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#1630232 - 02/28/11 08:21 PM How to write a piano sonata?
dlee1001 Offline
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Registered: 05/21/10
Posts: 80
Hi, I'm wondering about how to write a classical piano sonata. I want to write one so that I might be inspired to create more.

All the classical piano pieces that I know and/or play are not suitable for playing at churches when people are praying (as in, people praying in unison with music playing in the background) or before a service starts. For this reason, I want to compose something, in the form of a piano sonata, that is suitable for the church atmosphere. But before I do so, I need some idea of how to write a piano sonata.

Any help is welcome. smile
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#1630240 - 02/28/11 08:32 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
eweiss Offline
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Sonata form is this ... Exposition - Development - Recapitulation. Or that's the pompous way most books describe it.

Writing one of these is pretty hard and requires a lot (and I mean a lot) in the way of technical know how.

Why not just write a simple ABA form or better yet, just improvise. Yeah ... kind of like what Bach did. smile
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#1630249 - 02/28/11 09:00 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
beet31425 Online   content
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
Sonata form is this ... Exposition - Development - Recapitulation. Or that's the pompous way most books describe it.
I don't get it... do you have a less "pompous" way of describing sonata form? (And fwiw there's more to it than that! smile )


Anyway, dlee1001, my advice is to get very familiar with lots of classical sonatas. How many sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert do you know? As in, really know? Immerse yourself in their work, and you'll see what makes a classical sonata tick.

-J

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#1630250 - 02/28/11 09:01 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
dlee1001 Offline
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Registered: 05/21/10
Posts: 80
Originally Posted By: eweiss
Sonata form is this ... Exposition - Development - Recapitulation. Or that's the pompous way most books describe it.

Writing one of these is pretty hard and requires a lot (and I mean a lot) in the way of technical know how.

Why not just write a simple ABA form or better yet, just improvise. Yeah ... kind of like what Bach did. smile


I'm a high school student taking AP Music Theory. Is this sufficient to help me write sonatas?

I do have some background knowledge about the sonata form, but what exactly are those three parts that you mentioned (i.e. what do they mean and how do I utilize them)?
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#1630262 - 02/28/11 09:23 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
Leland Offline
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Registered: 03/26/10
Posts: 89
Wikipedia has some good info on sonata form
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonata_form#Outline_of_sonata_form

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#1630266 - 02/28/11 09:27 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: beet31425]
eweiss Offline
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Originally Posted By: beet31425
Originally Posted By: eweiss
Sonata form is this ... Exposition - Development - Recapitulation. Or that's the pompous way most books describe it.
I don't get it... do you have a less "pompous" way of describing sonata form? (And fwiw there's more to it than that! smile )

Of course I do. But that's how most text books describe it. Here's how I would describe it - Initial idea - develop the idea - rinse and repeat.

BTW, this sonata form is considered 'dramatic,' that is, if you want people at your church to lean on the edge of the pews, that's the way to go. Why not just keep it simple and improvise in either a major key or a modal one? Much more 'meditative.'
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#1630267 - 02/28/11 09:28 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
ll Offline
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AP Music Theory doesn't teach *how* to write a sonata. Nor does it really teach much more than rudiments and basic harmony. And really, you shouldn't go into composition with the idea of "I'm going to write a __________."

It sounds like you don't even have an idea yet. Start with that. While I think most of eweiss's post is incredibly unhelpful, there is some merit in "improvise."

Get a musical idea, then see what you can do with it - not the other way around. And start small. No need to tackle something huge and never accomplish it. I don't think 'ABA' really gives any guidance either.

Do you have a private teacher? If you're in AP Music Theory, I'm assuming you do have one, and are at an intermediate minimum playing level. Try talking to your teacher and beginning some compositions in your lessons.
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#1630272 - 02/28/11 09:42 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: ll]
dlee1001 Offline
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Registered: 05/21/10
Posts: 80
Originally Posted By: ll
AP Music Theory doesn't teach *how* to write a sonata. Nor does it really teach much more than rudiments and basic harmony. And really, you shouldn't go into composition with the idea of "I'm going to write a __________."

It sounds like you don't even have an idea yet. Start with that. While I think most of eweiss's post is incredibly unhelpful, there is some merit in "improvise."

