An Introduction to Sonata Theory

If you’re like me and you actually read program notes and CD inserts for fun, you’ve probably run across the phrase “sonata form” (or “sonata-allegro form”) to describe many movements of the works being written about. If you’ve never taken a formal class in music theory (or, more specifically, music theory as relates to high-prestige music being written in Europe from 1750 or so to around the outbreak of World War One), this probably hasn’t been a terribly useful descriptor. Like so many pieces of jargon, “sonata form” is a clean, concise way of describing a rather complicated thing that provides all the information necessary for those in the know and almost no information at all for those who aren’t. Today I’m going to do my best to explain what sonata form is in a way that’s accessible to people with a minimum of broader music theory background.

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