The Sonata Form Used In the Composition of Classical Music

Literally, the word sonata means a piece played as opposed to a cantata-a piece sung.  In classical music sonatas [other than piano sonatas] are pieces written for an instrument that will usually involve piano accompaniment.  For example, a violin sonata involves one violin and one piano.  A violin sonata could also be described as a “sonata for violin and piano”. There are sonatas that have been written for almost every instrument of the orchestra.  

Franz Joseph, “Papa”, Haydn:

There is another meaning of the word sonata which was developed in the classical era by Franz “Papa” Joseph Haydn. That definition of sonata is what this post will deal with. It is the form or structure that many pieces in the classical era use in their composition.  This form of composition will involve 3 parts: 1. exposition, 2. development, and 3. recapitulation.

This structure or form that a composer uses to write the movement of a piece is not just used for sonatas, as you might think.  It is also used in many large orchestral works, symphonies and concertos.  Sonata is not the only form that the great composers used to compose a movement or an entire piece of classical music.  Some other forms of composition are “rondo”, “theme and variations”, “trio”, et. al. 

While there were other forms of composition in the Classical Era, usually, but not always, when the movement of a classical music piece isn’t designated by which form it has used to compose it, the structure of the piece will be in sonata form.

The sonata form consists of three different sections. Like a book or a speech that has a beginning, middle and end, so does a classical movement in the sonata form. The three parts are called exposition, development and recapitulation.

1. Exposition is the beginning of the movement or piece of music, with a theme or themes introduced. These theme[s] will be developed and define the character of the movement/or piece.

2. After the exposition comes the development. This could be considered like the middle of the movement. This could develop the original theme or begin a completely new theme. As the exposition defines the character of the movement, you could consider the middle part developing the character.

3. The final section [and ending of the movement or piece of music] of the sonata form is recapitulation. This means that the music will return to the opening of the exposition. It will sound like the movement is starting all over again and the exposition is being replayed.

So, I like to say in a piece or movement of music using the sonata form [structure], you will hear a beginning, then a middle, and then back to the beginning.

A more professional description of the sonata form of music can be found in this You Tube Video-from @InsideTheScore “How to Listen to Classical music”. Thank you, Inside The Score!

Here are some great pieces of classical music that use the sonata form of composition. Please turn up the volume and see if you can detect the exposition, development and then recapitulation in their structure.

I will give you the first one [Mozart Clarinet Quintet-Larghetto]: The exposition is about the beginning to the 2 minute mark; then the Development is about 2:09-3:25; and the recapitulation is about 3:30 -5:30. Also, in the second video, the exposition begins after the introduction by the orchestra [tutti] and after the recapitulation will be a solo cadenza by the pianist.

W.A. Mozart: Clarinet Quintet in A-Major, Movement 2, Larghetto:

Franz Joseph Haydn: Piano Concerto in D Major, Movement 1, Vivace:

Franz Joseph Haydn: String quartet #3 in G Minor, “The Rider”, Movement 4, Allegro con Brio:

Felix Mendelssohn: String Octet in E-Flat MAJOR, MOVEMENT 1, ALLEGRO MODERATO:

I hope you enjoyed some beautiful music from Mozart, Haydn, and Mendelssohn composed in the sonata form. Thank you for listening.

The Ultimate Use of Crescendo by Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel, while in the Romantic era of music, was among the group of French composers [along with Claude Debussy] in the late 19th and early 20th century, who were known as impressionists. 

Maurice Ravel [March 7, 1875 – December 28, 1937]

Who would have thought it would be a French composer to bring such a wonderful Spanish flavor in his universally beloved masterpiece, “Bolero“.  Ravel originally composed it for ballet as commissioned by Russian ballerina Ida Rubenstein.  Today it is almost always performed as a stand alone orchestral piece.

This one movement orchestral piece [featuring the snare drum] is a very unique piece in that it has just one theme that is repeated over and over again.  You might think that would make for a boring piece, but it is anything but that.  Ravel’s use of crescendo, with the dynamics beginning with pianissimo and ending with fortissimo makes this an exciting, not a boring piece.  The crescendo in this piece is a slow rising of volume that is constant and never interrupted.  

This is the ultimate use of crescendo as it starts at the first note of the piece [very softly] and continues all the way to the end of the piece [finishing very loudly].  

Ravel only varies the one theme character with a quick surprise climactic ending.  While you may say this is a simple one theme piece, Ravel, with the use of dynamics in this unique way, takes that simple repeated theme to ingeniously creates an epic masterpiece.

What concentration it must take for the percussionist to play the snare drum with the same rhythmic pattern for the entire piece; and like the orchestra the percussionist starts playing at a pianissimo (very soft sound) with a slow crescendo to the fortissimo end.

Maurice Ravel loved his Bolero and so do audiences around the world.  

This is a favorite piece for concert goers everywhere, and it is my wife’s favorite piece of all.   So, this is for you Sheralyn!

Everyone please turn up the volume [especially needed with the pianissimo opening by the snare drum], play in full screen and enjoy.

