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In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, any instrumental composition as opposed to cantata, a vocal composition.

In this early music there were two varieties, sonata da chiesa, church sonatas, and sonata da camera, chamber sonatas, the first being grave and dignified, the second lighter in character.

In modern music, sonata is an instrumental selection, particularly one for the piano having three or four movements with contrasted rhythms in related keys.

A sonata for a string quartet is called a quartet, and one for full orchestra, a symphony.

The sonata was brought to its present perfection by Beethoven.

Sonata da camera

A chamber sonata; an instrumental compositions for parlor use.

Sonata da chiesa

A sonata for the church; an instrumental piece of religious character.

Sonata di bravura

A brilliant and spirited instrumental piece.

Sonata Form

The oldest composer to use this term was Andrea Gabrieli in 1568. It was then loosely applied to pieces for several instruments characterized by the evolution of harmonic fullness.

At the present time the term designates a composition for instrumental performance distinguished by the possession of two themes in different keys.

The sonata form is the one upon which is based the construction of the symphony, the concerto, the overture, and the sonata itself. The sonata form in brief usually follows some such outline as this:

  1. The exposition, in which the chief theme is followed by a subordinate theme in another key related to that of the chief theme.
  2. A development, of working out section, in which both themes are treated as the skill and fancy of the composer dictates, either singly or in conjunction.
  3. A recapitulation, consisting of a return to the first theme and then to the second, no, however, in its original key, but in that of the first theme.

Sonata grand

A sonata of imposing character and proportions, usually in four movements.


A short sonata which comprises only two or three movements and in which the composer has developed the themes but little. It is a form requiring much less technical knowledge than the sonata.

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