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The Classical Sonata FormFrom the Classical period and onwards, sonata form became the basis for most instrumental music. Sonata form became established as the clearly defined structure of the first movement of instrumental compositions. This form consists of three sections: exposition, development, and recapitulation. If you have studied anything about story form, you know a lot about Sonata form, because they are identical in their purpose. The exposition (same word is used in music and literature) sets the scene. This section is where the musical themes are introduced, the mood is set, and the key, main rhythmic patterns, and harmonies are stated. The second section, the development, is like the “heart” of the story. This is where the music explores the themes, keys, rhythms, and harmonies, and weaves the musical material into something new and interesting. The development should sustain your interest, make you wonder what is going to happen next, just like in a well-told story. The final section, the recapitulation, is like the closing section of a good story. In the recapitulation, the opening material comes back, but everything is resolved and finalized, just like wrapping up the loose ends in the story.

The following examples come from Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor, which you might remember as the music for the opening scene of movie Amadeus.

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Sonata Form Example: Symphony No. 40 in G minorThe first movement of a large Classical work is usually built in sonata-allegro form, the most crucial of the Classical forms. To illustrate this form, we will be listening to the first movement of Mozart’s famous Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

Symphony in E-flat major, Op.11, No.3: III. MenuettoIt should be noted here …

…ntury, mainly because this combination creates a perfect balance between high and low sounds. The main melody, played by the violins, is supported by the harmony, which is created by the viola and the richness of the bass line provided by the cello.

The string quartet medium is perfectly suited for the focus on balance, restraint, and symmetry typical of the Classical period, but it has been used as a vehicle of the most personal musical thoughts by many composers through the ages, including Mozart (23), Beethoven (16), Johannes Brahms (6), Prokofiev (2), Shostakovich (15), Elliot Carter (5) (his 2nd won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1960), Michael Tippet (5), Elizabeth Lutyens (13), Elizabeth Maconchy (13), Heitor Villa-Lobos (17), Alberto Ginastera (4), Darius Milhaud (18), John Cage (4), Milton Babbitt (6), and Sofia Gubaidulina (4) to name just a few.

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