Maurice Ravel: Bolero:

Happy Birthday Franz Schubert

On January 31, 1797 classical music composer, Franz Schubert, was born in Vienna, Austria. This child prodigy of the late classical, early Romantic era of music died at the age of 31, and despite his short life this true genius was a prolific composer of many forms of classical music. He completed many overtures, symphonies, chamber music, and some of the most beautiful pieces [sonatas, impromptus] for solo piano and songs for voice.

Franz Schubert [Jan. 31, 1797 – Nov. 19, 1828]

Franz Schubert, with his beautiful melodic compositions, is one of my favorite composers.  I think by these following melodic compositions you will understand why I love Franz Schubert’s brilliant beautiful music. 

Please turn up the volume, play in full screen and enjoy this celebration of the great composer, Franz Schubert, on his birthday. 

Franz Schubert: Symphony # 8 in B minor, “Unfinished”:

Franz Schubert: Impromptu #3 in G Flat Major:

Franz Schubert: Ave Maria:

Franz Schubert: String Quartet #14 in D minor, “Death and the Maiden”, Movement 4, Presto:

Franz Schubert: Piano Quintet in A Major: “Trout”:

Happy Birthday #226 Franz Schubert!

Happy Birthday Beethoven!

On Dec. 16*, 1770, one of the giants in classical music, the great composer and pianist, Ludwig Van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany.  Historians are in some dispute on the exact date of his birth.

*His birthday is celebrated on the 16th because he was baptized on Dec. 17, and most think that means he must have been born on the 16th.  Whether it is the 15th or 16th or 17th, we do know this would be Ludwig’s 252nd birthday.

While there may be some dispute on Beethoven’s exact birth-date, there is no dispute by any classical music fan that Beethoven is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, composer in history. Because of that consensus of greatness, this giant in classical music is sometimes referred to as simply, “the master”.

Beethoven was one of the main contributors in developing the transition from the Classical Era to the Romantic Era of music. That is why he is often mentioned in the lists of great composers in both eras of classical music. Beethoven is one of my favorite composers, and if I was forced to narrow it down to just one, Beethoven would be my top choice as my favorite composer.
Ludwig Van Beethoven [December 16, 1770 – March 26, 1827]

Beethoven was a prolific composer, and a great composer in every genre of classical music. He composed 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, one great violin concerto, numerous piano and violin and cello sonatas, much great chamber music, works for opera and ballet and many great overtures, et. al.

A great book on the life and music of Beethoven, I have read , is “Beethoven: the Man Revealed” by John Suchet.

One of my favorite movies is Immortal Beloved, a story of the life of Beethoven set in an exciting dramatic style about the mysterious love of his life.  For anyone who hasn’t seen that movie I would suggest getting a copy of it.  It is a great movie for not just fans of classical music but for fans of a love mystery.  If you aren’t big fans of classical music before seeing the movie, you just may become classical music fans after you hear some awesome clips of Beethoven’s beautiful melodic music.

“Ode to Joy” Scene from “Immortal Beloved”:

One of Beethoven’s greatest symphonies [of his nine] and one of the most popular in the symphony genre, is his Symphony #5 in C minor. Even for many of those not familiar with classical music, they are familiar with the first 8 notes of this symphony.

I think if you would ask most classical music fans [and musicologists] what is the greatest symphony ever composed, the first that would be mentioned is Beethoven’s Choral 9th Symphony [aka, Ode To Joy]. I have been blessed to have heard this performed a few times in Jones Hall and it never fails to give me goose bumps … when it first starts and at the beginning of the final movement. It is a different feeling than just going to a concert-you know you are witnessing and hearing something special, that must have been inspired by God.

L.V. Beethoven:  Symphony #9 in D minor, “Choral-Ode to Joy”, movement 4, Recitative – Allegro:

Please turn up the volume and enjoy maybe the greatest and most beautiful piano concerto ever composed,

Beethoven’s “Emperor”, piano concerto #5 in E-Flat Major:

One of my favorite symphonies of all, is Beethoven’s beautiful Pastoral symphony, Symphony #6 in F Major:

On this final piece, Ethan Litwin, on his great classical music blog explains, Beethoven’s last published string quartet [although his second to last composed quartet] like I’ve never seen it explained before.

Now please enjoy Beethoven’s amazing String Quartet #14 in C# minor:

Happy 252nd Birthday Ludwig Van Beethoven!

My favorite Eight Symphonies

I know I had said that I was going to give my top 6 symphonies…but I just couldn’t pick only six … I had to make it my top 8 [and forget the order, except for the top 3], I could have given my one thru five choices in any order.

Note: on my #2 choice I literally kept switching back from this composer’s (no spoilers) First, Second, and Eighth Symphony-before deciding on his Second. Because of the length of his symphonies I knew I was only going to choose one-but I also knew I was going to make it my number 2 choice. 😀

So, without further ado, on this second day of the new year, 2022, please turn up the volume and enjoy my top “eight” symphonies.

