Typical Parts of a Symphony

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A symphony is a long composition for orchestra, usually with three or four movements or sections, which differ in style, mood and tempo or the speed or music pace. Symphonies became popular in Europe during the 17th century. Early symphonies were often in a three-movement form, which consisted of a fast first movement, a slow middle movement and a fast final movement. However, since the late 18th century, the four-movement symphony has became the typical form. Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, who composed more than 100 symphonies, is considered the father of the four-movement symphony.

First Movement

  • The first movement of a symphony is often an allegro or opening sonata. An allegro, which is "merry" in Italian, is a quick, lively and bright piece of music. In music theory, an allegro can vary in style. For instance, an Allegro agitato and an Allegro con molto spirito sound completely different from an Allegro tranquillo, which is more restful. Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor starts with an Allegro con brio, which means "with vigor." This first movement is considered one of the most famous and performed pieces of classical music.

Second Movement

  • The second movement of a symphony is slower than the first movement. It is often an adagio, which is Italian for "slowly," or an andante, which literally means "moving along in a walking pace." The second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is an Andante con moto, which means "with movement and certain quickness." In Brahms Symphony No. 2, the second movement is an Adagio non troppo, which is performed in a more-moderate way than an Addagio molto, for instance.

Third Movement

  • In a symphony, the third movement often consists of a main allegro or scherzo, which is a swift-moving piece of music; a trio section, which is a composition for three instruments or voices; a return of the scherzo; and a coda, which is Italian for "tail" and simply represents the end of the the third movement. In Haydn's Symphony No. 94, also known as the Surprise Symphony, the third movement has an Allegro molto, which means "very quickly," while the third movement in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 contains a scherzo.

Fourth Movement

  • THe finale or fourth movement of a symphony is generally an allegro. The finale is generally played in a triumphant and exhilarating way. In some cases, such as in Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, it begins immediately after the third movement, without interruption. Kettledrums, also called timpani, are percussion instruments very much present in the fourth movement of a symphony, including Haydn's famous Symphony No. 94, which has a rhythmic and energetic finale.

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