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. 

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.

Five Beautiful Piano Concerto Movements

Along with the clarinet, the piano is my favorite instrument, and the piano concerto is my favorite genre of classical music.  I love to be in the audience of a concert at Jones Hall with the great Houston Symphony Orchestra when there is a piano concerto on the program.

There are so many beautiful piano concerto movements, it is hard to pick out the most beautiful of them all.  

But, daring to go where no man has gone, I will attempt to choose the top five most beautiful movements in the piano concerto repertoire. 🙂  Of course, this is my opinion of the top 5 and not meant to be a consensus of classical music experts, whom I certainly do not include myself anywhere near that category. 

In choosing the top 5, I came up, probably by no accident, with five of my favorite composers.   These five composers just happen to be some of the greatest composers in classical music: Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Mendelssohn. There are so many that have just missed the top five I apologize for not including them.

Please turn up the volume and enjoy my choices of the top 5 most beautiful piano concerto movements. I think at least some of them may be included in your favorites.

#5: Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto #2 in D minor, movement 2, Adagio Molto Sostenuto:

#4. Frederic Chopin: Piano Concerto #1 in E minor, movement 2, Romance – Larghetto

#3. Fredric Chopin: Piano Concerto #2 in F minor, movement 2, Larghetto:  

#2. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto #2 in C minor,  Movement 3,  Allegro Scherzando:

#1: L.V. Beethoven: Piano Concerto #5 in Eb Major, “The Emperor”, movement 2, Adagio un poco mosso

Whether you agreed with me or not on my picks, I hope you enjoyed some beautiful music.


Scotch Treats

There are three great classical music pieces from two classical music composers that come to mind when the country Scotland is mentioned.  Both composers of those three pieces are ironically German composers in the Romantic Era of music. 

Felix Mendelssohn [1809 – 1847]

Felix Mendelssohn had two pieces with a Scottish flavor, his Symphony #3 in C-minor, known as the Scottish symphony, and his Hebrides Overture also known as Fingal’s Cave. 

Mendelssohn is one of my favorite composers because of the so many beautiful melodies he includes in his pieces. He was 33 years old when he composed his 3rd symphony.  It is thought that a painting Mendelssohn saw on a trip he had made to Scotland inspired him to compose this symphony. This is heard in the opening theme of the first movement. Thus, this third symphony is known as the Scottish symphony.  

Mendelssohn’s gorgeous Scottish Symphony is scored in the typical four movements: 1. Andante con moto-Allegro un poco agitato,  2. Vivace non troppo,  3. Adagio and 4. Allegro Vivacissimo.

This from Wikipedia, on Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture: “It was inspired by one of Mendelssohn’s trips to the British Isles, specifically an 1829 excursion to the Scottish island of Staffa, with its basalt sea cave known as Fingal’s Cave. It was reported that the composer immediately jotted down the opening theme for his composition after seeing the island.

Max Bruch was a great composer and conductor of the late 19th and early 20th century.  Although Bruch never visited Scotland, he pays homage to Scotland with his Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra in E-flat Major

He composed this piece in dedication to the virtuoso violinist Pablo de Sarasate. The Scottish Fantasy is one of Bruch’s signature pieces.  I also love this piece.

Please turn up the volume and enjoy these 3 great “Scotch” treats: Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, and the finale of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra. 

Felix Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture, “Fingal’s Cave”:

Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony #3 in C-minor, “Scottish”:

Max Bruch: Scottish Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra in E Flat Major:

Thank you, Scotland for inspiring this beautiful music.  So, in your honor here is your national song,  “Flower of Scotland” and the well known traditional Scottish song [composer unknown] “Loch Lomond” [I’ll Be In Scotland Afore Ye]. 

Flower of Scotland:

Loch Lomond:

I hope you enjoyed these Scotch Treats.