detail I overlooked.

            Pre-pandemic I worked with a modern dance troupe and that would have got the ok but sadly it has never fully reformed after the pandemic. Partly to do with the "cost of living crunch" in the UK right now. One has hopes for the future though.

            Thanks muchly all the same!

  • We've heard a lot from you (some interesting contributions, certainly) on your musical theories -- perhaps it's time to post something you've written to illustrate your beliefs?

    • Hi David,

      Well, I've been composing for 50 years. Just on Bandcmp I have 41 albums. Not all is post-classical, but a lot is. I have so much music that I composed pre-computers and a hell of a lot I did on an Atari, which I can't access now whith buying another Atari.

      So, for those that are interested, here's my Bandcamp site.

      Thanks for asking, David.

      Rob J Kennedy
      Bob Marley said, "One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain" Rob is an Australian composer and arts writer. He loves jazz, and…
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