In this lesson, you will learn about rondo form. You will find out about the parts of rondo form, how these parts are labeled and organized, and the definition of theme/refrain and episode.

Definition: Rondo Form

A form in music is the way a piece of music is organized. The form is determined by several factors, including changes of tonal center, when new musical material occurs, and when old musical materials are restated. When a composer chooses to compose a piece using a particular form, this helps him/her organize the music so listeners can have a good balance of music they recognize mixed with music they haven’t heard before.

Rondo form is a piece of music where the musical material stated at the beginning of the piece keeps returning. This opening music can be called either the theme or the refrain; they are the same thing. You can remember in a ‘rondo’ that the theme will keep coming back ‘around.’ Just like a white horse on a carousel, the theme of a rondo will keep coming around again.

The theme of a rondo will keep coming around, just like the white horse on this carousel.
Carousel

Between the statements of the theme, or refrain, there are episodes. An episode is musical material that is different from the theme.

The Parts of Rondo Form

As you just learned, there are two main parts to rondo form: first, there is the theme, or refrain, and second, there are the episodes. Let’s take a closer look at each of these parts of a rondo.

The theme, or refrain, of a rondo, our white horse on the carousel, is the first main melody or musical material that occurs in the piece. It will establish the tonal center of the piece, and the theme will most often be played in this same key. Since it is the first material you hear in the piece, you would label this part of the music as the A-section.

The episodes are usually identified by having a change in melody, a change in musical character, or change in tonal center from the theme. If we think back to our carousel, this could be a different animal other than our white horse, such as a giraffe. We would label the first episode as the B-section. For each different episode that occurs in the music, or animal on the carousel, we would use a different label for each section, such as ‘C,’ ‘D,’ and so on.

Order of Sections

Now that we know how to label the sections of a rondo form, we can determine their order. In the rondo form, the theme or A-section, will keep returning after every episode. So, one example of rondo form would be ABACA. On our carousel, this would look like a white horse, giraffe, white horse, lion, white horse. The theme, or A-section, will always return after every episode.

The white horse of the carousel is the theme and will keep returning after every different animal.
rondo animals

Rondo forms can vary in length and can sometimes be quite long depending on how many sections there are. ABACA and ABABA are examples of 5-part rondo forms because they have a total of five sections. ABACABA and ABACADA are examples of 7-part rondo forms. While rondo forms can vary in length, the theme ‘A’ will always return after every episode regardless of how many sections there are.

Example

Let’s look at the musical example of ‘Fur Elise’ by Beethoven. Each line of music is the beginning of a separate section in the piece. If you compare the music from each of the A-sections, you’ll find that it is the same or very similar each time it is stated. In between the A-sections are the episodes labeled B and C. The piece is a 5-part rondo with a form of ABACA.

Fur Elise
Rondo form

Lesson Summary

In rondo form, the main theme, or refrain, keeps coming around. The theme returns after each episode of different music. Rondos can vary in length, having five, seven, or more sections, but the theme will always keep returning after every different section.

Learning Outcomes

After this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define form in music and theme
  • Describe rondo form
  • Identify an example of rondo form in music