The development of the keyboard sonata over the course of the 18th-century,information on the stylistic, formal, and functional aspects of these works
Sonata is a term used to signify a piece of music usually consisting of several movements, almost invariably instrumental and designed to be performed by a soloist or a small group. The solo and duet sonatas of the Classical period sonata was in its actual usage over more than five centuries the title ‘sonata’ has been applied with much broader formal and stylistic meanings than that.
From the 13th century the word sonnade was used in literary sources simply to mean an instrumental piece. In the 1730s the term ‘sonata’ began to be widely used for keyboard solos. In 1732 Handel published his one-movement sonata at Amsterdam. Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti left several hundred one-movement harpsichord sonatas in manuscripts, but when the works was published in London around 1738 they were termed essercizi.
During the mid-18th century the sonata was important for stylistic change, from the late Baroque to the galant. The galant idiom, which reached its peak during the 1750s and 60s, favored a wholly different approach towards melody. It proceeded in short phrases of two or four bars, arranged in symmetrical patterns and closing with balancing imperfect and perfect cadences along with a use of the 6-4 chords. Characteristics of galant melody was its tuneful, lyrical quality, dotted rhythms, effective use of rests and long appoggiaturas, contrast of dynamic and articulation. According to The Cambridge Music Guide, the galant style of music “meant a flowing melodic style, free of the complexities of counterpoint, it would normally be highly accompanied, generally by a continuo instrument with a static or slow-moving bass line.”
Multi-movement sonatas for keyboard were first developed by Italian composers, Platti, Alberti, and G.M. Rutini, with anything from two to five short movements; the finale movement is often a minuet or other dance. The form was taken up by north German composers, especially C.P.E Bach, whose early sets were a much higher standard of musical composition, including “Prussian” Sonatas. The “Prussian” Sonatas (Die Preussischen Sonaten) were published by Schmid of Nurnberg in 1742 as the composer’s name appearing as Carlo Filippo Emanuele Bach. The sonatas were all composed in German during the year 1740.
The first movement of the first “Prussian” Sonata in F major, Wq. 48/1, H.24 begins with a simple figure which is immediately imitated in the bass:
The figure is then reintroduced as an embryonic stretto, the treble opening leading to high dominant pedal note which creates a climax. The texture becomes wider and suddenly collapses on to an octave:
The second movement is dramatic surprise which consists of alternate arioso and recitative passages. The recitative is little more than a keyboard transcription of a familiar vocal manner:
The final movement contains three clear melodic motives, and repeated in different key as a binary form:
The Prussian sonatas contain only one sonata in a minor key, the fourth sonata in C minor, Wq. 48/4, H.27, which proves to be a more effective vehicle for expressing the emotion and feeling of Empfindsamkeit. The Empfindsamkeit translated into the passage:
The fifth “Prussian” Sonata in C major, Wq. 48/5, H.28, is described as a galant style endowed with rich expressiveness. The first movement of the sonata is a minuet and accompanied by repeated quarter notes with chromatics:
The second movement, andante, is a lyrical stream has the sweetness of early classicism. Expressive pauses and dominant pedal points are its characters:
The final movement is similar to Mozart’s pianoforte sonatas.
This set of sonatas are faithful to C.P.E. Bach’s style of composition, which are more virtuosic than his other sonatas and less simplistically galant, containing more weight reflecting an intellectual approach. C. P. E. Bach’s compositional style was greatly admired by his contemporary masters of the Classical period, such as Haydn and Mozart, and his influence is particularly evident in the early keyboard sonatas of Haydn. C. P. E. Bach was instrumental in the development of sonata form and his keyboard sonatas are the “true” works of the mature Classical period, which reached their peak in the hands of Beethoven.
C.P.E. Bach must be regarded as one of the most significant composers of ‘pedagogic’ sonatas. Primary purpose of the “Prussian” was teaching material which was composed in 1742. For the most part, the domestic and pedagogic audience for Classical sonatas was female. Talented female keyboard players were increasing in the second half of the 18th century. By that time, society required women to have a certain degree of proficiency with keyboard instruments such as harpsichord and clavichord. The ability could be important in attracting an acceptable husband. During the 1780s several of Mozart’s Viennese pupils were ladies from the higher levels of society.
Besides its function as teaching material, the Classical sonata found a place within the noble salon, a forum that became increasingly popular during the second half of the 18th century, especially in France and Austria. Only the upper classes were present in such salons.
