Clare Redfarn – Musical Composition Structure – AllExperts.com

August 23, 2014

 Expert: – 8/15/2004
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Question
Hello, I was wondering if you would help me.  I have just one small question.  I was wondering if you knew what the largest musical composition is?  Not a specific work but structure wise.  Like a concerto I believe has three movements and a symphony 4.  I was wondering if is a form with more than a symphony.
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Thank you for your time,
Bryan
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Answer
Hello Bryan,
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The earliest function of instrumental music was to accompany dancing and singing – music for pure enjoyment rather than pious worship, which is why the early church tried unsuccessfully to ban the use of instruments.  By the early 16th century dance music was no longer improvised, but formed a considerable part of the instrumental repertoire along with compositions derived from vocal models.  Dances were frequently paired – a slow, stately dance in duple time followed by a sprightly dance in triple time based on the same tune and therefore a variation of the first – and the most common pairings became the pavane and galliard, and the passamezzo and saltarello.
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With the rise of virtuosity on lute and keyboard, dance music became detached from its original purpose and developed into stylised pieces which retained the characteristics and general outlines of individual dances but were no longer intended to accompany actual dancing.  The Baroque period saw a huge wealth of instrumental music, particularly keyboard music, in which the suite came to play an important part.  By the 18th century there were two distinct types of suites: those written by the French clavicinists were a collection of up to 20+ miniature pieces, some of which might be recognisable as a dance form, in no apparent order and frequently with fanciful titles.  All other nationalities followed the German pattern in which there were four core dances which were always included and always in the same order: allemand, courante/corrente (which weren’t the same dance), sarabande and gigue.  Following the sarabande you might find bourees (which always came in pairs – you performed 1 then 2 then 1 again), minuets (ditto), less common dances such as loures, passepieds etc, and the whole suite might commence with a quasi-improvised prelude.  One of Handel’s keyboard suites ends with a theme and variations.
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So if we’re thinking in terms of size = greatest number of movements, then the prizewinner has to be the suite.  However, there’s no comparison between the formal structure and complexity of the movements of a suite compared to the movements of a concerto, for example.  By the way, the solo concerto only ever had three movements but only the Classical symphony had four (fast-slow-minuet/scherzo-rondo) – Romantic composers soon dropped the light-hearted movement and only have three.
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Hope this helps.  
http://en.allexperts.com/q/Musical-Composition-Theory-652/Musical-Form-Composition.htm