A Guide to Movements in Music

Movements in Music Composition

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In music composition, a movement is a musical piece that can be performed on its own but is part of a larger composition. Movements can follow their own form, key, and mood, and often contain a complete resolution or ending. Complete musical works contain several movements, with three or four movements being the most common number of movements in a classical piece. Typically, each movement has its own name.

Sometimes, the movement's name is indicated by the tempo of the movement, but other times, composers will give each movement a unique name that speaks to the larger story of the entire work. 

Although many movements are written in a way that they can be performed independently of the larger work, some movements segue into the following movement, which is indicated in the score by an attacca. The performance of a complete musical work requires that all movements of the work are played in succession, usually with a brief pause between movements. 

Examples of Musical Movements

Movements are used in a composition for orchestral, solo, and chamber music works. Symphonies, ​concerts, and string quartets offer several examples of movements within a larger work.

Symphonic Example

Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C minor is a well-known composition in classical music that is performed regularly as a complete work.

Within the symphony there are four movements:

  • First Movement:  Allegro con brio
  • Second Movement: Andante con moto
  • Third Movement: Scherzo. Allegro
  • Fourth Movement: Allegro

Concerto Example

Jean Sibelius wrote his only Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47 in 1904 and it has since become a staple of the violin repertoire amongst performers and audiences alike.

Written in three movements, the concerto includes:

  • First Movement: Allegro moderato
  • Second Movement: Adagio di molto
  • Third Movement: Allegro ma non tanto

Chamber Music Example

Igor Stravinsky composed L'Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale) in collaboration with Swiss writer C. F. Ramuz. It is scored for a dancer and seven instruments with three speaking parts. The movements of L'Histoire du Soldat are an example of movements that have names within the larger work's story line, rather than their tempo. It also shows a work containing more than the traditional three or four movements, as it has nine movements: 

  • First Movement: The Soldier's March
  • Second Movement: Airs by a Stream
  • Third Movement: Pastorale
  • Fourth Movement: Royal March
  • Fifth Movement: The Little Concert
  • Sixth Movement: Three Dances: Tango - Waltz - Ragtime
  • Seventh Movement: Dance of the Devil
  • Eighth Movement: Grand Choral
  • Ninth Movement: Triumphal March of the Devil

Solo Music Example

An example of a solo piece with movements is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K 310/300d, written in 1778. The composition, which is typically performed in around 20 minutes or so, contains three movements:

  • First Movement: Allegro maestoso
  • Second Movement: Andante cantabile con espressione
  • Third Movement: Presto