8. Johannes Brahms: Symphony #2 in D-Major:

7. P.I. Tchaikovsky : Symphony #4 in F-minor:

6. Camille Saint-Saens: Symphony #3 in C-minor, “Organ Symphony”:

5. L. Van Beethoven: Symphony #6 in F-Major, “Pastoral”:

4. Felix Mendelssohn : Symphony #3 in A-minor, “Scottish”:

3. L. Van Beethoven: Symphony #5 in C-minor:

2. Gustav Mahler: Symphony # 2 in C-Minor, “Resurrection”:

and drum roll please …

#1. L. Van Beethoven: Symphony #9 in D-Major, “Choral Symphony”:

Thank you for listening to my favorites. I hope you enjoyed this wonderful music from the masters!

Beethoven Makes This Second His First

The great late Classical/early Romantic era composer, Ludwig Van Beethoven, composed 5 great piano concertos.  I think there is a consensus that his 5th piano concerto “The Emperor”, is his best, and one of the greatest piano concertos ever written.  While it is hard to choose because they are all so good and I love them all, I think I would pick his piano concerto #1 as my second favorite of his five concerti.

Ludwig Van Beethoven [1770 – 1827]

If one listens to Beethoven’s first piano concerto, and then his second piano concerto, you might think it is odd that it seems like his first concerto seems a little more substantive and developed than the second. Don’t get me wrong, the second is a great playful, happy concerto with some great melodies. It is a good piano concerto, but you might think that this would have been his first piano concerto he composed and the more substantive work labeled number one as his second.

That is actually the case. Beethoven’s second concerto was actually the first one he composed. The concerto named #1 was actually composed after his piano concerto #2. The reason it is called his first concerto is because in classical music, it is not the time that the piece was composed that determines the number, but when it is published. Since the second one he composed was published first, it is called his first piano concerto.

Beethoven’s piano concerto #1 is in the bright key of C Major with three movements: 1. Allegro con brio, 2. Largo, and 3. Rondo: Allegro Scherzando

In the opening movement there is a long tutti introduction of almost 3 minutes before the soloist enters.

While there is a long tutti to open the concerto,the Beethoven cadenza that is usually played for the first movement is even longer and it is one of the longest cadenzas you will ever hear – almost 5 minutes. (In this video-Khatia plays her own cadenza and not the longer Beethoven cadenza).

Please turn up the volume, play in full screen and enjoy this great Beethoven Piano Concerto [one of my favorite of all piano concerti] that Beethoven composed second, but it is labeled as his #1 piano concerto.

L.V. Beethoven: Piano Concerto #1 in C-Major:

My Favorite Piano Concertos

As we get close to New Years 2022, you will see many countdowns of the 10 or 100 best songs of the year on FM radio; and on the TV networks you may get the 10 or more top news stories of the year. This Classical music blog will give out, in my humble opinion, the top pieces in four different classical music genres on the next four days-Thursday, Friday [New Year’s Eve], Saturday [New Years Day], and Sunday [Jan. 2, 2022]. Of course, they won’t be for this past year as these pieces were composed many years/decades/centuries ago by the masters of classical music.

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, I gave my opinion of my four favorite overtures. On Friday, Dec. 31, 2021, I gave my top four violin concertos. On this New Years Day, Jan. 1, 2022, I am announcing my six favorite piano concertos, and tomorrow on Sunday Jan. 2, 2022, it will be my top six Symphonies.

Note: Just after Beethoven, Mozart along with Haydn and Bach, are my favorite composers. So, the fact that I don’t include one of Mozart’s great piano concertos among my top 6 has nothing to do with my lack of loving his piano concertos. The reason is that I just love these 6 so much. In fact, if I made a list of my top 20 piano concertos, Mozart I’m sure would have more in that list than any other composer.

Without further ado, on this Saturday, January 1, 2022, please turn up the volume and listen to this blog’s favorite 6 piano concertos [in reverse order].

6. Robert Schumann: Piano Concerto in A-minor:

5. L. Van Beethoven: Piano Concerto #1 in C-Major:

4. Frederic Chopin: Piano Concerto #1 in E-minor:

3. P.I. Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto #1 in B Flat-minor:

2. Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #2 in C-minor:

and drum roll please …

#1. L.Van Beethoven: Piano Concerto #5 in Eb-Major, “The Emperor”:

While you may have another top 6, I hope you enjoyed my favorite six piano concertos. Thanks for listening.

My Top Four Violin Concertos

As we get close to New Years 2022, you will see many countdowns of the 10 or 100 best songs of the year on FM radio; and on the TV networks you may get the 10 best or more news stories of the year. This Classical music blog will give out, in my humble opinion, the top pieces in four different classical music genres on the next four days-Thursday, Friday [New Year’s Eve], Saturday [New Years Day], and Sunday [Jan. 2, 2022]. Of course, they won’t be for this past year as these pieces were composed many years/decades/centuries ago by the masters of classical music.

Without further ado, on this New Years Eve day, please turn up the volume and enjoy my top four Violin Concertos.

4. Johannes Brahms, Violin Concerto in E-minor:

3. Felix Mendelssohn’s, Violin Concerto in E-minor:

2. L.V. Beethoven’s, Violin Concerto in D-Major:

and drum roll please, my number one …

#1. P.I. Tchaikovsky’s, Violin Concerto in D-Major:

I hope you enjoyed my top violin concertos even if I missed one of yours! Thanks for listening.