Minuet and Trio

graphic of minuet and trio
Last Updated on 2024-06-22 | Originally Posted on 2024-03-19


The minuet and trio is a structure that began in the early Baroque, though matured through the Classical and Romantic Eras. This structure is also called A-B-A, where the minuet played at the beginning is repeated at the end, with the trio in the middle. The minuet is a court dance from the early 17th century. However, why is the trio called a trio? I am now well-equipped at answering this question, if it ever comes along again.

Let’s Visit Versailles

Jean-Baptiste Lully, the 17th-century court composer for Louis XIV, is credited for popularizing the trio, according to Wikipedia. In orchestral settings, most or all of the players would play the minuet, whereas only three musicians would play the trio, hence the name. Lully typically used two oboes and a bassoon for this, but I couldn’t find any specific audio examples on YouTube.

Lully is also famous for how he died. Conductors used to bang a heavy stick on the floor versus waving a baton in the air. In a conducting accident, he missed and stabbed his foot. The gangrene that resulted caused his death. Click the image for more information.

A Minuet and a Minuet

German Baroque composers also employed this device of contrasting sections, but it sometimes involved two contrasting minuets. One of the most well-known example of this are these two minuets from the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook, written by Christian Petzold. They are often mistakenly attributed to J.S. Bach. In this case, you don’t have a reduction of instrumentation, like with Lully, but a contrast of keys. The first minuet, which is repeated at the end, is in G Major. The minuet in the middle is in G minor.

Staying Power

This musical form was so successful that it hit its peak in the Classical Era, and was still frequently used in the Romantic Era as well. It seemed fitting to use a ubiquitous piece by Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmüsik (A Little Night Music), to demonstrate this. This video analyzes the Minuet and Trio excerpted from the four-movement work. You can also enjoy this same quintet play the entire piece.

Plenty of Other Examples

You can find plenty of other examples of the Minuet and Trio in classical music: Hadyn String Quartets, Beethoven Sonatas, and Bruckner Symphonies, to name just several. It’s rare to find an element of music to make it from one era to the next, much less traverse three separate eras, spanning 200 years!

Final Thoughts

A great teacher learns from his students, or so goes the old expression. I may never have learned the origin of the trio if it hadn’t been for this curious student. It’s interesting how this musical structure flourished though it transformed quite a bit from the times of Lully to this third movement of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony from 1906.

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