Slow movement (music)

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A slow movement is a form in a multi-movement musical piece. Generally, the second movement of a piece will be written as a slow movement, although composers occasionally write other movements as a slow movement as well. The tempo of a slow movement can vary from largo to andante.


The general layout of a four-movement piece is as follows:

  1. A fast movement, written in sonata form
  2. A slow movement
  3. A minuet or scherzo
  4. A faster movement, usually a rondo

However, composers sometimes remove, add or re-arrange movements, such as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which begins with the slow movement. When a piece has additional movements, they may also be written as a slow movement.


A slow movement is usually written in one of three forms: compound or "large" ternary, sonata form without development, and theme and variations.

Large ternary[edit]

Large ternary is the most common form used for a slow movement. It consists of three parts, labeled ABA. The first and third part are almost identical, whereas the middle part is contrasting. If the starting key is a major key, the middle part is typically written in a minor key; if the starting key is a minor key, the middle part is typically written in a major key. The keys do not have to have the same tonic. If the middle part is written in a major key, it is often labeled Maggiore. If it is written in a minor key, then it is labeled Minore. The final part is always a return of the first part, but frequently has additional ornaments and small phrases added on.

Sonata without development[edit]

Sonata without development is, as its name suggests, a variant of sonata form where the development is removed, leaving only the exposition and recapitulation. Often, the recapitulation is truncated.

Theme and variations[edit]

Theme and variations form starts with a theme, followed by multiple variations. This theme is usually eight to thirty-two bars in length, and may be constructed as a musical sentence, period, or small ternary. Each variation is a recurrence of the theme with melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and ornamental changes.

Theme and variations sometimes contain one "minore" variation. This variation will have a contrasting tonality, and may be different in form from the theme.

Theme and variations may also have a coda to finalize the piece. It may bring back the original theme with little or no changes, in order to create symmetry.


  • Caplin, W. E. (1998). Slow Movement Forms. Classical form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514399-7

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