Show off your theory chops with my weekly challenge! You’ll find a new question here every Monday. Please comment to post your reply.
This week’s challenge:
Sonata form is the name we give to the structure of many symphonic first movements. In modern times it’s often thought of as ternary (or three-part) form: exposition–development–recapitulation. However, even in the late symphonies of Mozart, you’ll find a repeat sign at the end of the recapitulation, going all the way back to the start of the development. What does this reveal about the origins of sonata form?
Reply to post your answer, and check back on Friday, December 10th to see if you’re right!
ANSWER for 12/6/21
Well done everyone! Sonata form was a development (pun intended) of rounded binary form:
Renaissance dance forms became adapted into Baroque instrumental movements, particularly binary form with repeats on each section. Rounded binary had the A material return after the B section. As time went on, it became standard practice for the first A section to modulate, often ending in the key of V. However, when the A material returned after the B section, it reasserted the tonic key, rather than modulating. The B section became an episode in which the themes “exposed” in the A section could be developed; hence the modern terms “exposition” and “development.”
By the early 19th Century, composers began to see a more linear narrative in this form. To that end, Beethoven was one of the first to do away with the repeats on either side of the B-A section. This was an important step toward the evolution of sonata form into a more programmatic drama, or, at least, a structure with extramusical implications. An operatic parallel can be found in the reforms of Gluck, who felt that the da capo aria’s repeat was a purely musical convention that hindered the dramatic narrative.
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Madison Pruet says
Sonata form evolved from the two-part dance form that was common in the baroque and earlier years suites. It was basically a movement from the home key to a related key at the first repeat sign and then a return to the home key by the second repeat sign.
KIYOSHI TAMAGAWA says
Sonata form is an outgrowth and expansion of two-reprise binary structure, both halves of which are repeated.
Jonny Boy says
It owes it roots to the prototypical rounded-binary form which has a similar structure
Paul van Houten says
The sonata allegro form grew out of the form of the dance suites of the renaissance where the form was often an AABB. During the classic period, the exposition consisted of a first theme, a bridge, the second theme, and a coda. The second theme was typically in the dominant, or the relative major if the first theme was in a minor key. The development was play time for the composer where theme fragments were used. The recap contained themes one and two but without modulation for the second theme. That means you have to learn to play it in two different keys. 😢. Romantic composers tended to avoid the repeats.
Aron Bernstein says
I think it’s interesting about the Romantic tendency to do away with those repeats. It’s almost as if 19th century composers began to see sonata form as more of a linear, driving narrative, which repeats would have hindered.
Paul van Houten says
Yes, and some of those romantic symphonies would be really long if repeats were included. Also interesting is how the romantic composers tended to do away with the double exposition in concerti.