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Sonata Form by Mark Feezell Copyright 2010

How composers use Sonata Form

Sonata is from the Italian sonare, to sound or to play.
Basic sonata form consists of an exposition, development, and recapitulation.
Do not confuse sonata form with the sonata genre, a 3 or 4 mvmt piece for 1 or 2 performers.
• Introductions occur only once in their entirety, at the very beginning of the movement.
• Not all sonata forms include an introduction
First theme group (or Primary Theme)
• Often (not always) assertive or dramatic in character
• Tonic key typical
• May end with a PAC or “dissolve” into transitional material
Second theme group (or Secondary Theme)
• Typically in V if the movement is in major, III if the movement is minor
• Often (not always) more lyrical than the first theme
• Sometimes early sonata forms (Haydn) simply transposed the first theme for the second theme
Third theme group
• Sometimes it is appropriate to speak of a “third theme”
• Some authors prefer to use the terminology “secondary themes” for all themes after the first
• Must come back in the recapitulation to be a true codetta
• Typically emphasizes the key of the last theme group (usually dominant or relative major)
• Lots of tonic-dominant chord progressions
• Various motives from the introduction and exposition are explored in a variety of keys
• Modulatory and unstable
• Sequential, motivic, or harmonic structures often guide the development
• Developments are NOT random wanderings; rather, composers use them to “work through”
conflicts present in the exposition
• Ends with a retransition anticipating the recapitulation’s motivic material, accompanied by a
dominant pedal point.
Normally, the recapitulation restates the themes from the exposition transposed to the TONIC key.
• Occurs once at the end of the movement, if present. Not all sonata forms include a coda.
• Terminal development: Development in the coda (rare before Beethoven)
• To find the coda, compare the recapitulation and the exposition measure-by-measure until all
material from the exposition has been stated. The remaining music is the true coda. (Remember
also: “Once a codetta, always a codetta.” The return of the codetta is part of the recap.)
The sonata form principle:
The tonal “conflict” created by the secondary themes in the exposition must be reconciled to
the tonic key.

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  » Jun 09, 2023  



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