The history of
Rondo, and its French equivalent rondeau, is a musical term that is used in two separate manners. Firstly it refers to a particular musical form; and secondly to a character-type or style of music.
The predecessor to the Rondo was the ritornello
which is derived from the Italian word meaning "to return" - this in reference to original theme which is "returned to" once or more times. This mechanism was used in the fast movements of baroque concertos whereby the entire orchestra plays the main ritornello theme (A), while soloists play the intervening sections (B, C, etc). A typical ritornello pattern would be something like ABACABA.
Rondo in G major op. 34 no.2 by Fernando Carulli performed by Jessica Kaiser and Jakob Schmidt
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In the later Rondo form the main theme became known as the "refrain" (A), and the intervening sections were referred to as "episodes" (B, C, etc). Patterns used included examples such as ABA, ABACA, or ABACADA. In the Classical and Romantic eras the Rondo form was often used for the final movements of sonatas, symphonies, concertos and pieces of chamber music.
In both the Ritornello and Rondo form the recurring theme was often embellished, shortened or altered in some way with a view to providing variation, thus avoiding an overly repetitive monotony.
Rondo K. 229 by Amadeus Mozart transcribed and performed by Charles Mokotoff
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As a character-type
As a rule of thumb, rondo as a character-type indicates music as fast, fun and vivacious. The music is often inspired by popular music or folk elements, and the mood is sometimes comparable to that of dance music. Generally music designated as "rondo" subscribes to both form and character, however there are slow and reflective works that are rondo in form but not in character. An example being Mozart's Rondo in A minor
Other Musical forms :
Mozart's Rondo in A minor K511
Alicia de Larrocha