Books, Music

The “Fairy Tale” Genre in Music


“After everyone had left the house, Cinderella went out to her mother’s grave under the hazel tree, and cried: ‘Shiver and shake, dear little tree, gold and silver shower on me.’ Then the bird threw down to her a gold and silver robe and a pair of slippers embroidered with silk and silver…

On the second day, when the festival was renewed and her parents and stepsisters had started forth again, Cinderella went to the hazel tree and said: ‘Shiver and shake, dear little tree, gold and silver shower on me.’  Then the bird threw down a still more gorgeous robe than on the previous day…

On the third day, when her parents and sisters had started, Cinderella went again to her mother’s grave and said: ‘Shiver and shake, dear little tree, gold and silver shower on me.’ Then the bird threw down a dress which was so magnificent that no one had ever seen the like before, and the slippers were entirely of gold.”


Fairy tales often include these types of three-fold repetitions.  Something will happen, it will have an effect, and then the same thing (or a very similar thing) will happen again and so forth.

But rondo form in classical music works in a very similar way.  The music features a certain section of music that keeps returning throughout the piece.  If you’re trying to imagine a story for the music, this could be confusing–after all, books don’t tend to repeat the same thing over and over.

But fairy tales do.  So we can consider that a rondo may be telling a fairy tale of some sort (that’s one listening option, at least).  Of course, the type of repetition in rondos isn’t exactly the same as in fairy tales, but the similarities are still pretty clear.

Interestingly enough, the rondo was most popular among composers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries…around the same time the Grimm brothers were collecting their fairy tales in order to preserve the traditions of the pre-industrialized world.  Coincidence?

Maybe, maybe not.  The rondo did start to become popular before the Grimm brothers collected these stories.  But what if the rondo stayed popular longer because of the presence of fairy tales? Or what if the Grimm brothers were, in a way, influenced by the music to desire that type of story? Was there something in that specific time period that made such repetition in either literary or musical form desirable to readers and listeners?

Who knows.  While this is all conjectural and would require a lot of research to come close to finding an answer, it’s still pretty cool to think about!


Rondo example:

Do you think there could be a link between fairy tales and rondos? Do you think a fairy tale is a good story map for a rondo?


If you liked this post, you might also enjoy: High Schoolers Tackle The Great Gatsby With Classical Music, Bilbo Baggins in Rapunzel’s Tower (And Other Rapunzel Character Swaps), and In Medias Res in Music.  

You can also follow me on Twitter here.


51 thoughts on “The “Fairy Tale” Genre in Music”

  1. As someone who received her 6th year degree in Oral Traditions, I loved this post! I am sure that Grimm’s tales were directly influenced by the music of the time as well as the notion of “three” as a central mark in both music and stories. Additionally, the notion of ‘three’ is also very prevalent in the Bible, which again influenced many thinkers over the centuries. Thanks for igniting the story fire again in me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! That sounds like such an amazing degree. I wrote a paper a couple of years ago on how oral traditions are present in all music, so I got a small taste of that kind of thing and loved it! Thanks for commenting and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, it was a great program. It was located at the Graduate Institute in Bethany, CT. They no longer offer that program, so I’m glad that I was able to do it while they still had it. We read and learned quite a bit about fairy tales from Connie Rockman, a children’s librarian and Caldecott judge. The program was developed by John Foley; he wrote a very extensive book on Oral Traditions…not light reading, that’s for sure! Looking forward to reading more of your posts…hope you get a chance to read my blog. xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This is very interesting!! Apparently I’ve always been into ‘rondo type’ of narrative. I like how hypnotic some can be. I didn’t realize what they were called until now. Thanks for sharing! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A delightful read. Loved the slip into musical ecstasy. Thank you so much for today’s most enjoyable read for me.

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    Liked by 1 person

  4. I know nothing about music but know the fairytales. We have to remember your music commentary / interpretations maybe linked just to ..European fairytales. We have the rest of the world, different cultures where European classical music could be overlaid on some non-European tales.

    I am Canadian born and only know best Grimm’s fairytales. But only learned of other folk tales, legends outside of Europe later as an adult.

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  5. What an intelligent connection! I’ve never made it before, but I can definitely see what you mean.

    I have often thought that fairytales, in general, are a little more poetic than most other types of stories. Just look at Hans Christian Anderson’s work. All of his stories are loaded with gorgeous imagery.

    I have also thought about the striking similarity between poems and music, so I guess the extension can be easily be made from fairytales > poetry > music.

    Love this post! Thanks for dropping some insight on the blogosphere!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Have you ever considered the sonata-allegro form as analogous to the hero cycle?

    Exposition: The hero sets out
    Development: The hero encounters challenges and dangers
    Recapitulation: The hero returns, but somewhat changed because his encounters have made him grow as a person and as a man.

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  7. This is such a great post! The intersection of fairy tales and music is fascinating; as you say, so many fairy tales rely on that type of refrain. I recently took a class on German fairy tales, specifically the collected works of the Grimm brothers, and worked on a project about The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes (or The Twelve Dancing Princesses). We analyzed the presence of dance and music in that tale, specifically the waltz and its cultural significance at the time. So cool to see others engaging in similar topics! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that sounds awesome!! The 12 Dancing Princesses is actually one of my favorite fairy tales! I have an entire book of its different versions in different cultures. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for commenting (and following)!


      1. Thanks! And there’s a whole series called Sur la Lune that does different collections of fairy tales. I know they have Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast ones, too. 🙂


  8. So much yes. I was an English major in college, and never once was there a course that spent a significant amount of time discussing literature of a time period in relation to the music of that time period. It’s such a good idea though! Especially since art movements often spanned across art forms, and were often related to the events of the time. Man, someone needs to make a literature class like this pronto. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! That would be such a cool class! I actually didn’t originally set out to write about music and literature of the same time period, but when I looked up the most popular time period for rondos and fairy tales they aligned. So glad you liked the post and thanks for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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