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sonata, type of musical composition, typically for a solo tool or a small instrumental ensemble, that generally consists of two to 4 movements, or sections, each in a related crucial but v a distinct musical character.

Deriving indigenous the previous participle of the Italian verb sonare, “to sound,” the ax sonata initially denoted a composition played on instruments, together opposed to one the was cantata, or “sung,” by voices. Its very first such use was in 1561, when it was used to a suite the dances for lute. The ax has because acquired other interpretations that can easily cause confusion. It have the right to mean a ingredient in two or an ext movements, or different sections, play by a small group that instruments, having no much more than three independent parts. Most commonly it refers to such a item for one or two instruments, such together Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (1801) for piano. By extension, sonata can additionally refer to a composition because that a bigger instrumental group having much more than two or three parts, such as a wire quartet or one orchestra, detailed that the ingredient is based upon principles that musical kind that indigenous the mid-18th century were supplied in sonatas for tiny instrumental groups. The term has actually been more loosely applied to 20th-century works, whether or no they rely on 18th-century principles.

Quite distinctive from every one of the preceding, however, is the use of the ax in “sonata form.” This denotes a particular form, or technique of music organization, commonly used in one or much more movements the multimovement important works written because the beginning of the Classical duration (the duration of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven) in the mid-18th century. Such works encompass sonatas, cable quartets and other chamber music, and also symphonies. (See sonata form.)

Components the the sonata


First movement, “Molto allegro,” that Mozart"s Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Minor, K 457; indigenous a 1951 record by pianist Emil Guilels.
Excerpt native the 2nd movement, “Andantino,” of Franz Schubert"s Piano Sonata No. 20 in A Major; indigenous a 1937 recording by pianist Artur Schnabel.
Excerpt indigenous the third movement, “Allegro vivace,” of Franz Schubert"s Piano Sonata No. 14 in A Minor; native a 1952 recording by pianist Solomon (byname of Solomon Cutner).

Typical sonatas covers two, three, or four movements. Two-movement and, an ext specifically, three-movement schemes space most common in sonatas for one or 2 instruments. Beethoven, specifically in his previously period, sometimes increased the system to four movements. Most very first movements of classic sonatas room in sonata form, and they room usually fast; the 2nd movement commonly provides the contrast of a slower tempo; and also the last activity in most situations is again fast. Once there are four movements, a simpler, dance-style movement of the kind also uncovered in the suite is included. This is typically placed between the slow 2nd movement and the finale; in some cases it stands 2nd and the slow motion third.


The develops of the second, third, and fourth movements vary much an ext than the of the first, i beg your pardon in classical examples is practically invariably the weightiest. Since their duty is to complement the endure of the an initial movement v a new but related range of contrasts, the scope and manner the the later on movements rely on the nature and the level of prior development of the subject material. Basic ternary (A B A) form and variation form (i.e., theme and variations) are amongst the most common patterns because that the slow-moving movement, however rondo and also sonata develops are additionally used. In rondo form a recurring layout is contrasted v a number of intervening themes, as A B A C A. As soon as sonata type is supplied in slow-moving tempos, the requirements of in its entirety proportion frequently cause the omission that the breakthrough section. Sonata form, rondo, and, less often, variation type are likewise used because that the final movement. In last movements, also, the an easy rondo pattern (A B A C A) is often expanded into A B A-development-B A, v B in the dominant crucial at its first appearance and also in the tonic vital at the second. The result is a hybrid form known as sonata-rondo.


Excerpt indigenous the 3rd movement, “Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza,” of Franz Schubert"s Piano Sonata No. 21 in B-flat Major; indigenous a 1953 recording by pianist Vladimir Horowitz.

In the first part that the classic period, the dance movement, once it appeared, usually included a minuet in relatively simple binary form (the two-part type from i m sorry sonata type evolved). This was followed by a second minuet known as the trio, which tended in orchestral functions to be an ext lightly scored. The an initial minuet to be then repeated, generally without that is own interior repeats. The minuet-trio-minuet structure creates an overall ternary pattern. Haydn frequently, and Beethoven still an ext often, made decision to rate up the timeless minuet so that it could no much longer be thought about a run medium and also became a scherzo, a quick, light motion usually regarded the minuet in form. In some excessive cases, such as the ninth symphonies of both Beethoven and Schubert, the binary frameworks of both scherzo and trio were broadened into small but complete sonata-form structures. In this way, just like the sonata-rondo, the principles of thematic breakthrough and key contrast spread during the Classical duration as the sonata kind began to influence other movements.

Early breakthrough in Italy

The sonata in every its manifestations has roots that go ago long before the first uses that the actual name. Its ultimate resources are in the choral polyphony (music having several equal melodic lines, or voices) of the late Renaissance. This in turn attracted at time on both liturgical and secular sources—on the ancient system the tones or modes of Gregorian chant, and also on medieval European folk music. These 2 lines were constantly interweaving. Popular tunes, for example, were offered as the beginning point because that masses and also other religious compositions native the 15th to the early on 17th centuries. Sacred and secular facets influenced the breakthrough of both the sonata and the partita (or suite) of the Baroque period.

