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Sonata Development



Sonata development, 1650-1750

Jack Botelho
wrote (February 11, 2004):
The following is a general overview discussion of the sonata form, originally pioneered by Italian composers, which led to important developments by Germans who mastered and further contributed to this genre. This information will prepare the way for further discussion of the sonatas of G.P. Telemann, J.S. Bach, and many others:

Sonata development, 1650-1750

"Riemann argued that what he sometimes pejoratively called the 'patchwork' canzona ('Flickwerk') of the early 17th century evolved into the sonata as the individual sections grew in length and were reduced in number, until by Corelli's time they had achieved the status of separate movements. That much repeated view ignores the persistence of multi-sectional alongside multi-movement designs (e.g. in the sonatas of Uccellini, G.B. Vitali, Biber, J.J. Walther, Buxtehude); however, the observation is not unrelated to the mid-century repertory in which many sonatas do consist primarily of tonally closed, if brief, movements. Merula (who called his serious pieces 'canzone' as late as 1651, reserving 'sonata' for a few lighter works), Cazzati and Legrenzi favoured such three- and four-movement structures, although they shared no single pattern, and individual 'movements' are not always tonally closed. Legrenzi left three books devoted entirely to sonatas, and another that included sonatas and dances, published between 1655 and 1673. (A further collection, op.18, published c.1695, is lost.) A clear division into separate movements (often including one in slow triple time), a focus on duos and trios, and precise specification of instrumentation are all evident in these collections. In some of the sonatas, the opening material returns at the end, as in the canzona; others differ from the 'Corellian' model only in their lack of an opening slow movement. In contrast to these 'church' sonatas, Legrenzi's six chamber sonatas (op.4, 1656) are single movements in simple binary form; G.M. Bononcini used 'sonata da camera' similarly, for an abstract single-movemnt work rather than a dance suite (op.3, 1669). Maurizio Cazzati, controversial 'maestro di cappella' in Bologna (1657-71), published eight collections that include sonatas for duos, trios and larger ensembles; three from op.35 include trumpet, a hint of the later association between S Petronio and that instrument. The sonatas in his widely disseminated op.18 (1656) usually consist of four movements: duple-metre imitative, 'grave', fast triple metre and quick imitative finale. Tarquinio Merula favoured a similar plan: fugal opening, fast triple-time movement, slow movement and vigorous finale. Uccellini also moved away from the simple canzona model towards longer and more virtuoso sonatas, usually divided into three or four sections by changes of metre and tempo.

"Cazzati's pupil G.B. Vitali, and Vitali's Modenese contemporaries Colombi and Bononcini, continued to focus on duos and trios in some ten volumes of sonatas published between 1666 and 1689. Already steeped in those traditions, Corelli had arrived by 1675 in Rome, where Colista, Stradella and Lonati composed sonata-like sinfonias, usually for two violins, lute and continuo. Since the Roman material circulated in manuscript, it has been somewhat underemphasized in most histories of instrumental music, but Corelli surely adopted the slow introductions (rare before the 1680s), strict fugal movements and triple-metre finales from his Roman colleagues. Despite the many references to Corelli's sonatas (published between 1681-1700) as normative, the four-movement model usually attributed to him (slow-fast-slow-fast) is present in only half of his published sonatas.