Get a musical idea, then see what you can do with it - not the other way around. And start small. No need to tackle something huge and never accomplish it. I don't think 'ABA' really gives any guidance either.

Do you have a private teacher? If you're in AP Music Theory, I'm assuming you do have one, and are at an intermediate minimum playing level. Try talking to your teacher and beginning some compositions in your lessons.


I do not have a private teacher, but my high school music teacher is an awesome teacher. She is my AP Music Theory teacher.

I also took a piano class in the first semester, and we were to write an original composition. This inspired me to write more music. I added a second and third movement to my composition, which is classical-style. And I titled the work as a whole "Romance-erzo: A Romance and Scherzo, Op. 1." The links below provide the compositions.

1st movement: http://musescore.com/score/2156 (this was what I made in my piano class)
2nd movement: http://musescore.com/score/2534
3rd movement: http://musescore.com/score/3443

The second and third movement were the inspired compositions. Please listen to each of these and give me feedback. What do you notice about the structure of each movement? What do each have in common?
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#1630320 - 02/28/11 11:20 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
Kreisler Offline



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Okay, I'll chime in with some real advice. wink

One of the best compositional exercises you can do is to take a sonata you like, analyze it, and "rewrite" it using your own themes and textures.

Generally speaking, a sonata form has three parts - exposition, development, and recapitulation.

The terms aren't pompous at all. They just have lots of syllables. Their meanings are simple enough, though:

Exposition - Like the exposition of a novel, the exposition of a sonata introduces a protagonist and an antagonist. The first is a theme in the tonic key. The second is a theme in the dominant key. (In a minor key sonata, the 2nd theme is usually in the relative major.) There is transitional material between the two and closing material after the last, and some composers like to add extra themes (supporting characters) in as well, but the basic idea is the same.

Development - Stuff happens to our characters. They pop up in different shapes and sizes, usually in different keys (or wrung through different chord progressions which may not necessarily be in a clearly defined key.) Occasionally, new ideas creep in, but finally, the section ends with a preparation for the recap.

Recapitulation - Our protagonist and antagonist return, but this time they've resolved their differences and are in the same key. This is accomplished by rewriting the transitional material so that it no longer modulates.

And that's pretty much it. Obviously, sonatas vary greatly. There are some interesting variants that composers use. (I can think of examples where the recap is in the subdominant/tonic instead of tonic/tonic, where introductions and codas are added, where composers "trick" you with false recapitulations, or where the same theme is used as both the protagonist and antagonist, albeit in the usual tonic and dominant.)
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#1630324 - 02/28/11 11:27 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
Orange Soda King Offline
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#1630325 - 02/28/11 11:30 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
BruceD Offline
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If the composition is background to church prayer and meditation, a Sonata may not necessarily be the form most appropriate for the occasion. As others have suggested, start with a simple musical idea, melody or concept with the idea of the purpose the music is to serve in mind, and go from there. A simple meditative, reflective piece would seem more appropriate than a Sonata.

Regards,
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#1630363 - 03/01/11 12:33 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
Lingyis Offline
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kreisler--that was such a good explanation.

is there a "rule" to making 3 movements (or 4) of a sonata sound coherent? because beethoven's sure sound more consistent than, oh, i don't know, mozart's, say.

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#1630597 - 03/01/11 10:47 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
pianoloverus Online   content
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There are thousands of classical pieces that are perfect to play before or during a church service. A few examples:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KQW2YnCUrE
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITbcJMKVmts
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jjjMGCl030
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu06WnXlPCY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yu06WnXlPCY
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtqQAfoNCeI

There are also many books with original composition or arrangements meant specifically for the purpose mentioned in the OP.

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#1630607 - 03/01/11 10:58 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
eweiss Offline
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I just have to say ... writing a 'piano sonata' as it was written over a hundred plus years ago seems strange to me. I mean, it's like presenting a painting in the style of Monet to a group of people and saying - look what I created. But it's more like copying just to get an effect.

If that's what you want to do, more power to you.

But why not just improvise at your church service? Bach himself would approve. smile
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#1630623 - 03/01/11 11:13 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
Tim Adrianson Offline
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Registered: 08/07/10
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I agree with eweiss -- nobody does this type of thing anymore, really in any sense other than purely academic -- far better IMO to explore the pop, New Age, and jazz stylings of contemporary Christian music. There's been a huge build-up of literature in that area over the past 20 - 30 years.

