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Rondo, and its French equivalent rondeau, is a word that has been used in music in a number of ways, most often in reference to a musical form, but also in reference to a character-type that is distinct from the form. Although now called rondo form, the form started off in the Baroque period as the ritornello form, coming from the Italian word ritornare meaning "to return", indicating the return to the original theme or motif ("A"). The typical Baroque rondo pattern is ABACABA. Although consisting of a few differences, some people use the two terms interchangeably.

In rondo form, a principal theme (sometimes called the "refrain") alternates with one or more contrasting themes, generally called "episodes," but also occasionally referred to as "digressions," or "couplets". Possible patterns in the Classical Period include: ABA, ABACA, or ABACAD'A. The number of themes can vary from piece to piece, and the recurring element is sometimes embellished or shortened in order to provide for variation.

The form began to be commonly used from the classical music era, though it can be found in earlier works. In the Classical and Romantic periods it was often used for the last movement of a sonata, symphony, concerto or piece of chamber music.

Rondo was often used by baroque composers to write Ritornello rondos. They were used in the fast movements of baroque concertos and contrast the whole orchestra (who play the main theme) against soloists (who play the episodes.) But Ritornello does differ slightly from other Rondos in that the theme is often different when it recurs but is always distinguishable as the same theme.

A common expansion of rondo form is to combine it with sonata form, to create the sonata rondo form. Here, the second theme acts in a similar way to the second theme group in sonata form by appearing first in a key other than the tonic and later being repeated in the tonic key. Unlike sonata form, thematic development does not need to occur except possibly in the coda.

Rondo as a character-type (as distinct from the form) refers to music that is fast and vivacious—normally allegro. Many classical rondos feature music of a popular or folk character. Music that has been designated as "rondo" normally subscribes to both the form and character. On the other hand, there are many examples of slow and reflective works that are rondo in form but not in character. They include Mozart's Rondo in A minor k511. Composers such as George Gershwin normally do not identify such works as "rondo".

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

In music a Rondo is a piece of music which has one main theme, which is heard several times, and other musical ideas in between each time. If we give the main theme a label "A" and the other musical ideas "B", "C", "D" etc then the form of a rondo can be described as ABACADA. The sections in between the main "A" section are called "episodes". Rondos can vary in length, e.g. a rondo might be ABACADAEAFA. Each episode is normally in a different key from the main key.

The word "rondo" is sometimes given the French spelling:rondeau.

Composers from the Baroque period onwards often write movements which are in rondo form. In the Classical music period the last movement of a symphony or sonata is very often a rondo. Rondos are normally fast and lively. They are a good way of finishing a long piece of music with something that is happy.

The word "rondo" is related to the word "ritornello" meaning: something that keeps returning.

Rondo form is sometimes combined with sonata form to make something which is called "sonata rondo form". In sonata rondo form the second tune is treated like the second subject in sonata form where it comes back in the main key the second time.


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