"North of the Alps, Bertali's ensemble sonatas, followed by the solo and ensemble sonatas of Schmelzer, Biber, J.J. Walther and Buxtehude, recall the drama and virtuosity of the Venetian 'stil moderno' at a time when sonata composition in Italy had become more standardized. Their virtuoso solos incorporated multiple stops and athletic string crossings; moreover, they continued to depend on sectional rather than multi-movement designs in which successive events are on the whole less predictable than they are in Corelli's sonatas. They differ from the Italian models in other ways as well: virtuoso writing for the bass viol (Johannes Schenck, Buxtehude), greater interest in scordatura tunings (Schmelzer, Biber), and a continuing devotion to ensemble sonatas 'a 5' or more, reminiscent of Venetian polychoral style, but with even more demanding treble parts for cornett, violin or trumpet. The legacy of the ensemble sonata (and perhaps the continued cultivation of the viol) may help to explain the more demanding bass parts: when Corelli and his north Italian contemporaries were writing duos or trios in which the violone or cello was at best an optional inclusion, Buxtehude composed sonatas for violin and bass viol in which the instruments have equally virtuoso roles. (But it should be remembered that the solo cello sonata did emerge in Bologna at about the same time, in works of Domenico Gabrielli and others.) In addition, the Austrian and German composers devoted more energy than did the Italians to the sonata-suite, in which an abstract introductory movement is followed by a fairly standard set of dances; more than 20 such collections appeared between 1658 and 1698. Rosenmuller's Venetian publication of such chamber sonatas (1667) had found no Italian imitators, despite a growing tendency to group dances by key rather than type. In the northern prints 'sonata' or 'sonatina' was the term most frequently attached to the non-dance preludial movement (Rosenmuller used 'sinfonia'); especially well represented are Biber, Dietrich Becker, J.J. Walther and Schenck. A few native English composers wrote sonatas at mid-century, influenced by the national devotion to the viol and by their acquaintance with Italian and German sonatas. The latter they knew both at home (Jenkins was associated with the family of Francis North, who owned copies of works by Schmelzer, Colista, Cazzati, Stradella and Pietro Degli Antonii), and by virtue of their foreign employment (William Young in Austria, and Henry Butler in Spain). Henry Purcell's two published sets of sonatas (1683, 1697), after 'the most fam'd Italian Masters', shared the growing English market with sonatas by Italian and German immigrants (e.g. Matteis, Finger, Pepusch).

"After 1700, Italians continued to produce sonatas for both domestic and international markets; Vivaldi, Albinoni and the Marcellos in Venice, F.M. Veracini in Florence, Somis in Turin and Tartini in Padua were some of the main contributors. Moreover, such Italian emigres as Locatelli in Amsterdam and Geminiani in London brought the latest sonata fashions to northern Europe. That most were violinists is telling, although the oboe, flute, cello and other instruments are also strongly represented in their collective output. In these volumes the four-movement plan finally dominates (although the third movement may not be tonally closed); the emphasis begins to turn towards the solo sonata (nearly three-quarters of Vivaldi's sonatas, and all of Veracini's are for one instrument and continuo); and the church-chamber distinction disappears. In Corelli's 'church' sonatas, the final two movements are often dances (sarabanda, giga), but in many of Vivaldi's sonatas the first two movements also employ binary forms. The keyboard, relatively neglected by earlier sonata composers, begins to receive some attention, especially from Domenico Scarlatti, who focussed on one-movement binary forms, some of which are paired in the sources. Other composers of keyboard sonatas (most in two or three movements) include Benedetto Marcello, Giustini, Durante and Platti.

"According to Brossard, France was overrun with Italian sonatas early in the 18th century, and French composers soon began to contribute. Most notably these include Leclair 'l'aine', preceded by Dornel and Blavet, and even Couperin, who wrote least three sonatas in the 1690s (published much later as preludes to 'Les nations'). Elisabeth Jacquet de La Guerre left a dozen sonatas for one or two violins and bass; six were published in 1707, but Brossard apparently copied two about 1695, making them among the earliest composed in France. Of special note in France is the 'accompanied sonata' (Mondonville, Rameau) in which the violin or flute accompanies the keyboard. The sonata for unaccompanied solo instrument is associated particularly with Austrian and German composers (Biber, Bach, Telemann), although Tartini may have intended some of his sonatas, published with a bass part, for violin alone (Brainard), and the Swedish composer Roman left about 20 multi-movement works of that type, most called 'assaggi'. Some programmatic or narrative sonatas are also associated with composers in Austria or Germany (e.g. Biber's Mystery Sonatas and Kuhnau's Biblical Sonatas), but Couperin's 'grande sonade en trio' 'Le Parnasse, ou L'apotheose de Corelli' might also be mentioned.

