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Boot

Sonata Form 101

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First post - nice to have found you.

 

 

I want to get this right. I want to understand the underlying, fundamental, bare bones structure of Sonata Form in it’s most basic form.

 

Following is my current understanding of “Sonata Form” (with contextual questions inserted):

 

EXPOSITION

 

                Consists of two sections:

 

Section A is in the primary key of the piece - for simplicity, we’ll stick to a piece in C major.

 

Section B is in dominant – G7

.

DEVELOPMENT

 

                Explores and develops themes established in Exposition:

 

QUESTION A. If this section is the development of themes presented in Exposition, are there also two sections in Development?

 

QUESTION B: And while we are now developing the themes established in the Exposition, do we also stick to the same key structure as in Exposition?

 

RECAPITUALTION

 

                A varied repetition of the Exposition, consisting of two sections:

 

Section A is again in primary key – in our case, C major.

 

Section B is also in C major.

 

QUESTION C. Is Recapitulation Section A to be a variation strictly of the theme established in Exposition Section A?

 

QUESTION D. Is Recapitulation Section B to be a variation strictly of the theme established in Exposition Section B (only now in the primary key)?

 

 

I await enlightenment.

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At it's most basic this is how typical classical sonata form works

 

Exposition

Theme 1 

transition 

Theme 2 in dominant 

closing material (typically the exposition is repeated)

 

Development 

The development section has no definitive key area, it's usually in a state of flux.

The development will pass through many keys as it's typically a moment of modulation and urgency.

 

Recap

Theme 1 

transition 

Theme 2 in tonic

closing material 

 

Possible Coda

 

That's the basic outline of classical sonata form.

 

 

 

 

 

QUESTION A. If this section is the development of themes presented in Exposition, are there also two sections in Development?

 

QUESTION B: And while we are now developing the themes established in the Exposition, do we also stick to the same key structure as in Exposition?

 

 

QUESTION C. Is Recapitulation Section A to be a variation strictly of the theme established in Exposition Section A?

 

QUESTION D. Is Recapitulation Section B to be a variation strictly of the theme established in Exposition Section B (only now in the primary key)?

 

Question A: There are no rules as to the length of the development section or how many sections it should have. But typically you want it's length proportional to the rest of the movement.

 

Question B: There is no definitive key area that the development section is in because it is typically a moment of modulation and flux. If anything most composers try to pass through remote key areas that are distant from the tonic.  

 

Question C and D: You don't have to but I believe variation in the recapitulation is a great idea. Because a straight repeat in the new key can be rather predictable and boring. Having variation in the recapitulation is a great way to play around with listener's expectations.  

 

Cheers 

Edited by Sonataform

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STOP!

 

There is no such thing as a universal, archtypal 'Sonata Form'.  The best we can say is that there are 'sonata forms' but even this is not accurate and 'sonata theory' is the furthest most academics will go.  Do not go looking for a formula that all sonata movements are based on, because there isn't one.  The idea of the sonata is a theoretic notion which is used to analyse a hughly diverse body of works written between about 1730 and 1950 and is based on what people had already written, not the other way round.  Nobody devised a sonata form plan and then composers started using it as a handy cheat sheet to write pieces.  It should be seen at best as a very general guide as a basis for analysis, with the expectation of some major deviations from the formula.

 

There are absolutely no rules regarding what a sonata actually consists of. There are 'sonata' movements from the time of Haydn and earlier which have only one subject, miss out the development, recapitulate on the second subject area, have three subject areas, are split over several movements, have all the subject areas in the same key, have the development in between the subject areas, have interludes which are nothing to do with the other subjects, introduce new material in the recapitulation, use key relationships other than tonic-dominant, anything you can think of.  Please do not think you can work out the formula and pin your own ideas on it to create an instant masterpiece, this has been tried by many and nevitably leads to dry, academic music that is predictable and uninspiring.

 

As a more opinionated coda, I really feel that the sonata idea in all its forms has little more to give to composers and we should all be working towards devising new original forms of our own.

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Siwi, I agree that composers shouldn't think of sonata form in any definitive way. And any good composer realizes that you don't just follow what they tell you are the "rules". But for the purposes of this topic of a basic over view of "typical classical sonata form" its not hurting anything. I believe a beginning composer should absorb the "rules" entirely and, once they've done that, throw it out the window. 

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Please do not think you can work out the formula and pin your own ideas on it to create an instant masterpiece.”

 

 

SIWI –  I find your implication that I am “looking for a shortcut” offensive and rather arrogant on your part. You don’t know me. You would be well advised to curb expression of such baseless assumptions in the future. However, I thank you for the other very good information... and for the warm welcome to "Young Composers".

 

Just as I am loath to hear one more kid, being too lazy to study and to comprehend fundamentals, declare with starry eyes, “Oh, I’m a free-form, experimental composer”, and then grind out a bunch of incomprehensible trash, my modus operandi continues to be rather to comprehend accepted “best-practice” before trying to blow-out the walls of convention.

