May 2017 Sonata Allegro Form

Sonata Allegro Form


Sonata Allegro Form             

Many musicians play sonatas. These must be differentiated from sonata allegro form. A sonata is a piece for instruments and derives is name from the Latin, sonare, meaning “to sound”.  The term refers to a piece that is sounded forth by a non-vocal instrument. Cantata refers to a piece that is sung, stemming from the Latin cantare meaning “to sing”.  Sonatas can utilize sonata allegro form.

            Sonata allegro is a Classical Era music form used to give narrative qualities to pure, abstract, instrumental music. Opera was a very moving and important genre during the Baroque (1600 -1750) and Classical Eras (1730 -1820).  People were profoundly impacted by the intense emotional experience opera created through the interaction of various characters.  This narrative quality could be felt by each, individual person, and brought forth a deeply human experience as the unfolding drama could be personalized. Over time, the musical representation of the operatic drama became just as important as the story itself.  This opened the doors for purely instrumental music to have as much emotional impact as vocal music. Composers brought this affectation to instrumental music through sonata allegro form. Unlike other forms of the era that focused on one main theme, sonata allegro form enabled multiple themes to interact much like the characters in an opera.  The various scenes are depicted through the contrasting sections. Points of tension and drama are brought forth through the musical interplay between the themes. The main sections in sonata allegro form are:         

           Exposition  -- Multiple themes (characters) are introduced, the first in the tonic key,                                and the second in a new key. To ready the listener for the second theme in the new                         key, a transitional section of music is used to bridge the two themes together. This                         section is called the modulating bridge. The exposition is repeated to well develop                         the main themes in the listener’s ear.

            Development  -- The themes interact and develop in dramatic, action-like                                                  sequences of increasing tension.  Composers use various technics to create                                     harmonic unrest and driving energy, employing small, motivic parts of each theme.

            Recapitulation  -- All themes are reintroduced in their entirety, but all in                                                               the tonic key.  This gives a sense of return from the journeys and adventures of the                                 tale. Tensions are eased and a sense of ‘home-coming’ is created as the main themes                           (characters) have returned, though changed and all the wiser from their                                                    experience.   

            Coda  --  This section is the epilogue of the story, bringing the dramatic narrative to a                               satisfying end through strong cadence material.

Listen to Mozart's Sonata No. 12, K332, "Allegro", mvt. 1. This movement showcases sonata allegro form. The link offers a visual aid depicting each part of the form as it sounds.