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A sonata (Italian sonata , suonata ; from Italian suonare , Latin sonare “to sound”) is an instrumental piece that usually consists of several movements for a solo or very small chamber music ensemble. Depending on the line-up, a distinction is made between solo sonatas for a single instrument (e.g. piano , guitar or a melody instrument ), duo sonatas (usually a melody instrument plus piano), and trio sonatas . Formally similar works for larger instrumental ensembles are not referred to as sonatas , but as quartets, quintets, etc. Sonatas for orchestra are called symphonies .


Sonata ("Klingstück"; also known as Sonett and Soneto ) or Sinfonia is a general term for instrumental pieces without a specific form scheme in the early days of independent instrumental music, in contrast to the Cantata ("Singstück"). It is initially used by Giovanni Croce (1580) and Andrea Gabrieli , whose several "Sonata a 5 istromenti" (1586) have been lost. Several sonatas by his nephew Giovanni Gabrieli have survived (1597 and 1615). These oldest sonatas are pieces for several instruments (violins, violas, prongs and trombones); Their focus is on the development of harmonic abundance, this with Giovanni Gabrieli and composers influenced by him often even in the cooperation of several choirs, which is called Venetian polychoralism after the work of most of the composers who are important for this style . Their practical purpose is often to be sent ahead of a church chant as an introduction. The sonata subsequently appears (until the 17th century synonymous with the sinfonia ) as the introduction to a cantata . The transfer of the name Sonata to piano works of a similar design was first made by the composer Gian Pietro del Buono with his sonatas published in 1645. The so-called "Biblical Histories" by Johann Kuhnau (Leipzig 1700) are better known .

Arcangelo Corelli distinguishes two types of sonatas for the first time. Both are based on the set of two upper parts and a basso -voice. Sébastien de Brossard (1655–1730) defined the following classification in his music lexicon Dictionnaire de musique for the first time in writing:

The sonata da chiesa (church sonata ) usually consists of a slow introduction, a loosely fugaled allegro, a vocal slow movement and a lively finale in two parts. However, this scheme is not applied in a rigid manner and only established itself as a sonata form par excellence in the works of Handel and Bach . In Italian violin music it can be found in Boccherini's music well into the 19th century .
The Sonata da camera (chamber sonata ), on the other hand, consists largely of stylized dance movements. At the time of Bach and Handel, their development was completely separated from the church sonata and it was referred to as a suite , partita , ordre or (preceded by a prelude in the French style) as an overture , see suite .

Bach does not use these names for the sonata types, but they can be clearly distinguished in style and form. In his six sonatas for solo violin the numbers 1, 3 and 5 are church sonatas . Numbers 2, 4, 6 are called “ Partita ”, but they can be regarded as chamber sonatas.

In classical music the sonata changes in style and form, namely polyphony is replaced. Prepared by Domenico Scarlatti develop especially Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Joseph Haydn sonata form in the first sentence or the first movement in sonata form is written. The new form of the sonata is transferred by Haydn, Mozart , Clementi and Beethoven to the composition for various ensembles (violin and piano, solo piano, violin and cello, string trio, string quartet etc.) and for orchestra ( symphony ), whereby the term sonata but remains reserved for chamber music despite the same form.

Structure of the classical sonata

The following order of the sentences corresponds to the most commonly implemented model. Since Beethoven, however, the order of the second and third movements has occasionally been reversed, so that the minuet or scherzo has been placed in second place and the slow movement in third place.

First sentence

The first movement is the characteristic movement of the sonata (as this differs from the suite , serenade, etc.); its shape is the so-called Sonatensatz form with their moldings exposure , carrying out , recapitulation and coda . Since this term is a creation of the theory of forms of the 19th century, its use for compositions from the time before 1800 rightly remains controversial. It is widely used to describe sentence forms after him; however, he structures sentences according to key areas rather than according to the sequence of independent musical thoughts. This certainly does not always correspond to the structural intent of the composer. The contemporary formal terminology is used in numerous music theory works, e.g. B. to be found with Johann Gottfried Krause , Bernard Germain Lacépède and others. Formations such as the first movements of the so-called Moonlight Sonata (Op. 27, C sharp minor) or the A flat major Sonata (Op. 26) by Beethoven have nothing to do with this scheme. Both sonatas lack the actual first movement; they start with the slow movement - which is usually the second. In the moonlight sonata, only the third movement follows the sonata scheme. Mozart had already done without the first movement in his piano sonata in A major (KV 331).

Second sentence

The characteristic of the second movement is the slow movement (only in exceptional cases do the slow movement and the Scherzo, which will be discussed shortly, change their place). Its shape can be very diverse. If, like the first, it is endowed with two contrasting themes, the more moving is the second; the recapitulation and development are omitted, but the main theme tends to appear three times, mostly with increasingly increased figuration. Often the composer is content with the three-part song form, ie the order ABA. The variation form for the second movement is also very popular. The key of the second movement is usually that of the dominant or the minor parallel .

Third sentence

The third movement brings the minuet or scherzo , usually again in the major or a closely related key. In early sonatas there is no minuet or scherzo at all, so that one gets straight from the second to the last movement, the finale.

Fourth sentence

The fourth movement, the finale , is always in the main key when the movement is average faster, but it is not uncommon for it to change from minor to major. Its form is either the sonata form , sometimes without a recapitulation, but with a development, or a widely spun rondo form with more than two mostly short themes. In rare cases it runs out into a joint .

The Sonata in Romantic Music

In Romanticism there was, on the one hand, the tendency (e.g. Schumann or Brahms ) in which the classical sonata form was retained and filled with new content. Frédéric Chopin had already relativized the sonata form in that the 1st theme no longer appears in the recapitulation. On the other hand, Franz Liszt was the first composer who broke new ground in his one-movement piano sonata in B minor (1854) and at the same time founded the New German School . The form of the sonata no longer plays a role. The basic musical material consists of four leitmotifs from which the entire musical development is derived. With this, the term “sonata” returned to its original meaning “sound piece”. In late Romanticism and the transition to non-tonal music, the piano sonatas of Alexander Scriabin should be mentioned. The later sonatas in particular show intensive processing of motifs, combined with the abandonment of tonality in favor of a harmonic system based on fourths (from the 6th).

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Sonata  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Cf. for example Enriquez de Valderrábano : Soneto I, del primer grado and Soneto II, del primer grado (1547) ["Sonett I" and "Sonett II"]. In: Emilio Pujol (Ed.): Hispanae Citharae Ars Viva. A collection of selected guitar music from old tabs, edited by Emilio Pujol. (Spanish, French, English and German) Schott, Mainz 1956 (= guitar archive. Volume 176), p. 3 f.