IV. Binary Forms

Binary form -- A tonally closed musical entity in two sections, both of which are usually repeated.

"Tonally closed" means "beginning and ending in the tonic, exhibiting melodic and harmonic closure."

The two sections are referred to as reprises.

We classify binary forms according to their tonal form (their harmonic shape) and their surface design (the patterns of melodic repetition that occur in the music).

Tonal form -- Sectional or Continuous?

If the first reprise ends with a perfect authentic cadence in the tonic key, the design is referred to as a sectional binary.

If the first reprise ends with any other kind of cadence, the design is referred to as a continuous binary.

Surface design -- Simple or Rounded?

If the second reprise concludes with a return of the opening material from the first reprise, the design is referred to as a rounded binary. In such cases, the beginning of the second reprise is called the bridge, and will lead to a half cadence in the tonic.

If the second reprise lacks such a return of the opening material, it is a simple binary.

The interaction of motivic design and tonal form

Sectional binaries can be either simple or rounded, as can continuous binaries. As a result, there are four basic kinds of binary form: simple sectional, simple continuous, rounded sectional and rounded continuous.

Tonal Form

Surface Design

Sectional

Simple

Sectional

Rounded

Continuous

Simple

Continuous

Rounded

Special examples of binary form

Quatrain form

One common type of rounded binary design consists of four phrases, two in each reprise. Motivically they relate to one another as |aa|ba|. This type of rounded binary design is called a quatrain. In a continuous rounded binary form in quatrain design, the first reprise will often end with a PAC in the dominant; the bridge will lead to another cadence on the dominant, this one a half cadence in I. It is important to hear the latter as a kind of answer to the challenge of the former, reasserting the dominant's role as a triad in the tonic key rather than as a new tonic in its own right.

Balanced Binary

In some simple continuous binary forms, there is a kind of "rhyme" between the closing gesture of the first reprise and the closing gesture of the second. In other words, the cadential material at the end of the first reprise (in the key of the dominant) will return, transposed to the tonic, at the end of the second reprise.

Examples from the Literature

Look these up in your Burkhart Anthology. Then find and analyze other examples of binary form in the anthology.

Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, March in D (p. 71)

A balanced binary, and thus also a continuous binary. Note the trumpet-like fanfare figure at the end of each reprise, on V in mm. 8-9 and on I in mm. 21-22.

Bach, Gavotte I from English Suite No. 3 in G minor, BWV 808 (p. 95)

A good example of a simple continuous binary in a minor key, modulating to III at the end of its first reprise and spending most of its second reprise regaining the tonic.

Mozart, Tema from Sonata in D major, K. 284 (p. 177)

A continuous rounded binary, also a quatrain.

Gershwin, I Got Rhythm (mm. 29-62) (p. 543)

A good example of a twentieth-century binary form, one of the most famous. The opening verse ("Days can be sunny . . . ") is omitted when the song is performed by jazz musicians, as is the two-measure phrase extension at the end of the second reprise. Typical of pop music binaries, there is a written-out repeat of the first reprise and no repeat of the second reprise, which consists of a bridge ("Old Man Trouble . . ") and a restatement of the first reprise melody. The song is a sectional rounded binary.

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