The specific musical procedures that were at some point to be characteristic of the sonata began to emerge plainly in works by the Venetian composers that the so late 16th century, especially Andrea Gabrieli and also Giovanni Gabrieli. These composers constructed instrumental pieces in quick sections of contrasted tempo, a plan that to represent in embryo the department into movements of the later sonata. This approach is uncovered not only in functions entitled “sonata,” such as Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sonata pian’ e forte (Soft and Loud Sonata) the 1597, i beg your pardon was one of the an initial works to specify instrumentation in detail; the crucial fantasia and also the canzona, one instrumental type derived native the chanson or secular French part-song, screen a comparable sectional structure. Like beforehand sonatas, castle were frequently contrapuntal (built through counterpoint, the interweaving the melodic present in the various voices, or parts). At this phase sonatas, fantasias, and also canzonas were regularly indistinguishable from each other, and from the fuguelike ricercare, despite this kind is generally more serious in personality and an ext strictly contrapuntal in technique.

In the 17th century stringed instruments overshadowed the winds, which had actually played at the very least an same important role in the sonatas and also canzonas written by the Gabrielis for the spacious galleries of mountain Marco Basilica, Venice. Claudio Monteverdi devoted more that his energies to vocal than to important composition. The advance of crucial writing—and of crucial musical forms—was carried on more and much more by virtuoso violinists. Among these to be Carlo Farina, who spent part of his life in the organization of the court that Dresden, and there published a set of sonatas in 1626. But the crowning number in this early school that violinist-composers was Arcangelo Corelli, whose published sonatas, start in 1681, amount up Italian job-related in the ar to this date.

Apart from their affect on the breakthrough of violin technique, reflect in the functions of such later violinist-composers as Giuseppe Torelli, Antonio Vivaldi, Francesco Maria Veracini, Giuseppe Tartini, and Pietro Locatelli, Corelli’s sonatas are essential for the method they clarify and help to specify the 2 directions the sonata to be to take. At this suggest the sonata da chiesa, or church sonata, and the sonata da camera, or chamber sonata, emerged as complementary yet distinct lines of development.

The sonata da chiesa usually consists of four movements, in the bespeak slow–fast–slow–fast. The first fast activity tends to be loosely fugal (using contrapuntal melodic imitation) in style, and thus reflects, most plainly of the four, the sonata’s root in the fantasia and also canzona. The critical movement, by contrast, is simpler and also lighter, regularly differing tiny from the run style typical of the sonata da camera. The sonata da camera is altogether much less serious and also less contrapuntal than the sonata da chiesa, and it tends to consist of a larger number of shorter movements in dance style. If the sonata da chiesa to be the source from i beg your pardon the classical sonata to be to develop, that is courtly cousin was the straight ancestor of the suite, or partita, a sequence of quick dance pieces; and in the 18th century, the state suite and partita were virtually synonymous with sonata da camera. The two streams stood for by church and also chamber sonatas space the manifestation, in at an early stage Baroque terms, the the liturgical and also secular sources discovered in Renaissance music. The Baroque style flourished in music from around 1600 to about 1750. Down to the center of the 18th century the two influences maintained a high degree of independence; yet the injection of dance movements right into the lighter instances of the sonata da chiesa and the penetration the counterpoint right into the much more serious suites and sonate da camera present that over there was constantly some cross-fertilization.

Another characteristics of the Baroque sonata that Corelli’s work aided to stabilize was its instrumentation. Around 1600 the musical revolution that started in Italy had shifted emphasis from the equal-voiced polyphony that the Renaissance and placed it rather on the concept of monody, or solo lines with subordinate accompaniments. The comparatively static affect of the old church modes was superseded by the more dramatic organizing principle the the major–minor key system with its usage of comparison of keys. Although counterpoint continued to pat a main role in musical framework for one more hundred years and also more, it ended up being a counterpoint the took cautious account the the effects of harmony and also of chords in ~ the framework of the major and boy keys.

In this paper definition the continuo, or thorough bass, assumed main importance. Composers who supplied a continuo component wrote the end in full only the components of the upper melody instruments. The accompaniment, which to be the continuo part, was provided in the type of a bass line, sometimes supplemented with numbers, or figures, to suggest main details that harmony, whence the ax figured bass. The continuo was “realized,” or offered its perform form, by a low melody tool (viol, the deeper-pitched violone, or later on cello or bassoon) in cooperation with an organ, harpsichord, or lute. The collaborating tool improvised the harmonies shown by the figures or comprise by the other parts and also so to fill the gap in between the treble and bass lines.

In Corelli’s work, “solo” sonatas, because that one violin v continuo, are discovered alongside rather for two violins and continuo defined as sonatas a tre (“for three”). These sonatas a tre are early examples that the trio sonata that was the principal chamber-music type until around 1750. Usage of the term trio because that sonatas play by 4 instruments is just superficially paradoxical: return trio sonatas to be played by four instruments, they were considered to be in 3 parts—two violins and also continuo. Moreover, details instrumentation at this duration was greatly a matter of selection and circumstance. Flutes or oboes could play the violin parts, and if one of two people harpsichord or cello or their substitutes were unavailable, the piece might be played with only one of them representing the continuo. However a finish continuo to be preferred.