If you feel the church is more conservative than that, then I would pursue the Classical repertoire selections cited above -- but my own experience is that the "audience" tends to gravitate more to the contemporary musical expressions. I served as church pianist/organist for roughly 30 years, and so I know whereof I speak.

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#1630624 - 03/01/11 11:14 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
pianoloverus Online   content
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
I just have to say ... writing a 'piano sonata' as it was written over a hundred plus years ago seems strange to me. I mean, it's like presenting a painting in the style of Monet to a group of people and saying - look what I created. But it's more like copying just to get an effect.

If that's what you want to do, more power to you.

But why not just improvise at your church service? Bach himself would approve. smile
Using your argument one could ask "Why improvise if that was something that was done hundreds of year ago?"

With your painting analogy I would say that it's more like presenting a painting using water colors or oils or acrylics... simply using a very basic form that composers have used successfully for several hundred years and up until the present day.

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#1630630 - 03/01/11 11:25 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
eweiss Offline
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I agree PL. What I'm saying is why recreate something in a style that's dead - like a classical piano sonata based on Mozart?
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#1630644 - 03/01/11 11:45 AM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
BruceD Offline
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
I agree PL. What I'm saying is why recreate something in a style that's dead - like a classical piano sonata based on Mozart?


I also agree that the form should not dictate the content. On the other hand, I would add that if a composer had a true musical inspiration that was best expressed in the format of the classical Sonata, then I wouldn't say that the composer should avoid that form just because it is not commonly observed by contemporary composers.

Regards,
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#1630710 - 03/01/11 01:27 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
pjang23 Offline
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Registered: 02/22/10
Posts: 106
Originally Posted By: eweiss
I agree PL. What I'm saying is why recreate something in a style that's dead - like a classical piano sonata based on Mozart?


i.e. "You can't do this because it's old and therefore is plagiarism."

No reason or justification is needed. If you like it and it serves your purposes, go for it.

If the "originality police" throw a tantrum, all the better. smile
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#1630714 - 03/01/11 01:30 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: pjang23]
eweiss Offline
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Originally Posted By: pjang23
Originally Posted By: eweiss
I agree PL. What I'm saying is why recreate something in a style that's dead - like a classical piano sonata based on Mozart?


i.e. "You can't do this because it's old and therefore is plagiarism."

No reason or justification is needed. If you like it and it serves your purposes, go for it.

If the "originality police" throw a tantrum, all the better. smile

You can do it and of course no reason or justification is needed. But it's like going to a poetry reading and someone starts reading something that sounds like Edgar Allan Poe. Nice but not really relevant today. wink
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#1630730 - 03/01/11 01:55 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
pjang23 Offline
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
You can do it and of course no reason or justification is needed. But it's like going to a poetry reading and someone starts reading something that sounds like Edgar Allan Poe. Nice but not really relevant today. wink


Because even if it communicates his own ideas as he wishes, writing a sonata implies he'll sound like Mozart. Gotcha. wink
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Brahms-Singer Symphony No.3 & No.4
Brahms-Kirchner Ein deutsches Requiem
Schubert D946/2
André Mathieu - Été Canadien

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#1630745 - 03/01/11 02:25 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
ll Offline
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Registered: 11/14/08
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
Originally Posted By: pjang23
Originally Posted By: eweiss
I agree PL. What I'm saying is why recreate something in a style that's dead - like a classical piano sonata based on Mozart?


i.e. "You can't do this because it's old and therefore is plagiarism."

No reason or justification is needed. If you like it and it serves your purposes, go for it.

If the "originality police" throw a tantrum, all the better. smile

You can do it and of course no reason or justification is needed. But it's like going to a poetry reading and someone starts reading something that sounds like Edgar Allan Poe. Nice but not really relevant today. wink


... do you even know anything about literature or art?

It's not like those styles are 'limited' to the times they began. People still paint in impressionist style today, and Poe's "Romantic" era is still in effect because all forms of writing are continued.
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#1630746 - 03/01/11 02:28 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: ll]
eweiss Offline
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Originally Posted By: ll
... do you even know anything about literature or art?

