Musical form can be conceptualized in two basic ways, temporally or spatially. The temporal approach conceives of form diachronically, as a series of events that unfold through time, whereas the spatial approach conceives of form synchronically, as a synoptic design in which the relationship of the individual parts to the whole is apparent at once. These two modes are interdependent and by no means mutually exclusively. Indeed, virtually every account of musical form——either in the abstract or as applied to a specific work——draws on both concepts to varying degrees. Narrative accounts that relate a series of events often rely on spatial imagery, and the formal diagrams that are a standard feature of analytical discourse nowadays almost invariably reflect the progression of music through time.
Not until 1825, however, did any critic or theorist attempt to represent musical form in an essentially spatial, synoptic manner. Antoine Reicha's diagrams of binary, ternary, and rondo forms in his Traitéé de haute composition musicale, moreover, found little resonance among his contemporaries. Even the simplest formal diagrams would remain a rarity for another seventy-five years and would not become a standard element of theoretical accounts of form until the early twentieth century. Spatial representations of form were slow to emerge and gain acceptance, at least in part because of a broader reluctance to accept the premise of depicting linear time in two-dimensional space.
- ©© 2010 by the Virginia Allan Detloff Library, C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco