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Thread: Help Developing Themes in the Development Section of Sonata Form

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    Senior Member Bevo's Avatar
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    Default Help Developing Themes in the Development Section of Sonata Form

    I've been writing Classical style music (especially Classical Era style) for several years now (all self-taught), and via experimentation and research I've recently improved and become much more comfortable with modulating. But the one area I'm still greatly struggling with is the development section of Sonata Form. It's not as much "developing" themes as it is making the tonal center sound unstable while playing variations of the themes. My biggest challenge is the actual harmony aspect. I know that to make the tonal center sound unstable it is going to involve a lot of secondary dominants/leading tone chords, but I just can't figure out the rest. There are common techniques that I can hear when listening to the music of Haydn and Mozart, such as stepwise motion in the bass that adds and releases tension, but I just can't grasp what exact is going on HARMONICALLY!! I get easy modulation techniques with pivot chords and going to the relative/parallel major/minor, but obviously there is more than just modulating going on in the development sections. I do also realize that practices such as imitation, sequences, and short fugal passages were common, but I need more help with harmony!! Are there chord substitutions that were commonly made in the music of Mozart and Haydn? I just can't seem to grasp it. Can someone please provide some helpful tips, tricks, or techniques for this department?!!! Specifically HARMONICALLY!!! Thanks in advance!

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    1. Look at scores and map out what is going on in a general way in the developments of Mozart, Haydn, and CPE Bach's first movements. I recently mapped out the development section of Mozart's Symphony 40/i for someone on this forum, but I don't remember the thread title or which sub-forum it was on.

    Edit: Found it: Mozart's 40th Symphony

    2. Sometimes it is helpful to work backward. When composing sonata allegro movements in the major mode, one essential trick all of these composers knew is how to elaborate the final dominant in the development section using coloration from the parallel minor. This is a great way to ratchet up both harmonic and expressive tension. So, for example, if one were writing a sonata in A-flat major , one might try ending the development with a dominant pedal — lots of the note E-flat in the bass — and above it adapt a characteristic motive of the principal theme, but inflected in the minor mode by using C-flats and F-flats instead of the natural versions. This final section of a development is called the retransition. If one can plan a good retransition in advance, half of the work is done.

    A good way of destabilizing is by beginning the development in a distant key. In symphony 40, Mozart begins the development in F# minor and then moves gradually, by a sequential progression toward a retransition in which the dominant is elaborated for many measures. (Beethoven begins the development of the "Appassionata" (Sonata Op. 57) in F-flat major!, although he spells it as E major.) Sequential progressions where there is no long resolution in any key keep things unstable. Repeating moves to the same key, on the other hand, usual takes the wind out of the sails. So, in the hypothetical sonata in A-flat mentioned above, one would not want to visit B-flat major more than once in the development. In fact, if one has firmly established any key in the development, one should worry that one has been there too long.

    3. If you feel bewildered by "what is going on HARMONICALLY" in any particular development section, and you post it, it is possible someone on the forum will help you take it apart. It's worth a shot.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Dec-01-2015 at 16:39.

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    Junior Member Haydnn's Avatar
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    I am self taught as well. I am finding that reading full scores of orchestral works while listening to the music is helping. When composing I find that concentrating on improvisation is what I need to do first. Are you following music scores, and are you using notational software?

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    Senior Member Truckload's Avatar
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    Great advice from EdwardBast.

    It helps to use a principle theme for a Sonata Allegro movement that can be easily broken into fragments or motives. For me I have an easier time seeing how Beethoven or Haydn put things together than Mozart. Anyway, once you have a recognizable motive from your first or second subject you employ your creativity in seeing ways to use it. The easiest techniques are modulation by sequence, especially a circle of fifths sequence, using a motive from your subjects. Once you get this in your ear memory you will begin to hear it easily.

    Also you can use any variation technique in a free manner on the complete principle theme or a motive of it.

    You might want to investigate this book, as it focuses exactly on your area of interest.

    Analyzing Classical Form.jpg
    Last edited by Truckload; Jan-07-2016 at 10:47.
    Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky - "I sit down to the piano regularly at nine-o'clock in the morning and Mesdames les Muses have learned to be on time for that rendezvous."

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    A common practice I've seen a lot is beginning the development in the parallel minor of the dominant - say the Sonata is in C, end the exposition in the dominant (G), and then begin the development in G minor. The development is to show off how much a composer can adapt a theme or motif, so a good idea might be to move through a circle of fifths progression; that way we move further from the home key and creates a sense of tonal instability. You then want to return to the dominant at the end of the development (ideally a dominant 7th) so we feel a real sense of relief when we return to the recapitulation.

    In terms of what to do to "develop" the theme, that's where your artistry and imagination comes into use. A common technique is passing the theme through different parts/voices (say your sonata is for piano, cross the hands over so the theme is in the bass). You could use fragmentation, inversion, or maybe even break the theme down until it's barely recognizable, that way the real sense of unity will come along during the recapitulation.

    Happy composing.

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