Sonata Forms

Chapter 9: Sonata Form

Instrumental music written in the sonata-allegro form, also known as first-movement form, is commonly referred to as a sonata.  This helps distinguish it from a vocal form (cantata) or a keyboard piece (toccata).  This form evolved over recent centuries, and is still in use as a viable receptacle for a composer’s ideas. 

In general, most sonatas can be divided into three broad sections; the exposition, the development, and the recapitulation.  The number of themes, transitions, introductions and codas, methods of development, and tonal areas are subject to each composer’s creative approach.  Refer to the Sonata Form Line Graph in the Materials below, which shows all the elements that might appear in a sonata.  In later orchestral concertos, the sonata form usually has a double exposition, one for the ensemble and one for the soloist.  It also typically provides space for an improvisatory cadenza by the soloist near the end.  The Sonata-Rondo form is basically a 7-part third rondo (ABACABA) in which a development section replaces a theme in the second episode, part C.  In the classical period many of these forms closely resemble a seven-part Rondo, and might be more accurately referred to as a Rondo-Sonata.  A case in point is the fourth movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik.


Follow the analytical approach outlined on pages 222-224 in the text.  Complete a Graphic Analysis Form for each piece you analyze.  Pay special attention to the Development section as you analyze, to discern what themes are developed, tonal areas, and the variation techniques applied.  This is where composers lavished their creative skills.  Audio recordings of the sonatas composed by Mozart in the anthology portion of the text are among the Materials below.  An early Sonatina by Muzio Clemente, Op. 36, No., 1 is found among the Materials to demonstrate an economical, concise point of departure for keyboard sonatas that would come later.  Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in E Major (Hoboken 13) is also included for analysis.  The first and last movements are in sonata-allegro form.

Two additional Analysis Exercises are included in the Materials below.  They are the first movements of Beethoven Sonatas Op. 49, No. 1 and No. 2.  An analysis page is included with each score.

Amadeus Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik, First movement
(page 380)

Amadeus Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Fourth movement
(page 387, Sonata Rondo

Analysis Exercise Beethoven: Sonata, Op. 49, No. 1, Mvt. I  (PDF)

Analysis Exercise Beethoven: Sonata, Op. 49, No. 2, Mvt. I (PDF)

Muzio Clemente: Sonatina, Op. 36, No. 1  (PDF)

Franz Joseph Haydn:  Sonata in E Major , Mvt. I (HOB 13)  (PDF)

Franz Joseph Haydn:  Sonata in E Major, Finale  (HOB 13)  (PDF

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