The Evolution of Sonata Forms
The Evolution of Sonata Forms
The Evolution of Sonata FormsSonata form which was prevalent in early classicism was a prestigious musical form back in late eighteenth century. Compared with other forms such as binary form, it demonstrated an entire scope of musical structure. It is widely regarded that the idea of sonata form is central to enlightened musical thought. In this article, the definition of sonata form and how it evolved in different eras will be discussed. Also the most typical representative in each era and their works will be mentioned as well.According to the Elements of Sonata Theory[1], Sonata form is the most important large structure of individual movements from the “common-practice” tonal era. It sets forth and resolves its musical discourse within a large-scale binary format.The construction of sonata form contains three parts which are called exposition, development, and recapitulation. This formal structure is perfectly organized and extremely complex. In Exposition, the initial theme is stated in the tonic followed by a contrasting one in the dominant. The two themes evolve in development and some new material is folded in. The recapitulation starts with the return of the first theme in the tonic, acts as a resolution, and the original differences are now resolved and the theme is expressed back in the tonic. This is the structure of the famous sonata form which was widely used by most composers from late eighteenth century. But how did this elegant form evolve? The Italians came in the first place. By the 1730s, the break with Baroque texture is manifested in the works of Giovanni Battista Sammaritni, Domenico Scarlatti and others. The musical structure is marked by more simplicity, clarity, and independency.  This can be seen when Scarlatti created his Sonata in D major K.140. This is an example of early sonata style: approaching the dominant by means of its minor mode which shows that Scarlatti has a whole idea of the scope of tonalities.Then the similar situation appears in Austrian and German composers in late 1750s which was only a few years behind the Italians. The most eminent representative of German composer was C. P. E. Bach, a son of J. S. Bach. He used the harmonic and voice-leading techniques that his father had developed, and exploited them to the homophonic style – more dramatic shifts in change of keys, while maintaining an overall consistency. C. P. E. Bach was a definitive influence on Joseph Haydn. Another one of C. P. E. Bachs most significant creations was the contraction of the theme to a motif, which could be varied more dramatically in development. His treatment of motif was crucial for the history of the sonata forms and influenced plenty of composers such as Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This is the initial evolution of sonata forms.

In classic era, Joseph Haydn is thought of as “the Father of the Symphony”. He can also be thought of as the father of the sonata form because of the structure of works. His string quartets and symphonies are not only the huge scope of applications of the form, but also the way to develop its dramatic potential. It is principle Haydn who originated the transition to the development and recapitulation. It is also Haydn who created a clearer outline for works by dedicating every harmony.Haydns Pianoforte Sonata No.1 in E flat major gives good examples of coordinated use of the resources of sonata form. In Exposition, the first subject starts in tonic key and ends with an imperfect cadence, then the bridge passage commences with tonic chord and moves into B flat Major which ends in bar 43. The development section starts with the Dominant triad of E flat major then after several modulations it returns to tonic key and ends in bar 78. The Recapitulation has similar construction with Exposition and ends on tonic key with a perfect cadence.As a well-known Composer, Mozart is also influenced by Haydn in his symphonic repertoires, first showed in his last three Salzburg symphonies. He develops the main theme, cites counterpoint, minuets which are more than in previous symphonies. Then Mozart applied the large-scale ideas of Haydn to operas and the piano concertos. Mozarts variety with the creation of themes and motives makes his significant contribution to sonata forms. By the end of his short life, Mozart had absorbed Haydns technique and applied it to his own more elegant themes.For instance, the first movement of Mozart sonata No.1 in C major ‘Allegro’. The Exposition begins with first theme which is from bar 1-12, then a bridge passage from bar 16-31, and second subject till bar 38. Development is quite short which is from bar 39-57 then comes to Recapitulation, bar 58-67 is the first subject, connected with a bridge passage which is bar 70-100, then finally the second theme goes back to tonic key at the very end.The most remarkable representative throughout the Romantic era is Beethoven. He directly inspired sonata form as a particular practice and wider variety of outline that came from Haydn and Mozart. He continued to expand the length and weight of the sonata forms, as well as frequently using motives and harmonic models drawn from the two older composers. Because of that, he is seen as a transitional figure between the Classical and Romantic eras.

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Evolution Of Sonata Forms And Joseph Haydn. (April 20, 2021). Retrieved from