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Thread: Clear examples of Sonata Form?

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    Default Clear examples of Sonata Form?

    Hi, everyone! First post here-- very excited! I am studying composition and looking for examples of Sonata Form throughout the rep. Any suggestions would be super. Thanks!

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    Oh, man. You are aware that the vast majority of first movements of Classical period (and many Romantic and even 20th century) sonatas, symphonies, string quartets, etc. etc. from Haydn and beyond are in sonata form (thus, sometimes called "first movement form"--even some final movements are in sonata form, as well).

    A wonderful, simple, terse, compact and efficient example of the form is Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, First Movement. Let me know if you have any questions about analysis. Or let me know if you want chamber or orchestral, or from other periods or composers. There's hundreds, or thousands of examples. But this one is short and sweet and very straightforward. Easy to analyze and easy to see what he developed. (The themes are brilliantly contrasted, as well. They are similar in rhythm, but are shaped in opposite directions).

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    Senior Member mbhaub's Avatar
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    One of the most easily grasped is the first movement of Prokofieff's Classical Symphony. Into - Exposition (A & B themes and closing group) development - recapitulation - coda. Perfect form.
    "It is surprising how easily one can become used to bad music" - F. Mendelssohn

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mbhaub View Post
    One of the most easily grasped is the first movement of Prokofieff's Classical Symphony. Into - Exposition (A & B themes and closing group) development - recapitulation - coda. Perfect form.
    As only a pastiche could be

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    Senior Member Olias's Avatar
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    All your questions can be answered here:


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    Senior Member SONNET CLV's Avatar
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    For years I instructed general English/Literature (i.e., non-music major) students in various forms and the importance of form in art -- "Form is meaning." For sonata form the work I most used to demonstrate the Exposition (with its two themes, dramatic and lyrical and respective key change and transitions), Development (reworking of the themes), and Recapitulation (those original two themes again but now in same key, the "name" key) was the opening movement of Mozart's early String Quartet in B Flat Major, K. 159. The movement is simple but effective; it's not an Allegro, most common with traditional sonata form, but it is easy to follow. I actually passed out copies of the score and showed how the elements of the form work in written fashion as well as just to hear it. Of course, many of the students read music, but many did not. This Mozart work seemed to me one of the most effective to introduce the mechanics of the form. It is brief enough, too, unlike, perhaps, a symphony or concerto, or even one of the later string quartets.

    NOTE -- This particular video is marked with the wrong K. number. The Quartet is K. 159, not 158.

    A secondary work I relied on for, again, its clear to follow sonata form on both paper score and in-the-ears music was the opening movement of Brahms's First Piano Sonata, a wonderful example of the form with two easy to distinguish themes.

    Works I used to supplement the initial lesson were the opening movement of Beethoven's Fifth (a prime example of sonata form, with a better development than in early Mozart and with coda-like material to enhance the basic form) and the opening movement of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony (where the initial two themes are clearly identifiable and where the Development sections opens with a real bang).

    Too, Overtures often provide fine examples of the form. I relied upon Bernstein's Candide and Barber's School for Scandal overtures for clear-to-hear examples of the form in action.

    One of the key elements for my uses was to find music that students might actually like to hear, rather than just present an academic discussion of the form. And since I was not getting into great depth I needed only a few works. The ones I list here often made positive impressions on students who were overtly unfamiliar with the world of classical music to begin with, and so got an opportunity to hear some fine pieces that may well lead them onto exploring further, which some I know of did.
    Last edited by SONNET CLV; Mar-06-2021 at 19:15.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    What the posters above seem to think you're looking for is "textbook sonata" form. The pattern described on the something classical site is a good enough description of it, but it neglects to mention that this textbook pattern wasn't codified until a couple of decades into the Romantic Era and it has little to do with how Classical Era composers thought of first movement form. The textbook model is primarily a schema of thematic sections, two principal themes, transitions, closing sections, etc., whereas the essential thing for Classical Era composers wasn't a thematic schema, but the tonal/harmonic structure, the sequence of keys. I haven't examined all the examples in the sidebar on the site, but the one I chose, the first movement of Haydn's Symphony 88, doesn't actually fit the textbook model in that it doesn't have a "traditional" second theme. It was shamelessly shoehorned into the textbook model by misidentifying a tiny bit of the first theme and closing material as a second theme. In short, there could be any number of themes from one to seven in the opening movement of a Classical Era symphony, sonata, or quartet. Haydn, for example, composed many monothematic opening movements.

    Even the standard key structure wasn't always followed in Classical Era opening movements. Quite a few recapitulations, for example, started in the subdominant and followed the pattern of the exposition, modulating up by a fifth, in these cases so that the second key area would be the tonic without recomposing the transitions. My point is that there is a great deal of variety in approaches to opening movement form, so expecting them all to conform to the textbook pattern will be frustrating. It is worthwhile learning textbook form because a lot of composers from around 1830 on took it seriously. But you should expect to find numerous variations on the form that don't fit it.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    A youtuber named "Raja Orr SFCM" wrote an interesting comment on Tchaikovsky's use of form in the Romeo and juliet overture:

    "INTRO (Completely rewritten by Tchaikovsky in 1872)
    A1 Friar Laurence theme + chorale: 0:00
    A2: 2:06
    A3: 4:15
    Transition 1: 5:24

    Primary theme - Capulet & Montague fight theme: 5:36
    Transition 2: 5:53
    Canon in D minor: 6:00
    Canon in G minor: 6:06
    Transition 2: 6:14
    Dominant preparation for b minor: 6:28
    Primary theme restated: 6:40
    Transition 2 expanded: 7:02
    Secondary theme - Love theme: 7:45 (Lightly orchestrated)
    Transition 3 - 8:04
    Secondary theme restated: 8:55
    Transition 4: 9:59

    DEVELOPMENT (Completely rewritten in 1872)
    Primary theme + Friar Laurence theme developed: 11:05
    Dominant preparation for b minor: 13:07

    RECAPITULATION (Mostly rewritten 1872 then revised 1880)
    Primary theme restated: 13:20
    Transition 5: 13:42
    Secondary theme: 14:24 (Full orchestration)
    Secondary theme restated: 15:54
    Primary theme derived interruption: 16:03
    Primary theme: 16:12
    Love theme lament: 17:27
    Friar Laurence chorale: 18:12
    Secondary theme derived coda: 19:13
    Ending: 19:44"

    I also find this interesting:
    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    I'm talking about stuff like this:

    Mozart Fantasie K.475, Liszt Sonata in B minor.. what are some other good examples? Would Schubert's Wanderer fantasy qualify?

    I like Mozart's example. The fantasie and the outer movements of the associated sonata (K.457) —in each of their developments, there is a sigh-like expression, consisting of a 'diminished 7th chord on B' collapsing down to a 'dominant 6/5 chord' (by lowering the top A♭ to G). It strikes me somewhat as a "leitmotif":

    K.475 :
    K.457/i :
    K.457/iii :

    I also like both of these ways to end dramatically; 'F♯-G-A♭-F-G-C':
    K.475 :
    K.457/iii :
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Mar-07-2021 at 04:56.

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