(musTh211) Ch. 31, Single-Movement Sonata Form (Overview and Exposition)

Leading up to the Midterm exam (the Monday after Fall Break, 10/22) we’ll be learning about extended formal designs. Our first topic is the single-movement sonata form.

Sonata Form (single-movement sonata form)

The sonata form represents an expansion of the tonal scheme and formal proportions of the two-reprise design, specifically the rounded, continuous two-reprise form.

From a large-scale perspective, the sonata form breaks down into three main parts: exposition, development, and recapitulation. Relating to the rounded, continuous two-reprise form, the exposition is the first reprise; the development is the “B” material at the beginning of the second reprise; and the recapitulation is the return of the A material to round out the second reprise. Many classical sonata form movements include repeats that show this historical connection to two-reprise form (although they are not always employed in performance).

||: exposition :||: development   recapitulation :||


The exposition presents the primary thematic material for the movement. It breaks down into these parts:

  • First Theme Group (Theme Group I) in the primary key (I or i). Theme Group I will usually end with a PAC in the primary key, although Beethoven deviates from this a significant number of times. The First Theme Group is often only one period long.
  • Transition. The Transition may be longer or shorter than TG-I (often longer), and it often develops motives from the opening. Many times it starts exactly like TG-I, but changes away from the primary key within the first phrase. The Transition may make use of sequences, scalar passages, and other devices to modulate through one or more keys to arrive at its new destination. The Transition usually ends on a very strong HC (sometimes an AC).
  • Second Theme Group (TG-II) in the secondary key (usually V or III). If in doubt about TG-II, look for expository (non-developmental) material clearly in a new key, most often with very clear phrasing. If still in doubt, compare the section with the corresponding section in the Recapitulation. If the material reappears in the primary key then it is probably TG-II.
  • Closing Theme(s) or Closing Theme Group in secondary key. The closing themes establish the secondary key through strong cadential patterns, giving them a terminative (ending) feel. They may not be distinctive from the second theme group. Usually I look for V – I patterns that repeat at intervals smaller than the typical phrase (presented so far). Also, there is usually a strong PAC at the end of the second theme group. What follows is typically closing themes.

An important note: Gauldin and my current colleague(s) do not recognize codettas or codas as being possible in Exposition sections. I generally think that if a particularly strong PAC presents itself in the closing theme group, then what follows is a codetta. Some textbooks agree with me. But for our purposes, we will be consistent with Gauldin. The exposition can not contain a codetta or a coda.


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