It's not like those styles are 'limited' to the times they began. People still paint in impressionist style today, and Poe's "Romantic" era is still in effect because all forms of writing are continued.

I know enough. As I said before, if someone wants to paint [exactly] like Monet or write like Poe, go for it. Why would I care? The point I'm trying to make is it's antiquated and not relevant for TODAY. It was relevant when it was originally done. Is that hard to understand?
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#1630753 - 03/01/11 02:35 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
findingnemo2010 Offline
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sonatas are beautiful. they dont make music like they used to
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#1630758 - 03/01/11 02:51 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: eweiss]
beet31425 Online   content
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Registered: 06/12/09
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Originally Posted By: eweiss
Originally Posted By: ll
... do you even know anything about literature or art?

It's not like those styles are 'limited' to the times they began. People still paint in impressionist style today, and Poe's "Romantic" era is still in effect because all forms of writing are continued.

I know enough. As I said before, if someone wants to paint [exactly] like Monet or write like Poe, go for it. Why would I care? The point I'm trying to make is it's antiquated and not relevant for TODAY. It was relevant when it was originally done. Is that hard to understand?


I think it's a fascinating and complex issue, not well served by ll's "do you even know anything about art", nor by eweiss's condescending "is that hard to understand?". Because, yes, it is hard to understand.

I had a friend in graduate school who wrote sonatas in the style of Schubert. Beautiful themes, complex, unexpected modulations, overall balance. Schubert himself might have been proud of some moments-- and I don't say that lightly.

So I had great respect for my friend's compositions, but I couldn't help thinking... what was the point? A part of me always felt his pieces to be derivative, mere copies. But why? Schubert's music has timeless value, not depending on the century it was written in; why then can't my friend's music (assuming for the sake of argument is was on the level of Schubert, which of course it isn't) be judged on its own merits, independent of its century?

It's a really interesting issue, I think. The only wrong opinion is the simple black-or-white one.

-Jason

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#1630770 - 03/01/11 03:18 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13825
Loc: Iowa City, IA
There is plenty of precedent for sonatas written in contemporary styles. Two saxophone sonatas come to mind - Phil Woods and the "Fuzzy Bird" sonata by Yoshimatsu. (Both are easy to find on YouTube.)

Also, Eric Ewazen's brass sonatas are very much in a contemporary, almost "pop" style.

One example:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rP1MfOdiqHs
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#1630804 - 03/01/11 04:06 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
ChopinAddict Offline
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There is a description of the Sonata Form here, but like others I would advise you not to follow all the rules too strictly....
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#1630810 - 03/01/11 04:15 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: dlee1001]
Lingyis Offline
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Registered: 09/15/09
Posts: 832
yeah, i think it's important not to limit yourself to these "rules". because these are how theorists get a job, since most of them can't compose very well. (jokes aside, it's also partially true)

the bigger picture: if you were to write a sonata (not as homework), use these rules as helpful hints. they were established by the greats through lots of trial and error, so even if they are anachronistic, there is something to glean from.

other than that, i think the main reason to write a sonata is because most of us have played so many of them so there's familiarity. and it's a neat and fun exercise.

and of course, most sonatas i guess are secular music, not sacred. so it might not have a church atmosphere anyway.

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#1630811 - 03/01/11 04:18 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: Lingyis]
Lingyis Offline
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also, i wonder how the impossibility of equal temperament tuning in those days affected the rules. just keep in mind we're now living in the 21st century and so many things are so different.

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#1630812 - 03/01/11 04:18 PM Re: How to write a piano sonata? [Re: Tim Adrianson]
Exalted Wombat Offline
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Originally Posted By: Tim Adrianson
I agree with eweiss -- nobody does this type of thing anymore, really in any sense other than purely academic -- far better IMO to explore the pop, New Age, and jazz stylings of contemporary Christian music. There's been a huge build-up of literature in that area over the past 20 - 30 years.


Well, the great argument AGAINST "contemporary Christian" is simply to note the bland, derivative pap that is presented under that label :-)

Sonata is a dramatic form. It states a proposition, takes you on a journey, comes to a resolution. It demands active listening. I can see an application of this in underscoring an episode of religious exploration, but it would need to be quite closely integrated with the rest of the material! Is this the sort of thing you have in mind?

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