History of Classical Music

Sonata Form

(Classical 3)
During the Classical period, symphonies, concertos and sonatas were all based on a compositional formula known as sonata form. Composers used sonata form as a means of providing structure to their compositions. It became the most popular compositional form to be used throughout the Classical era.

The word "sonata" was first used as the title of any piece to be "sounded" (played on a musical instrument). A short sonata was called a sonatina. By the late 1700s, the sonata had become a more formal composition, usually containing three or four contrasting movements, of which the form of the first movement was the most strict.

The first movement of a sonata is in strictly "sonata form." This means that it consists of three sections. In the first section, the exposition, the melodies are "exposed" or introduced. Secondary themes are often in a key a fifth higher than the tonic (original key). The second section is called the development and in this section themes are altered and used however the composer wishes. The third section, named the recapitulation, restates all the themes, but this time all are in the tonic key. Sometimes sonata form includes an introduction and a coda.

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Sample Works:


MIDI Example Piano Sonata No. 21 in C "Waldstein" (Op. 53) by Ludwig van Beethoven

Credits:

No.21 in C "Waldstein" complete, MIDI sequence by Bunji Hisamori
    from Classical MIDI Connection


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