Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Dual Personalities of a Sonata

Literally, the word sonata means a piece played as opposed to a cantata-a piece sung.  In classical music sonatas [other than piano sonatas] are pieces written for an instrument that will usually involve piano accompaniment.  For example, a violin sonata involves one violin and one piano.  A violin sonata could also be described as a "sonata for violin and piano".  

There is another meaning of the word sonata which was developed in the classical era by Franz "Papa" Joseph Haydn.  It is the form or structure that many pieces in the classical era use in their composition.  This form of composition will involve parts: exposition, development, and recapitulation.  I will discuss more fully that meaning of sonata in a future Tales post.  

Update:  The meaning of a sonata as a form of composition in classical music is described in this Tales post, "The Sonata Form In Classical Music".

Today I will talk about the use of the word sonata to denote a piece of music for an instrument[s].  There have been sonatas written for almost all of the instruments that you will hear in a symphony orchestra.  Like a violin sonata as I described above, they will usually have piano accompaniment.  Also, they will be described as either [whatever instrument] Sonata, or "Sonata for [whatever instrument] and piano. So, a sonata composed for a flute will be called a Flute Sonata or a Sonata for Flute and Piano. 

Violin Sonata aka Sonata for Violin and Piano
Why does a piano usually accompany the other instrument in a sonata. It is to add depth to what the other instrument is playing.  For example, a string instrument can play melodic lines and also can play chords for depth, but they can't play them at the same time.  The piano can also add contrast to the other instrument being played. It can do this by introducing [be the lead of] a melodic line with the answer from the other instrument, and vice versa. The piano is the perfect instrument for accompaniment in a sonata with its extensive range [low notes to high notes] and extensive dynamics [can be played very soft to very loud]. 

So, what about a piano sonata. Will that include two pianos?  No.  A piano sonata is the only instrument that will play solo in a sonata.  You may ask, "why is that?"  

That is because the piano is the only instrument where the soloist can play chords and play melodic lines, and do them both at the same time.  Also, each hand can play different melodic lines at the same time. Also, one hand can play a melody, while the other hand expands on that melody.  So, while the right hand in a piano sonata may be playing a melodic line, the left hand can become the accompaniment. The hands could switch off where the left hand is playing the melody and the right hand is supporting.  No other instrument has all of these playing capabilities.

To put it another way, the piano is the only instrument where the soloist can accompany himself.  That is why, when you hear a piano sonata, it will be a piece for solo piano, with no other instrument involved.

I must add a slight correction as there are organ sonatas where the organ, like the piano, is an instrument that can accompany itself, and therefore needs no other instrument to support it in a sonata. 

A sonata will usually contain 3 or 4 movements.

Please turn up the volume and enjoy these sonatas involving different instruments from some of the great masters of classical music.

L.V. Beethoven: Violin Sonata #9 in A Major "Kreutzer", movement 3, presto:


L.V. Beethoven: Horn Sonata in F Major:


Johannes Brahms: Cello Sonata #1 in E Minor, movement 1, Allegro non troppo:


W.A. Mozart: Piano Sonata #11 in A Major, Movement 3, Alla Turca:


L.V. Beethoven: Piano Sonata #14 in C-Sharp minor, "Moonlight":




2 comments:

bradley said...

that first violin piece is amazing!!

Big Mike said...

Thanks Brad. It was taken in Tel Aviv, Israel. If anyone wants to check it out they can click on the you Tube and check it out.