Form as classification: an exploration of musical form as a knowledge organization system


  • Deborah Lee University College London



KO has a significant and intriguing relationship with domain knowledge. This paper proposes that a structure which is central to the domain of music could be considered to be a type of KOS: musical form. Musical form is the term used to describe the organization and structure of a musical work, and this paper will focus on musical form within Western art music. First, the study will consider how KOSs are defined, and will use definitions of KOSs from sources by Mazzocchi (2018), Zeng (2008) and Hodge (2000), to draw out eight possible criteria by which something can be considered to be a KOS. Then, the paper will determine how musical form relates to these criteria, utilizing the example of sonata form for illustration. The discussion opens up intriguing debates about the nature of music information, including the interrelationships between music practice, music retrieval and musical form. Valuable questions arise about the nature of KOSs more generally, such as whether KOSs can be non-textual. Importantly, the analysis of musical form highlights the vital temporal element of musical-form-as-a-KOS, and asks whether we can perceive a KOS which describes the organization of material within a temporal, as opposed to a primarily spatial, plane. The paper culminates in a model of musical-form-as-a-KOS and commentary on its potential position in KOSs of KOSs. This paper offers a useful addition to music KO discourse and introduces a novel approach to the study of KOSs. Musical form is a relatively undiscussed area of musical classification, especially in comparison to genre. Furthermore, the findings could potentially be applied to form in other domains too, such as literature. Ultimately, this paper serves to expand our understanding of exactly what is a KOS.