Learning to Listen: Sonata Form

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
November 11, 2013
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Musical form is like an outline of a piece. You can think of it like a structure or frame of a house.

Examples of musical form include fugues, chaconnes, minuets, sarabandes — even the concerto has a typical form to it.

In the middle of the 18th century, right around the time Johann Sebastian Bach died, composers started focusing a lot of attention on something called "Sonata form".

Composers started using Sonata form so much that it became expected that you'd hear it used in the first movement of big works like symphonies, concertos and instrumental sonatas.

As a result, it's sometimes called "first-movement form".

There are loose rules to Sonata form. There are three large sections to it: the exposition, the development and the recapitulation. The exposition itself contains two melodies — a primary theme and a secondary theme.

And while Sonata form can become far more complicated, we'll stick to some cut-and-dried examples for the sake of ease.

In today's Learning to Listen, you'll hear examples of Sonata form from Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi and Prokofiev.


A simple illustration of sonata form, thanks to Hyacinth on Wikimedia Commons.

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