What is a sonata

The sonata

In the classical sense, a sonata (Latin sonars: sound) a large-scale piece of music that consists of several independent parts, the sentences to be named. The movement of a sonata is comparable to a chapter in a novel. Most of the time it is three or four sentences. A sonata is in a superordinate key that is represented by the first and last movements. The middle movement or movements can be in other keys, but mostly have a functional relationship to the main key.

In different epochs the term sonata a different meaning in each case. In the Baroque age, a sonata often consists of a combination of four movements with the tempo sequence
slowly - quickly - slowly - quickly.
These sentences are all composed in the same spirit, there is an inner cohesion of characters. Further formal relationships are not absolutely necessary.
The most common instrumentation for baroque sonatas are duos (solo instrument with harpsichord) or trios (two solo instruments of the same or different genre and harpsichord). The one-movement harpsichord sonatas from Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) a.

Through a lot of experimental compositional work Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710 - 1784) and Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bachs (1714 - 1788, both sons of the great Johann Sebastian Bach) the sonata takes on a different face. A special shape emerges. The development of this form is of great importance in the work of many important composers. The most important line of development has its origins in the Bach sons already mentioned, he continues Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and Franz Liszt (1811 - 1886) and ends at Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911).
The casting practice has also changed fundamentally: piano sonatas, duos, trios and quartets are just as common as concerts for a solo instrument with orchestra (e.g. piano concerto or violin concerto). A symphony (symphony) is also a sonata for orchestra.

The initial idea of ​​the "new" sonata form from the classical period onwards is the juxtaposition of two topics of opposite character. The contrast of these themes creates the conflict that forms the material for the content of a sonata. This comparison takes place in the sonata main movement, which is usually the first movement. The middle movements are often a slow movement in song form (a-b-a) and a minuet with trio. The order of these middle clauses is not fixed. A rondo shape is often chosen for the last movement. There are also variations.

The scherzo developed from the minuet movement in the late classical period.

Many shape variants have been developed over time. Two-movement sonatas are just as possible with Beethoven as six-movement symphonies with Mahler. Liszt developed the one-movement sonata, in which the characteristics of the main sonata movement are merged with those of the other movements.

The sonata's little sister is the "Sonatina". Not as demanding in terms of form and content as a sonata, its dimensions are considerably smaller. While a sonatina rarely lasts longer than ten minutes, a full-blown Beethoven sonata can take 45 minutes (Hammerklavier Sonata, Op. 106). Gustav Mahler's eighth symphony ("Symphony of a Thousand") even lasts 80 minutes. The formal relationships are correspondingly complicated.