 

Sonataform – I thank you for your measured and considered response; it’s just what the doctor ordered (of course, you're Sonataform...) 

Edited by Boot

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Whoa, calm down there Boot...I don't think siwi meant any offense in his statement.  He was just giving sound advice about being innovative (whilst sticking to traditional rules). Other than that, I agree with everything said before.

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SIWI –  I find your implication that I am “looking for a shortcut” offensive and rather arrogant on your part. You don’t know me. You would be well advised to curb expression of such baseless assumptions in the future. However, I thank you for the other very good information... and for the warm welcome to "Young Composers".

 

 

I like your spirited defense, especially the emphasis with the different font - really clever and not as cliched as the usual bold or italicized emphasis.

 

A sonata is a story with 2 or more conflicting characters. Certain modulations fit certain characters - depends on your material. Take Brahms symphony no.4 - 3 clear themes of all differing character that are in different keys. The keys help to separate the characters from each other. In this story, the characters are all introduced and then something happens to them - they go on a journey (modulation) or they meet each other (motivic combination), or they encounter life changing experiences (elongation or truncation, maybe even inversion or retrograde), but the key is that there is a climax! There is always a climax in a story and the point of a sonata is the climax... After that, the characters might be changed permanently or they might go back to who they were or they may be in a different key... who knows. It's up to you.

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A typical sonata form looks something like this.

 

sonataform.png

 

Often, however, you will get an atypical sonata form (particularly later on in the 19th century) which can look like many things, this for example:

 

atypical_sonataform.png

 

I hope this helps. Welcome to YoungComposers by the way!

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Ananth - Thank  you for sharing your interpretation(s) of the various aspects of a sonata. I especially appreciate your personification of a work's individual parts; very nice. (I should've expected as much from Ann Arbor). 

 

Shadowwolf' - Thanks for the welcome. I only wish that those were actual WAV files, as those images provide visualization of dynamics-only. But thanks.

 

All of the above responses are combining to provide a most complete and balanced picture. Thank you, one & all.

Edited by Boot

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I'll do a second one of these for the development and recap.

 

 

This is the typical sonata form as found in textbooks.

 

 

Sonata form: Mozart K 282/IV

 

 

EXPOSITION

 

 

The exposition in general

 

 

     (Introduction) ||: Principal theme   Transition ,  Subordinate theme   Codetta :|| 

     

        Towards I                   I                    —                   V                          V

or     Towards i                   i                    —                   III                          III

 

 

Principal theme

 

 

The opening of a simple, characteristic 18th-century sonata form, as described by the model sonata form, opens strongly and in the tonic key. In the melody, emphasis is usually on articulating the tones of the tonic triad, and the harmony hovers around and between I and V. The first section (if there's no introduction) is the principal theme (also called the first subject, group, or key area); this establishes the tonic and the thematic material of the piece. It is traditionally formed as a tight-knit theme, which is an archetypal sentenceperiod, or combination of the two. 

 

 

Mozartsonataformprincipaltheme_zps67e036

This piece opens with a kind of period. A period, as the link will explain, is, typically, an eight-measure unit (although it can be more or less) split into two smaller units (indicated by the two blue slurs), each typically four-bar in length (again, more or less, and the two smaller units by no means have to be equal in length), often articulated by a cadence at the end of each smaller unit, but sometimes, as in this case, a cadence appears only at the end of the period (i.e., at the end of the second smaller unit). 

 

The first unit is called the antecedent, and the second, the consequent, which ends the period with a cadence (in this case, a half cadence [HC], which is a cadence on V).The antecedent of a period presents the first main motif of the piece in a two-bar unit; sometimes, the motif is actually two bars long, or two or more motives are combined into a single idea, but often, as here, there is a one-bar motif presented twice (in this case, it is repeated up an 8ve); the following two bars present a contrasting idea which usually becomes more rhythmically active, at first, in order to create a sense of seam when it slows down at the split between the two smaller units. The consequent repeats the first two measures of the antecedent, but uses a different contrasting idea to lead to a different place (to a cadence in the tonic or in the dominant or, as here, on the dominant), at its end. 

 

The main motif in this piece is bracketed in red. It consists of a quaver-crotchet rhythm, from a weak beat to a strong beat; the two-bar opening presents it twice (the larger red bracket groups these two statements of the motif into the two-bar 'basic idea'). The contrasting idea, bracketed in dark green, activates the rhythm by introducing semiquavers, which breaks off with the reappearance of a quaver, at the end of the antecedent. The consequent then repeats the main idea, and leads the music into a half cadence in m. 8 (m. 1 is the first full measure) with a new contrasting idea, marked in light green.

 

The harmony, here, stays fairly firmly around I, until the cadence on V. Those V6 chords which appear between the I's aren't strong harmonic functions; they merely step away from the tonic, and then step back again; weaker harmonies like this are said to prolong the function of the tonic, or whatever function they're on (viz., either tonic, predominant, or dominant); i.e., they appear between statements of the same harmony, or inversions thereof). On the larger scale, this entire phrase consists solely of I, except for the V at the end.

