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A Sona - what?

Updated: Mar 21, 2019

No No NOOOO!! I said SONATA.

Petya Stavreva, Pianist. Between Friends II, April 27 with Amahl Arulanandam, Cello

But what is a sonata?

I asked Cynthia Young, local piano and theory instructor to fill us in.

Here's what she had to say. Now listen up : there may be a test at the end! Ok. No test. Treat yourself to a glass of wine, and then have a listen: here is QSCM's "Between Friends II" artist, pianist Petya Stavreva performing Beethoven's Sonata in E flat major, Op. 7, back in 2015.

But first: Cynthia, what is a Sonata?

Cynthia Young: The term sonata, or sonate, means “to be played” and was used to differentiate between instrumental music and cantata (music “to be sung”) during the early Baroque period. Originally the instrumentation was not specified because the performance was determined by the availability of players and instruments were often substituted for one another. Sonatas were also categorized as either “church sonatas” or “court sonatas”, the latter being instrumental music played for entertainment and dancing at the homes of the aristocracy.

By the Classical period, the sonata had evolved into a standardized multi-movement instrumental work, usually following the pattern of fast, slow, fast movements. Occasionally another movement was added after the slow movement that was more moderately paced. Composers became very specific as to which instruments would be playing which part. The title “Sonata” was retained for any work involving a solo instrument (eg. piano sonata, cello sonata), but in other works the type of group performing replaced the term Sonata. So a symphony is really a sonata for orchestra, a string quartet is a sonata for a string quartet, etc.

Of course music is constantly evolving and contemporary sonatas might differ in number of movements and tempi, but the sonata remains a robust compositional method of organizing  a large musical vision and still means “to be played”.

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