The Sonata

General Lifespan

The sonata (meaning 'sound piece' (meaning 'instumental music')) has evolved to be a very successful and long-lived format. It also has a successful spin-off 'sonata form' which I'll get to later.

In the most common (three movement) sonata, the movements usually worked out as follows:

1st Movement - Fast
2nd Movement - Slow
3rd Movement - Fast

The first movement frequently has its own internal structure called "Sonata Form". "Sonata Form" does not, ahem... DOES NOT refer to the form of the entire sonata, just the first movement. If you like, you can refer to "Sonata Form" as "First Movement Form" as that title is legal also. More on this later.

The second and third movements (as far as history, or distinguishing characteristics) are comparitively unremarkable.

And now! The moment we've all been waiting for! The First Movement.... The Sonata Form. [oooh... aaaah...]

You'll find the sonata form in things other than sonatas. Often symphonies, concertos, and other types of music will use the sonata form. Sonata form divides a movement into three sections thusly**
Name Alt. Name Structure
Part 1: exposition statement A A
Part 2: development fantasia B
Part 3: recapitulation restatement A

Why two 'A's in the structure of the exposition? People are stupid, and the composer wants to drill the theme into the audience so they'll remember the theme when it crops up at the end (note the third 'A'). Oh, yeah - the two 'A's usually make the piece work better too. ***

The last part wraps the whole thing up. A sonata-form-pita-bread, if you will.

The middle "fantasia" part, not unlike the Disney film of the same name, is the funky weird part. It will wander through a bunch of keys, start up new themes or variations, fake right - punch left, cut in line at the grocery store, establish a mime school. Anything goes in a fantasia.

Composers of Sonatas
Vivaldi, Chopin, Mozart, Schumann, Brahms

A sonata is a three-movment piece of instrumental music.
** This is the first time in my life I've ever used the word 'thusly'

*** Sometimes, if the original theme gets really long, the composer will not bother to repeat it.