Bar form (German: ''die Barform'' or ''der Bar'') is a musical form of the pattern AAB.
The term comes from the rigorous terminology of the Meistersinger
guilds of the 15th to 18th century who used it to refer to their songs and the songs of the predecessors, the minnesingers
of the 12th to 14th century. In their work, a ''Bar'' is not a single stanza (which they called a ''Liet'' or ''Gesätz''); rather, it is the whole song. The word ''Bar'' is most likely a shortening of ''Barat'', denoting a skillful thrust in fencing. The term was used to refer to a particularly artful song – the type one composes in songwriters' guilds.
The AAB pattern does, however, describe each stanza in a Meistersinger's ''Bar'', which is divided into two ''Stollen'' (A), which are collectively termed the ''Aufgesang'', followed by an ''Abgesang''. The musical form thus contains two repetitions of one melody (''Stollen'' – 'stanzas') followed by a different melody (''Abgesang'' – 'aftersong'). One such tune (''Ton'' in Meistersinger terminology) by Hans Folz
(c1437–1513) illustrates this:
Note that the B section is not necessarily the same length as each A section. The B section can also incorporate parts of the A section's phrase: in the above example, the final 14 notes of the B section match the final 14 notes of each A section (see also Rundkanzone
). In this example, the 17 never-repeated notes starting the B section would have been called a ''Steg'' by the Meistersingers: literally, "
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"; whence comes the term for a contrasting section in popular music.
Wilhelm Richard Wagner ( ; ; 22 May 181313 February 1883) was a German composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is chiefly known for his operas (or, as some of his mature works were later known, "music dramas"). Unlike most o ...
in act III of his opera
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
(; "The Master-Singers of Nuremberg"), WWV 96, is a music drama, or opera, in three acts, by Richard Wagner. It is the longest opera commonly performed, taking nearly four and a half hours, not counting two breaks between acts, and is traditi ...
, used the word ''Bar'' incorrectly as referring to a stanza of the prize song. This was based on his misreading of Wagenseil. In addition, Bach's famous biographer Spitta in his monumental 1873–80 biography
, emphasized the role of Lutheran chorales, almost all of which are in AAB form, in what he considered the most mature of Bach's cantatas. Composer
Johannes Brahms (; 7 May 1833 – 3 April 1897) was a German composer, pianist, and conductor of the mid- Romantic period. Born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, he spent much of his professional life in Vienna. He is sometimes grouped wit ...
claimed the AAB form of the chorale " Jesu, meine Freude
" generates larger formal structures in Bach's motet of the same name
. Subsequent popularity and study of the use of AAB stanzas in Bach's and Wagner's works has led to wide adoption of the term ''Bar form'' for any song or larger musical form that can be rationalized to a three part AAB form with the first part repeating.
Such AAB forms may be found in works ranging from Lutheran chorales
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"The Star-Spangled Banner" is the national anthem of the United States. The lyrics come from the "Defence of Fort M'Henry", a poem written on September 14, 1814, by 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key after witnessing the ...
" to songs by Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms. Bartok made use of the Bar form in the 20th Century, and most
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follow the pattern "A1
The German musicologist Alfred Lorenz, in his studies of Wagner, abstracted the concept of barform to include anything resembling an AAB structure at any level of scale:
"The essence of the Bar does not reside in the actual length, but in the distribution of its powers. Whether the Bar occupies 3 measures or 1,000 is irrelevant; it is always a regular Bar if tsessence is fulfilled: a double appearance as against a single balancing occurrence of equal weight."
[Alfred Lorenz, Das Geheimnis der Form bei Richard Wagner, vol. 1 (Berlin: Max Hesse, 1924-1933. Reprint, Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1966): 145, quoted and translated by Stephen McClatchie, Analyzing Wagners Operas: Alfred Lorenz and German Nationalist Ideology (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 1998): 130-131]
Lorenz argues that this short-short-long structuring principle occurring at multiple scales at once gives Wagner's music its feeling of ever-present forward momentum.
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, traditionally in AAB form (strophe, antistrophe, epode)
Ternary form, sometimes called song form, is a three-part musical form consisting of an opening section (A), a following section (B) and then a repetition of the first section (A). It is usually schematized as A–B–A. Prominent examples includ ...
* ''Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music'', entries on Bar form and minnesingers. ()
* ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' (2005), article on Bar form
* ''A History of Western Music'' by Donald Grout ()