About the Sonata

The Sonata – 2008 Program

History dates the first use of the term sonata from a treatise by the italian Adriano Banchieri around 1605. However its form and structure has changed considerably over the hundreds of years since then.  Many believe that the sonata allegro form used in the Beethoven first movement derived from a simple binary dance movement formulated in a prior age; Two sections marked to be repeated within one larger movement.  In general, the first section modulates to a related key and the second section modulates back to the original key.

In the early baroque period a suite of dance pieces was sometimes referred to as a sonata; in other instances a suite or group was referred to as a partita.  These suites oftentimes followed the pattern of Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, composer’s choice, and Gigue.  The individual pieces within the suite developed from actual dances of the times.

The pattern of pieces in the earliest suites followed the alternating fast-slow-fast pattern. The Sarabande (a middle movement) in the suite standardized by JS Bach was generally the slow movement. It is an elegant two step dance favored by the European aristocracy of the period.

Each of the Bach partitas begins with an introductory piece, each with a different title.  The suite programmed here begins with Praeludium; others open with Sinfonia, Overture and other titles.  But in each case there follows an allemande, a corrente (or courante) a sarabande, a discretionary piece or two, and then the lively gigue.

Some believe that the multi-movement sonata is a development of the multi-movement dance suite.  The Beethoven sonata programmed here has movements in the order slow-fast-slow.  This order is the reverse of what one generally finds in the classic pattern of sonata movements of earlier times.

Sonata-allegro refers to the form of an individual movement within the overall multi-movement sonata. The sonata-allegro form, like the binary dance forms found in the baroque dance suite, is generally a binary form.  However, the sonata-allegro form expands the form by having a two or more theme first section with a modulation to a related key. This section is called the “exposition” since the composer exposes thematic material.  A middle section called the “development” section takes material from the exposition and plays with it at the composers discretion.  Then a third section entitled the “recapitulation” returns to a restatement of themes from the exposition usually in the original key.  Many later sonatas include an introduction to the exposition (like Praeludium in Bach’s partita in Bb though not separate) and a coda (a closing section after the recapitulation)

So by some accounts, the Bach and Beethoven programmed here, are sonatas born approximately 100 years apart.  The Bach was written about 1730, the Beethoven about 1821.

Cyclical Form

In an effort to make the individual pieces within the overall sonata more cohesive, some composers made their works cyclical.  This technique ties thematic material in one movement to another movement.  Notice that Bach ties individual pieces within the Bb partita by using the key signature of Bb for each of the works individual movements.

In the opening measures of opus 110, Beethoven sets the key signature, the mood, the thematic material of the first theme and food for a number of other musical ideas; including ideas for the last movement.  In fact, on a second listening (and if you allow yourself) you will hear an ornamented version of the simple last movement fugue theme.  It is a code within a code.