The main form of the group embodying the 'sonata principle.' The most important principle of musical structure from the Classical period to the 20th century. Sonata form applies to a single movement, most often part of a multi-movement work such as a sonata, symphony or string quartet; independent movements, e.g. an overture or tone poem, may also be in sonata form. The structure may be considered an expansion of the rounded binary form (A B a) familiar in Baroque dances, but other genres, including the aria and the concerto, also impinged on its development.
A typical sonata-form movement consists of three main sections.
Both groups may include a number of different themes. In 18th-century
music the exposition is almost always directed to be repeated.
There will be a transition between the two groups but it will not be modulatory.
the second group is now heard in the tonic (possibly tonic major if the movement is minor),
and there may be temporary excursions to other keys.
There could be transitional material, closing material and/or a Coda
Before 1780 the second part (development and recapitulation) was usually
directed to be repeated. After that date this repetition became increasingly
rare; the finale of Beethoven's
'Appassionata' Sonata furnishes a late example.
The 19th century brought many changes of emphasis: a concentration on contrasting first and second themes rather than on the tonal duality of the exposition; a tendency to avoid exact repetition; and a greatly expanded system of tonal relationships. A sense of strain between structure and content is often manifest, either in an academic approach to the form, as a mold rather than a process, or in the search for new methods of organization, e.g. thematic transformation (Berlioz, "Symphonie fantastique"; Schumann, Symphony no.4), or a freer approach (e.g. Liszt, Sonata in b Minor; Schumann, Fantasie op.17; Chopin, Ballade in g Minor). Sonata form has nevertheless served for some of the most ambitious and impressive tonal music of the 20th century by composers as different as Strauss and Hindemith, Elgar and Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and has even shaped movements (e.g. in Schönberg's String Quartets nos.3 and 4) in which tonal centres as such have ceased to exist.