Question regarding the strictness of sonata form

Posted by: Bullard

Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/18/13 07:42 PM

EDIT: posted early on accident...

Hey all , I've never actually posted a thread to PianoWorld before but I'm bugged right now with my own aspirations in composition.

I'm writing a sonata, (or at least that's what it is as of now), but the way I WANT to write it is off in comparison to any other sonata I've heard.

It's in binary form as of now (AB), I'll probably add an A to the end later, but my B section uses some of the themes from the A section. Is this okay? As far as I know, new sections are meant to develop new ideas, which B mostly is. For all I know form may not even matter any more.

Posted by: Bullard

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/18/13 08:03 PM

Also, another question: does the term at the beginning of a movement (ex. Maestoso) determine the attitude of the it on a grand scale, where the whole piece would have to sound majestic, or is it just until a new term is needed?

Thanks for any replies!
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/19/13 09:38 AM

Originally Posted By: Bullard
I'm writing a sonata, (or at least that's what it is as of now), but the way I WANT to write it is off in comparison to any other sonata I've heard.


You should study WHY and HOW Sonata form worked. It's easy to write a tune. Not so easy to develop a 10-minute piece. Sonata form, with its two main themes presented first in contrasting keys, then returning both in the home key after a development section is one way that proved productive for many classical-era composers.

If it worries you that your "Sonata" doesn't follow this pattern, call it something else. No need to - many "Sonatas" dont. But your choice. Just make sure that your piece HAS a structure. Coming "back home" at the end isn't an essential requirement, but it's often done, and for good reason.

Many pieces (including many classical somatas) have a "Maestoso" introduction followed by an "Allegro" main section. Or any other combination of tempos/feels.

There aren't any rules. But there are plenty of illustrations of what works well (see any composition that has survived the years) and of what doesn't (plenty of examples here :-)
Posted by: Steve Chandler

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/19/13 11:43 AM

Hi Bullard,

As Wombat mentioned there are no rules anymore. I have two thoughts about sonata form. 1) The name itself is boring, the music may be very interesting but these days composers have to give titles to pieces that encourage an audience to listen, Sonata #x in the key of C says very little about the nature of the piece and most people's eyes will glaze over. 2) the form itself is about drawing contrasts, there are many ways to do that and Wombat is right that there are things which have been shown to work over time, but composers like to do things their own way, so IMO if you compose a piece that has contrasts in it you can call it a sonata (or not). Remember there are no rules.

You mention that the piece you're writing is in binary form. To me that's not really a sonata because you're only showing contrast two times switching from A to B and when you switch back. In general sonatas have smaller sections that exhibit contrast more often. There are lots of pieces in binary form that are not called sonatas. While there are no rules it makes sense to me that if you're going to call a piece a sonata that it make some attempt to actually accomplish what a sonata does (exhibit contrast).
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/19/13 12:14 PM

Plenty of music uses contrast. I think the prime feature of sonata form, differentiating it from simple ternary form or a set of variations, is its structural use of tonality. 1st and 2nd subject are presented - one in the tonic, the other (usually) in the dominant - then, after the development section, they return both in the tonic.
Posted by: Steve Chandler

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/20/13 08:36 AM

Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
Plenty of music uses contrast. I think the prime feature of sonata form, differentiating it from simple ternary form or a set of variations, is its structural use of tonality. 1st and 2nd subject are presented - one in the tonic, the other (usually) in the dominant - then, after the development section, they return both in the tonic.
I guess up to about 1880, after that not so much. Debussy wrote sonatas, did they follow this harmonic structure? I frankly have no idea, but I doubt it.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/20/13 08:41 AM

Originally Posted By: Steve Chandler
Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
Plenty of music uses contrast. I think the prime feature of sonata form, differentiating it from simple ternary form or a set of variations, is its structural use of tonality. 1st and 2nd subject are presented - one in the tonic, the other (usually) in the dominant - then, after the development section, they return both in the tonic.
I guess up to about 1880, after that not so much. Debussy wrote sonatas, did they follow this harmonic structure? I frankly have no idea, but I doubt it.