Mozart's piano sonatas, date from 1773 until 1788, are very much in the galant style of W.F. Bach and C.P.E Bach, and in places Scarlatti's influence can be detected. A first edition such as
Trois sonates pour le clavecin ou pianoforte: Oeuvre VI / composées par W. A. Mozart. VI, published by Artaria in Vienna in 1784 and was containing K.330, 331 and 332. The sonata may have been composed in Salzburg during the summer Mozart and his wife Constanze visited his father Leopold and sister Nannerl. The group of sonatas was undoubtedly composed for the use of Mozart’s pupils in Vienna. The works were aimed at a market of potential purchasers, either locally in Vienna or further afield in Paris or London, who had been exposed to the possibilities of the fortepiano and whose expectations had been conditioned as a result. Mozart adapted the sonatas to take greater account of an appetite for keyboard music ideally suited to an instrument on which physical control of dynamic contrast, degrees of staccato and phrasing-off was suddenly possible, enabling the pianist to fully articulate the elegance of modern classical musical language.
The Sonata in F is more popular than others, but its brilliance is not apparent when the works is played on a modern piano. The first movement has cantabile opening phrase containing a melodic idea:
This movement is not an exact example of sonata form, though the main characteristics – the threefold division into exposition, development and recapitulation, as well as the broad outlines of the key scheme – are present. Mozart diverts at measure 5 to a flowing texture in two-part counterpoint, then to repetative motive:
A cadential close returning to the cantabile melody and sudden jump into Sturn und Drang:
The second movement Adagio in B- flat major was written in sonatina form displays Mozart’s skill in varying repeats, and the ornamentation when preparing a composition for publication. These embellishments probably were improvised in the eighteenth century, but became the standard when the work was published with the written-out ornamentation:
The last movement demands higher technical abilities on the performer, even than most of Haydn’s earliest sonatas were originally given the title divertimento, which are in a light Italian style and were the main figure development of the Classical sonata but by the 1770’s Haydn followed C.P.E. Bach in generally treating the sonata as a serious intellectual and emotional content. Haydn was even freer in his arrangements of movements. In this period the piano was beginning to replace the harpsichord and clavichord in popularity, and allowed for new experimental sonorities and the use of the sustaining pedal.
A sonata becomes a concert piece, with the title Grande Sonate. Mozart scarcely ever played his own sonatas in public performances, preferring the concerto and variation genres to show his keyboard ability. The rise of the ‘concert’ sonata is linked with increasing length and advancing technical difficulty. Beethoven’s sonatas were only ever attainable by professional players, and also demanded a new kind of listener, familiar with the intellectual demands of the other ‘public’ genres of symphony and concerto that demanded the listener’s active, rather than passive, attention.
Beethoven’s Grande Sonata No.8 in C minor, op.13, known as Pathetique, was written in 1798 when the composer was 27 years old. The sonata was dedicated to Beethoven’s friend Prince Karl von Lichnowsky who was patron of Beethoven as well as Mozart. A year after the appearance of the sonata, Lichnowsky settled a grant on Beethoven which gave the composer considerable financial independence. Pathetique may have been inspired from Mozart’s Piano Sonata K.467, since both sonatas are in C minor and have three very similar movements. The sonata is a wonderfully clear example of sonata form. There are many unifying elements throughout all the movements. In the first movement, The Grave, tonic is clearly established with the first the thunderous downbeats. The opening theme has to be projected with suitable feelings and weight:
Beethoven used most lyrical pedal point in the first movement of Patheticque:
The second movement Adagio cantabile is calm respite. Beethoven has such tenderness, intimacy like he is telling us all that he loves us but in a personal, quiet way:
The last movement is in Sonata-rondo form and its theme containing the main motif found in the pricipal theme of the first movement.
One of the sonata type of the classical period was the “accompanied sonata”, or in a title “Sonata for the harpsichord or pianoforte with accompaniments for the violin, violoncello”. The serious sonata or “symphonic” sonata flourished in Celementi and Beethoven’s period. Beethoven was in treating the sonata as a major creative effort which had never been used on the concert performance, and were still designed for private domestic use.
Barford , Philip. The Keyboard Music of C.P.E.Bach. New York: October House Inc, 1966.
Davidson, Michael. The Classical Piano Sonata: From Haydn to Prokofiev. London: Kahn & Averill Publishing Limited, 2004.
Irving, John. Understanding Mozart’s Piano Sonatas. England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2010.