Table of Contents
Section 6: Bibliography
1. One good way to understand sonata form is to use the framework of rounded binary form and add the necessary components. Be careful though, sonata form expands rounded binary form; rounded binary is not sonata form.
2. Therefore, sonata form consists of an A section with open harmony that needs a B section to bring back the tonic. After the B section, elements of the original A section return to close the overall ABA form. In these aspects, it is the same as rounded binary form. The similarity ends here.
3. The A section in sonata form most often (but not always) consists of two themes, generally following a tonic-dominant (in minor, a tonic-relative major) harmonic scheme. Often the themes are better considered theme groups, since the actual theme may only be a few measures long, while the section relating to that theme may be quite long.
4. Because of the harmonic nature of the two theme groups in the A section, it is harmonically open. The first theme (group) is usually in tonic while the second theme (group) is in the dominant key or key area (or relative major if the first theme is in minor). This A section is usually referred to as the "Exposition."
5. The B section, then, has the job of bringing the harmony around to the tonic again. Usually it will do this by visiting other key areas or actually modulating. The B section usually treats one or both of the themes from the A section and is related in general character. The B section is usually referred to as the "Development" (since it develops the themes).
6. Finally, and quite importantly from the standpoint of defining sonata form, the return of the A section presents the two themes again, this time, both in tonic (usually). The themes in tonic close the harmony of the original A section. This returning A section is usually referred to as the "Recapitulation."
7. Do not confuse sonata form with the title of many compositions "Sonata." While many piano and violin sonatas have a first movement in sonata form, not all of them do.
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