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sonata (sənä´tə), in music, type of instrumental composition that arose in Italy in the 17th cent.

At first the term merely distinguished an instrumental piece from a piece with voice, which was called a cantata. Thus many early concertos, suites, and sets of variations were called sonatas. As the various instrumental forms acquired differentiated characteristics during the baroque period, the term began to identify two specific types: the sonata de chiesa, or church sonata, and the sonata da camera, or chamber sonata. Both were written most commonly for two melody instruments, usually violins or flutes, with a bass instrument and a keyboard instrument, both of which played the thorough bass (see figured bass). The sonata da chiesa was in four movements—slow, fast, slow, fast—and its contrapuntal style was largely derived from the canzone. The sonata da camera was basically a suite of dances, although nondance movements were added later.

In the late 17th cent. these two types merged into the outstanding baroque chamber music form, the trio sonata. This form was brought to perfection in the works of Arcangelo Corelli and François Couperin and adopted in the sonatas of J. S. Bach and Handel. In the later 18th cent. sonatas for groups of instruments began to be designated string quartet and symphony, and the term sonata was limited to pieces for one keyboard instrument or for one solo instrument (e.g., violin) with keyboard accompaniment. The keyboard sonata was developed in the works of rococo Italian composers such as Galuppi, G. B. Sammartini (1701–75), and P. D. Paradies (1707–91). This rococo sonata was more homophonic than the trio sonata, having one outstanding melodic line with accompanying harmonic background, such as the Alberti bass. In sonatas of this type, particularly those of C. P. E. Bach, an expressive quality and pianistic style were developed that influenced the classical sonata, perfected by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

The classical sonata's movements are usually fast-slow-fast, and a minuet or scherzo is often inserted before the last movement. The first movement—and possibly one or more of the others—was in what is called sonata form. This is essentially a binary form, the first part being an exposition of two (or sometimes three) contrasted themes. The second part consists of a development of these themes and a recapitulation of the beginning exposition. Sonata form is employed in the string quartet, in the symphony, and to some extent in the concerto, as well as in the solo sonata. After the classical era the most significant development was the use of one thematic idea in all movements, in each of which the basic idea is transformed in mood and character. This type of sonata was fully realized in the Sonata in B Minor of Franz Liszt.

See critical studies of the composers mentioned; W. S. Newman, The Sonata in the Baroque Era (3d ed. 1972), The Sonata in the Classic Era (2d ed. 1972), and The Sonata since Beethoven (2d ed. 1972); C. Rosen, The Sonata Form (1980).

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sonata (It., sounded, from suonare, to sound; Fr., Ger. Sonate). Instr. comp. for pf., or for other instr(s). with pf. acc., e.g. vc. sonata, fl. sonata, in several movts. (sometimes in one, as in Liszt's B minor pf. sonata). Formal features of the sonata are found in other instr. comps., such as sym., qt., trio, but the term sonata is usually reserved for works involving not more than 2 performers. The sonata originated in the 16th cent., when it meant anything not sung but played. During early part of 17th cent., comps. for instr. ens., which were div. into 5 or more contrasting sections were known as sonatas. From these the baroque sonata developed, having 3–6 movts. like a suite, and taking 2 forms, the sonata da camera (‘chamber sonata’, often for 2 or more players with kbd. acc., in dance rhythms) and sonata da chiesa (‘church sonata’, of more serious character). The earliest sonatas for kbd. alone are by Salvatore and Kuhnau, and these reached their apogee with D. Scarlatti and C. P. E. Bach. Later in that century, the Viennese classical sonata of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, usually but not invariably in 3 movts., marked the greatest period in the development of the form, leading to the superb romantic era. Like the orch. sym., the sonata remains the most important form for 1 or 2 instr., and the majority of important 20th-cent. composers have written them. Most sonatas are written in sonata-form or a version of it. The Haydn/Mozart sonata is usually in 3 movts., allegro–andante–allegro. Beethoven introduced the minuet (later scherzo), as 3rd movt., but in his Op.111 pf. sonata he anticipated the 1-movt. sectional structure adopted by later composers. The last movt. of a 3- or 4-movt. sonata is often in sonata or rondo form, or is sometimes a set of variations. Some 20th-cent. composers have revived 18th-cent. application of term to works for several instr., e.g. Walton's Sonata for Strings and C. Matthews's Sonata for orch. The fact is that a sym. is a sonata for orch., a str. qt. a sonata for 4 str. instr., etc.

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sonata Musical composition in several movements. In the Baroque era, sonatas were usually written for two melodic parts and a continuo. In the classical period, the sonata became a more defined form for one or two instruments. The movements, usually three or four in number, are in related keys. The first movement of a sonata is usually in sonata form, a widely used musical form. The second movement is generally slow in tempo and the third and fourth movements are faster.

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so·na·ta / səˈnätə/ • n. a classical composition for an instrumental soloist, often with a piano accompaniment. It is typically in several movements with one (esp. the first) or more in sonata form.

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sonata (mus.) †piece of instrumental music; now, one for one or two instruments, normally consisting of three or four movements. XVII. — It. sonata, fem. pp. of sonare sound