 

 

 

 

Transition

 

The function of the transition is to move away from the tonic key and into the subordinate key. In the 18th century, this key will usually be the dominant in major key pieces (as in this one) or the relative major in minor key works. The transition often marks the first appearance of a rhythmically regular accompaniment pattern; in this style, it is often the Alberti bass, as exhibited here.

 

Mozartsonataformtransition_zpse43b49e8.p

Changing from one key to another is called modulation. After music has modulated, we perceive a different tone than we did before as being the (local) tonic (above, you seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick when you say that the second section is in G7, when the piece is in C; this is a chord, not a key). There are several methods of modulation. The most common is through the use of a pivot chord, as demonstrated here; this consists of leading to a harmony in the old key as normal, and then following it as if it were in the new key. Here, a B-flat major chord is presented following an E-flat major opening; this chord is a V in E-flat major, but it is then followed by harmonies from the key of B-flat major. The B-flat major harmony is reinterpreted as being I in B-flat major, and the progression following it contains the same I–V6–I–V6 prolongation as the opening. Since one could now repeat the process on a different chord within the same phrase, we don't say for certain that it's in the new key 'til this is 'confirmed' by a cadence; in this case, a half cadence in m. 15. This point in the movement (viz., the cadence before the entrance of the subordinate theme) is called the medial caesura; the music can now proceed in the new key.

 

Melodically, the transition is one of two basic kinds; viz., either the music appears to begin the principal theme again, but changes direction partway through, or, as here, it presents new material. New uses of the quaver-crotchet motif are bracketed in orange, and the semi-quaver scale idea (derived from the four-note scale figures in the original contrasting ideas) is bracketed in green; a new characteristic cadential idea is bracketed in brown.

 

 

 

 

Subordinate theme

 

Like the principal theme, the subordinate theme is usually constructed as a period, sentence, or combination thereof, but is usually 'looser', as will be explained below. This second theme appears as a contrast to the first theme, so, as the first is usually quite a strong, 'masculine' theme, the second is often more delicate and 'feminine'.

Mozartsonataformsubordinatetheme_zpsc5af

This piece's subordinate theme is a kind of sentence (the purple bracketed segment is simply a small link between the end of the transition and the beginning of the following theme). The sentence, as the above link explains, is a theme of, typically, eight measures, with two main constituent parts (other sources will list three, but the information is still the same): Presentation (orange slur above) and Continuation (blue and green bracket). The Presentation presents a two-bar basic idea (larger pink bracket), as in the period, consisting of one of more motives (the smaller pink brackets), but instead of immediately presenting a contrasting idea, the basic idea is then repeated, either exactly or sequentially. The Continuation then takes a single motif of the basic idea, or, as here, introduces a new motif, one bar in length, and presents that and repeats it sequentially (the blue bracket); the final two bars then present a cadential idea, usually comprised of conventional figuration, such as scale fragments.

 

The sentence is a looser type of construction than the period, because, while the period emphasises balance and symmetry through simple statement and contrast within two (fairly) balanced units, the sentence encompasses a kind of development within itself, that drives the theme towards its final cadence. The loose element of the subordinate theme is emphasised, in this piece, through the use of further loosening techniques: at the cadence of the sentence (m. 23), the cadential effect is curbed by the motion of the upper voice, which, rather than reaching its goal and slowing, doesn't land on the B-flat on the downbeat and continues the semiquaver movement, now back up to where the theme began (purple bracket in m. 23, as this material is related to the earlier link and serves a similar function); this serves to weaken the tightness of the construction, as now a more formal close must be reached.

 

The sentence is now repeated, with minor rhythmic alterations in the basic idea and its accompaniment, and approaches the cadence again. The second time around, the cadence is avoided again, similarly, now with the semiquaver scales; this second evasion is intensified by the fact that, along with the melodic evasion of cadential effect, the harmony moves to vi, instead of I, to create a deceptive cadence. Following this, rather than a third presentation of the sentence, the Continuation function alone, in altered form (the second blue bracket), ends the subordinate theme with a perfect authentic cadence. Again, this one is quite weak, as the semiquaver motion does continue, but the B-flat in the upper voice does arrive on the downbeat, and the harmony moves from V to I; but it is the strongest close of the theme.

 

 

 

 

Codetta

 

The codetta functions simply as a 'cadential area'. It is used to create a stronger, more formal close for the end of the exposition.

Mozartsonataformcodetta_zpsaf18e22a.png

Here, the subordinate theme elides with the codetta, and the scalar semiquavers lead into the characteristic cadential idea, as found in the transition. To create a balanced close, the codetta makes two attempts at a cadence; the first is evaded with the use of a first inversion I, rather than a root position; the second creates a successful, satisfying close, ending the exposition. The entire exposition is then repeated.

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