Minuet form

Formal containers in the classical minuet A classical minuet movement typically contains a main minuet , followed by a trio that is very…

Formal containers in the classical minuet

A classical minuet movement typically contains a main minuet, followed by a trio that is very similar in structure with a minuet, followed by a da capo repeat of the main minuet (usually performed without taking the repeats). The movement, then, has a large-scale ABA’ form: minuet–trio–minuet da capo.

Both the main minuet and the trio tend to be small ternary structures. Like the minuet/trio movement, the small ternary form follows an ABA’ structure. However, the small ternary structure found in the typical minuet is of the rounded binary type. That is, while there are three distinct parts—A, B, and A’—they are grouped into two larger sections, each of which is repeated.

The first part in the two-part structure is the first reprise, and the second part is the second reprise, so called because they each repeat. The first reprise contains the A section of the minuet; the second contains the B and the A’ sections.

||: A :||: B A’ :||

When listening to the minuet, the three parts of the small ternary structure are heard in the order:

A A B A’ B A’

Thus, the minuet form has properties both of ternary or three-part form (three distinct sections: A, B, A’) and binary or two-part form (two reprises).

Formal functions in the classical minuet

Each container in the minuet’s (or the trio’s) small ternary form has its own formal function attached to it. The formal function exhibited in the A section is called exposition function; the B section contrasting middle function; and the A’ section recapitulation function. As with all formal functions, each of these functions have internal characteristics that define and identify it as well as a position within the larger formal structure that define it.


The definitive internal characteristics of exposition function are the presence of a characteristic melodic theme that will define and identify the minuet, the establishment of the home key, and movement toward a secondary key. The characteristic melodic theme is typically a period or hybrid 1 (antecedent + continuation), though it may also be a sentence or another hybrid type. In a typical exposition containing a period or hybrid 1, the home key is established by a cadence in the home key—usually a I:HC—at the end of the antecedent phrase. (A sentence would establish the home key through tonic prolongation in the presentation phrase.) Movement toward a secondary key takes place in a continuation or consequent phrase, ending almost always with a V:PAC (when coming from a major home key) or a III:PAC (minor home key). A modulating Prinner schema is often used in a continuation phrase modulating to V. Harmonic sequences are also common means of moving to the new key.

Major-key exposition:
phrase 1: Antecedent → I:HC
phrase 2: Consequent/continuation → V:PAC

Minor-key exposition:
phrase 1: Antecedent → I:HC
phrase 2: Consequent/continuation → III:PAC

The definitive position of exposition function is at the beginning of a small ternary form (A section, beginning of the minuet or beginning of the trio). When a minuet or trio begins, expect the above internal characteristics to be present, and listen for any deviations from those norms.

When listening to a minuet to identify whether or not a passage exhibits exhibition function, first keep in mind simply that minuets rarely begin with a function other than exposition. If you are listening to a passage without knowing where the passage occurs in the movement, listen for a single tight-knit theme that ends with a V:PAC or III:PAC. If you are unsure about the modulation, use the repeat of the A secion to determine whether the A section begins in the same key in which it ends. Classical minuets are highly conventional forms, and there are rarely exposition modulations other than I-to-V in major or I-to-III in minor.

Contrasting middle

The definitive internal characteristics of contrasting middle function are a return to the home key culminating in a I:HC or a dominant arrival in the home key, and a likely looser-knit structure than found in exposition or recapitulation functions. The return to the home key is often, though not always, accomplished by a Fonte, Monte, or Ponte schema, or some combination of those schemas, beginning immediately after the end of the A section/first reprise. Tighter-knit B sections are almost always sentences, beginning with a two-bar basic idea that is repeated a step higher (Monte) or a step lower (Fonte).

The definitive position of contrasting middle function is immediately following exposition function at the beginning of the second reprise (B section in a small ternary). If you lose track of the boundary between the A and B sections, listen for the repeat of the second reprise, which will go back to the beginning of the B section.


The definitive internal characteristics of recapitulation function are the return of the basic idea from the A section at the beginning of the recapitulation, the return of the home key at the beginning of the recapitulation, and a final cadence in the home key—I:PAC. In a typical small ternary, the antecedent phrases that open A and A’ are identical or nearly so. If a modulating Prinner was used in the A section’s continuation phrase to modulate to V, a non-modulating Prinner will be used in the A’ section’s continuation phrase to prepare the final I:PAC.

The definitive position of recapitulation function is at the end of the second reprise, immediately following contrasting middle function (and preceding the repeat of the contrasting middle function when the entire second reprise is repeated).

Minuet form
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