Corelli’s importance is together much historical as musical. Perhaps since a vigorous line of Italian composers the violin music complied with him, the is generally accorded the key credit for late 17th-century breakthroughs in sonata style. Yet his undeniably an important contribution need to not distract fist from equally important work that was done during the very same time external Italy.

Early advancement outside Italy

In France Jean-Baptiste Lully’s lucrative monopoly that music in ~ the royal court and also the enormous popularity the spectacular ballets offered as courtly entertainments normally led, with François Couperin, to a concentration on the smaller sized dance forms uncovered in the ballet and courtly society dance. This concentration gave the French college its preeminence as producer and influencer the the 18th-century dance suite. The French, therefore occupied v dance music, had little effect on the expansion of the sonata da chiesa. But in Germany, whereby in 1619 Michael Praetorius published some of the more quickly sonatas, the sonata arisen from an initially close relationship to the suite right into a more ambitious blend. As it advanced it linked the suitelike multisectional structure of the sonata da camera through the contrapuntal workmanship and emotional soot of the Italian sonata da chiesa form.

One of the very first contributors to this development of the Italian influence was the Austrian composer Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. In Nürnberg in 1659 he released a collection of trio sonatas because that strings, following it in 1662 through a set for combined strings and wind instruments, and also in 1664 through what may have actually been the an initial set the sonatas because that unaccompanied violin. The German composer Johann Rosenmüller spent numerous years in Italy; his Sonate da camera cioè sinfonie (i.e., suites or symphonies), released in Venice in 1667, are essentially dance compositions. Yet 12 year later, in Nürnberg, he issued a set of sonatas in two, three, four, and five parts that vividly illustrate the German trend toward more abstract musical structure and expressive counterpoint. Throughout this period even pieces with dance titles began to shed their danceable character and also became compositions meant only for listening.

Meanwhile, the best member the this school, Heinrich Biber, published several to adjust of sonatas—some for violin and also continuo, rather in three, four, and five parts. In these, native 1676 onward, he take it a penchant because that expressiveness come extremes of periodically bizarre but often gripping profundity that contrast sharply v the bland, polished style of Corelli. The titles of some of Biber’s sets of sonatas specifically show his target of reconciling church and chamber styles. The 1676 publication, because that instance, is entitled Sonatae tam aris quam aulis servientes (Sonatas for the Altar and the Hall). And being himself, like Corelli, a violinist of particularly powers, Biber make a an important contribution come the advance of instrumental an approach in a set of sonatas because that unaccompanied violin in i beg your pardon the practice of scordatura (adjustment of tuning to secure distinct effects) is ingeniously exploited.

The English composers to be achieving a similar intensification of expression throughout the 17th century, despite in their case the technical starting point to be different. In accordance v the characteristic time-lag of the English in the adoption of brand-new European music methods, the English continued to work with polyphony in the Renaissance manner, when the Italians to be perfecting monody and also the Germans fruitfully uniting monody through their very own contrapuntal tradition. English polyphony in the 17th century attained a amazing level of technological finish and also emotional grandeur. Cutting board Tomkins, Orlando Gibbons, man Jenkins, and William Lawes were the chief agents the this refining process. They and their predecessors, especially John Coperario, made a gradual transition from the cable fantasia bequeathed by william Byrd and also other composers during the reign of Elizabeth I and approached the brand-new kind that musical kind associated with the Baroque sonata; however they constantly stayed closer than their continental colleagues to the spirit of polyphony.

When Henry Purcell, in his three-part and also four-part sonatas, it is registered this rich English tradition to the belated impact of French and Italian influence, he produced a blend of styles that to be the highest point of musical incentive yet got to by the emergent sonata form.

The Baroque era

The years from the finish of the 17th century come the middle of the 18th stand for a moment of equilibrium in the communication of counterpoint and also monody that had developed the Baroque sonata. The continuo device, as long as the endured, to be a authorize that the balance quiet held—and the did endure as long as the trio sonata preserved its central position as a chamber-music medium. During the an initial half that the 18th century the later on Italian violinists, most notably Vivaldi, to be prolific creators that trio sonatas. Periodically they leaned to a three-movement pattern (fast–slow–fast), influenced by the direction the Italian operatic sinfonia, or overture, was taking. An ext often the old four-movement pattern was preserved. In this well-tested shape too, Georg Philipp Telemann created hundreds of instances that maintained a remarkably consistent standard of musical interest. George Frideric Handel, functioning for most of his life in England, composed some trio sonatas, and likewise some an important sonatas for solo instrument v continuo. In France, Joseph Bodin de Boismortier and the violin Jean-Marie Leclair, the Elder, grew both solo and trio genres v charm return with less profundity.

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Yet even while the sonata v continuo flourished, the forces of tonality, or organization in terms of keys, arisen intensely toward a usage of an essential contrast the would at some point drive the trio sonata indigenous the scene. The continuo itself to be being undermined by the expansion of interest in important colour, and also the figured bass might not long survive the tendency toward scoring for certain instruments and also exhaustively comprehensive music notation.