Sure. As initially stated, "Sonata" is a label for all sorts of music! We're describing "Sonata Form".
Posted by: Mark Nicol

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/23/13 03:46 PM

The Tonic/Dominant relationship/pull is certainly a strong functional component of Classical sonata form. Where Mozart uses the A/B thematic material chiefly as means of contrast, someone like Mahler often uses the A/B thematic material as something much more dramatic - the opposition of protagonist and antagonist. (Have a listen to the 1st. Movements to the 9th. and 10th. Symphonies, in particular).
As a composer, you can utilise the form freely, but only in accordance with your capacities - both technical and aesthetic. The late Beethoven string quartets reveal a composer totally the master of form, subjugate to his expressive will. But much lesser composers are perhaps best to master the functional opportunities that strict forms - sonata, fugue, rondo, ternary etc. avail.
In two of my larger and perhaps more successful works, Ulysses and Abyss, I have utilised sonata form in novel ways. Ulysses actually presents Themes A and B simultaneously, and constantly winds the two in a polyphonic narrative. Abyss utilises sonata form within a clear 'Impressionist' framework. marknicol7 is the youtube site that features these works.
Rember one thing - fortune favours the brave!
Posted by: Mark Nicol

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 02/25/13 10:21 PM

Dear Bullard,

subsequent to the previous post, it should also be added that Sonata form is certainly not just based upon contrast and tonal relations. More fundamentally, sonata form - like fugue form, involves structural development in the utilisation of sparse thematic material. Sonata form, though, because of the A/B thematic contrast relationship, and because it avails both homophonic and polyphonic styles of development, is uniquely suited to the production of 'dramatic narratives'. Take the 1st. movement of Beethoven's 5th., for a very fine example.
Posted by: Schubertslieder

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 03/17/13 11:28 PM

Dear Bullard

Sonata form follows structure found below,
1. Exposition
2. Development
3. Recapitulation.
4. Coda/codetta(for a short piece)

Characteristic of exposition are in binary form, AB.
Development can be in dominant of the key but doesn't have to.
Recapitulation are in both A and B.
Coda is longer ending suitable for long pieces. Codetta is suitable for short pieces as it is a short ending.

I do agree your comment about both A and B section being similar but in tonic and dominant relationships.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 03/18/13 06:51 AM

If you're going to be pedantic, get it right!

There may be an introductory section. Then the Exposition, consisting of two themes ("Subjects"), the first in the tonic key, the second in a contrasting one - usually the dominant. The Exposition may be rounded off with a Codetta.

Then the development - a free-for-all both thematically and tonally, though much will be derived from the two Subjects.

The Recapitulation is a rewrite of the Exposition, but with the vital difference that both Subjects appear in the tonic key.

Coda.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 03/18/13 07:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark Nicol
Dear Bullard,

subsequent to the previous post, it should also be added that Sonata form is certainly not just based upon contrast and tonal relations. More fundamentally, sonata form - like fugue form, involves structural development in the utilisation of sparse thematic material. Sonata form, though, because of the A/B thematic contrast relationship, and because it avails both homophonic and polyphonic styles of development, is uniquely suited to the production of 'dramatic narratives'. Take the 1st. movement of Beethoven's 5th., for a very fine example.


Sonata form, particularly in the Development section, can use all and every type of thematic manipulation from simple repetition and sequence to complex fugue. But its unique feature is the broad architecture - two themes presented in contrasting keys then in the same key, seperated by a development section - and this is what allows a Sonata movement to fill a large time-scale.
Posted by: Steve Chandler

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 03/18/13 09:01 AM

Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
Originally Posted By: Mark Nicol
Dear Bullard,

subsequent to the previous post, it should also be added that Sonata form is certainly not just based upon contrast and tonal relations. More fundamentally, sonata form - like fugue form, involves structural development in the utilisation of sparse thematic material. Sonata form, though, because of the A/B thematic contrast relationship, and because it avails both homophonic and polyphonic styles of development, is uniquely suited to the production of 'dramatic narratives'. Take the 1st. movement of Beethoven's 5th., for a very fine example.


Sonata form, particularly in the Development section, can use all and every type of thematic manipulation from simple repetition and sequence to complex fugue. But its unique feature is the broad architecture - two themes presented in contrasting keys then in the same key, separated by a development section - and this is what allows a Sonata movement to fill a large time-scale.

The perfect embodiment of this thinking is Pierre Boulez's 2nd Piano Sonata. Here's a link to a video of the first movement with the score.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KD39Vt7VFk

(takes tongue out of cheek)
Posted by: Bullard

Re: Question regarding the strictness of sonata form - 10/14/13 09:48 PM

Super late to respond, but thanks for the thoughts on this topic. What I decided to do is keep some kind of structure to it, not necessarily in the classical style. I think this should be more about creativity rather than practicing the ancient ways of doing things.
I think that structure is good for music, it gives us something to relate to within the piece, like an inside joke.