In the theory of musical form, through-composed music is a continuous, non-sectional, and non-repetitive piece of music. The term is typically used to describe songs, but can also apply to instrumental music.[1]

While most musical forms such as ternary form (ABA), rondo form (ABACABA), and sonata form (ABA') rely on repetition, through-composed music does not re-use material (ABCD). This constant introduction of new material is most noticeable in musical settings of poems, in contrast to the often used strophic form (AAA). Through-composed songs have different music for each stanza of the lyrics. The German word durchkomponiert is also used to indicate this concept.[2]


Musicologist James Webster defines through-composed music in the following manner:

In general usage, a 'through-composed' work is one based on run-on movements without internal repetitions. (The distinction is especially characteristic of the literature of the art-song, where such works are contrasted with strophic settings.)[3]

Many examples of this form can be found in Schubert's lieder, in which the words of a poem are set to music, and each line is different. In his lied "Erlkönig", in which the setting proceeds to a different musical arrangement for each new stanza and whenever the piece comes to each character, the character portrays its own voice register and tonality. Another example within instrumental music is Haydn's 'Farewell Symphony'.[3]

Opera and musicals

The term "through-composed" is also applied to opera and musical theater to indicate a work that consists of an uninterrupted stream of music from beginning to end, as in the operas of Wagner. This stands in contrast to the practice, as for example occurs in Mozart's Italian- and German-language operas, of having a collection of songs interrupted by recitative or spoken dialogue.[4] Examples of the modern trend towards through-composed works in musical theater include the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Claude-Michel Schönberg. In musical theater, works with clear delineations between songs yet no spoken dialogue – such as Les Misérables or Hamilton – are usually instead referred to by the term "through-sung".

In popular music

While through-composed form is very uncommon in popular music, several notable examples do exist:


  1. ^ Randel, Don Michael (1999). The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music. United States of America: Belknap Press. p. 670. ISBN 0-674-00084-6.
  2. ^ Rumbold, Ian (2001), "Through-composed", Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.27904, ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0, retrieved 10 September 2022
  3. ^ a b Webster, James (2004). Haydn's 'Farewell' Symphony and the Idea of Classical Style: Through-Composition and Cyclic Integration in his Instrumental Music, p. 7. Cambridge Studies in Music Theory and Analysis. ISBN 978-0-521-61201-2.
  4. ^ Wright, Craig M. (2006). Music in western civilization. Thomson/Schirmer. ISBN 0-534-61962-2. OCLC 61286312.
  5. ^ Price, Andy (20 September 2022). "Radiohead's 10 Greatest Guitar Moments, Ranked". Guitar. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  6. ^ "Radiohead – "2 + 2 = 5" Sheet Music". Musicnotes. 10 November 2003. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  7. ^ Gehr, Richard (8 August 2014). "All 333 Phish Songs, Ranked". Spin. Retrieved 13 February 2023.