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.

Some Mozart Magic

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the quintessential “Classical Era” composer, was a prolific composer in almost every form of classical composition: symphonies, concertos, chamber music and operas.  His great operas also produced great overtures.  They are all great, but I chose to feature a little Mozart magic, … “The Magic Flute”, that is.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [Jan. 27, 1756 – Dec. 5, 1791]

Because this overture was written for his opera of the same name, it is not a concert overture, although it is often played as a stand alone piece, like a concert overture, because of its wonderful melodies and popularity with concert goers.

The most well known aria from Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute” is called “The Queen of the Night.”  This is one of my favorites.

Please turn up the volume to enjoy some wonderful Mozart magic.

W.A. Mozart: Overture to the Magic Flute:

W.A. Mozart: “Queen of the Night”, Aria from ‘The Magic Flute’:

Mozart Brings Out the Beauty of the Oboe

One of my favorite composers, the quintessential Classical era composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, is known for his virtuosity on the piano and violin.  His many great compositions for the piano and violin reveal his knowledge in those instruments.  But it is not just the violin and piano that Mozart knew well.  He could bring out the beauty of many instruments that are used in the symphonic orchestra.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart [Jan. 27, 1756 – Dec. 5, 1791]

For example, I believe Mozart was the first composer to utilize the clarinet in the classical orchestra.  It is because of his wonderful clarinet concerto and his clarinet quintet that I became a huge fan of the clarinet, and in fact name that instrument, along with the piano, as my favorites.

Mozart once said he was not a big fan of the flute, but that did not stop him from composing a great concerto for the flute.

Mozart was also able to bring out the beauty of the Oboe.  He showed his knowledge and the ability to bring out the best in this instrument with his Oboe Concerto in C Major and in one of my favorite chamber music pieces of all, his Oboe Quartet in F Major. This quartet for Oboe, Violin, Viola and Cello is exquisitely beautiful and soothing and the Oboe oozes a sunny happiness in this piece.  

Mozart’s extraordinary Adagio movement of the “Gran Partita” for winds, brings out the beauty of not just the oboe, but of all the wind instruments that he uses in this piece.

Please turn up the volume and enjoy how Mozart was able to bring out the beauty of the Oboe.

W.A. Mozart: Oboe Concerto in C Major:

W.A. Mozart: Oboe Quartet in F Major:

W.A. Mozart: ‘Gran Partita’ for Winds, Movement 3, Adagio: