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Classical Form

A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven

William E. Caplin

Publication Date - December 2000

ISBN: 9780195143997

320 pages
8-1/2 x 11 inches

In Stock


Building on ideas first advanced by Arnold Schoenberg and later developed by Erwin Ratz, this book introduces a new theory of form for instrumental music in the classical style. The theory provides a broad set of principles and a comprehensive methodology for the analysis of classical form, from individual ideas, phrases, and themes to the large-scale organization of complete movements. It emphasizes the notion of formal function, that is, the specific role a given formal unit plays in the structural organization of a classical work.


  • Introduces a new theory of form for instrumental music in the classical style


"This ambitious book offers nothing less than a new theory of form for the music of the Classical period....In its combination of scholarship, musicality and sheer common sense, Caplan's Classical Form is a major achievement by any standards....it should be read by anybody who teaches, studies or writes about this music."--Music and Letters

"His book is an important and impressive statement that no theorist or musicologist can afford to ignore."--Music Theory Spectrum

"A compilation of intriguing examples illustrating classical design and function, an up-to-date bibliographical guide, and a source of fresh insight into the accomplishments of the classical masters. Caplin's approach, buttressed by methodological rigor and theoretical detail, makes a persuasive case for the revival of Formenlehre as a pedagogical tool and analytical discipline."--Music Theory Online

"Caplin draws his Beethoven examples from all genres...the fortepiano sonatas are particularly well-represented."--The Beethoven Journal

Table of Contents

    Part I. Preliminaries
    1. Some Basic Formal Functions: An Overview
    2. Fundamental Progressions of Harmony
    Part II. Tight-Knit Themes
    3. Sentence
    4. Period
    5. Hybrid Themes and Compound Themes
    6. Small Ternary
    7. Small Binary
    Part III. Looser Formal Regions
    8. Subordinate Theme
    9. Transistion
    10. Development
    11. Recapitulation
    12. Coda
    Part IV. Full-Movement Forms
    13. Sonata Form
    14. Slow-Movement Forms
    15. Minuet/Trio Form
    16. Rondo Forms
    17. Concerto Form
    Glossary of Terms
    Index of Classical Compositions
    General Index