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How Sonata Form Works: A Guided Tour Part Two


On this two-part series on tonality and sonata form, David Kiser gives the microphone over to Professor of Piano at Converse College, Douglas Weeks who guides us through the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven.  In the course of this series you’ll learn about tonality and the importance of key structure. Douglas Weeks likens it to moving to different rooms of the house, where “Tonic” is the hearth, home base, the center of the house.

Below is Part Two. Find Part One and a comprehensive list of terms here.  

Sonata Form:  A Quick Structural Guide

Sonata form is the most commonly heard form in the first movements of 18th, 19th, and, to some degree, 20th Century sonatas, symphonies, and instrumental chamber music.

Sonata form can be used in other movements of the sonata and symphony as well, but is less common.

“Textbook” Sonata Form


entirely optional

usually slow

Exposition (first show)

First subject area (33:28) in tonic                                    “A” theme

Bridge (40:10)                                                            modulation or half cadence

Second subject area in a new key            (42:20)            “B” theme(s)

Closing section in new key            (46:03)                        closing theme

Development (second show -- 14:22)

multiple keys and modulations

may contain old themes, fragments of old themes, and/or new themes

at the end, a retransition section, often including a dominant preparation (16:46),

leading directly into the . . .

Recapitulation (second show -- 19:55)

First subject area in tonic                                                “A” theme

Bridge                                                                                    modulation or half cadence

Second subject area in tonic                                    “B” theme(s)

Closing section in tonic                                                closing theme


an optional area containing hybrid and/or new material that often functions as                         a second development section

For further reading:

Rosen, Charles. Sonata Forms. rev. ed. New York: Norton, 1988.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. New York: Norton,             1997


First show at 17:45: I should have said that the old vi is the new I -- the old submediant is the new tonic, not “the old V is the new I -- the old dominant is the new tonic.”

First show at 26:33: the cadence here is actually a hybrid.  The chord progression in the right hand is F Major to C Major, which is a plagal cadence, but the bass line moves from G to C, strongly implying an authentic cadence.  Regardless, whether heard as plagal or authentic, it remains a perfect cadence.

Second show at 14:50: his or her

Second show at 43:00: This excerpt is from Beethoven’s Sonata in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3, and not from his Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 31, No 3.

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