"18th-century Austro-German composers moved more and more towards the multi-movement design already standard in Italy, and played a central role in the mixing and merging of national styles that characterize the high Baroque sonata. Sonatas by Vivaldi, Fasch, Zelenka, Quantz and Telemann placed 'galant' idioms (the 'natural' and immediately appealing melody of the Adagio) side by side with more traditional sonata styles (the fugues, whose value for Scheibe in the late 1730s lay chiefly in their contrast with the more expressive movements featuring accompanied melodies). Especially interesting are the new trios and quartets in which the basso continuo participates as a 'real' part. Some, composed 'auf Concertenart', borrow aspects of a typically Vivaldian concerto style; others borrow from the operatic aria or recitative, French dance and overture. If J.S. Bach's sonatas (unaccompanied solos, and several works for one or two instruments with obbligato harpsichord or basso continuo) are better known today than Telemann's over 200 ensemble sonatas and solos, the situation was reversed in the mid-18th century. Quantity aside, there are parallels between the two composers: both juxtaposed and integrated national styles, and experimented with formal design and scoring; neither abandoned the traditional four movements for the newer three-movement fashion (as did Graun, Fasch, Tartini and Somis). Telemann is often dismissed as over-prolific, but his great success in
the 18th century may be attributable not only to his skill at marketing (he personally printed much of his instrumental music in didactic or encyclopedic collections), but to his serious exploration of the new trio and quartet in the 'mixed' style (combining various national styles) for which contemporaries praised him, and to his avoidance of the most old-fashioned elements of sonata style.

"Elsewhere in Europe, sonatas circulated widely in manuscript, as well as in prints both imported and domestic; and musicians left home in search of a better living, taking their music along. Handel was only one of the many foreign musicians whose careers blossomed in London, where imitations of Corelli and the traditional trio sonata long remained fashionable. Handel's contribution to the sonata, like that of Bach, represents but a small portion of his total output; however, it does include more keyboard sonatas (Bach preferred the keyboard suite), as well as traditional solos and trios aimed equally at the large amateur market and concert stage. A focus on Handel's sonatas may have inhibited modern exploration of the many English sonata composers of the time (Babell, Boyce, Arne).

"Over the 150 years of sonata composition before 1750, several trends are evident: the emphasis on counterpoint lessened; the texture became increasingly treble-dominated; multi-voice and polychoral sonatas gave way to duos and trios, which in turn yielded ground to solos and quartets; the early multi-sectional design grew to four or more separate movements, and then fell back to three or fewer; what distinction existed between church and chamber sonatas evaporated; instruments were more and more precisely specified and their parts became increasingly idiomatic; a focus on the violin grew stronger, and then was tempered by an interest in sonatas for a variety of other instruments; keyboard sonatas finally began to take their place in the repertory. As the sonata gained popularity outside Italy, its Italian and Austro-German elements were further enriched by a variety of national approaches to instrumental music, from the English division (Henry Butler) to the French emphasis on ornamental detail (Leclair). None of these changes occurred overnight, but they are evident enough when one compares sonatas from 1630 or 1700 with those from 1750. Moreover, by mid-century the function and aesthetic stature of the sonata had changed significantly."

Mangsen, Sandra: "Sonata. Baroque"
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
2001 edition.

Tony wrote (February 12, 2004):
[To Jack Botelho] Thank you for your interesting message. Could I suggest that it might confuse some beginners with respect to the distinction between 'sonata FORM' and the several other uses of the term 'sonata'? Baroque sonatas, with a few very rare and late exceptions (Sanmartini?), are not in 'sonata form' as such. We had to wait until the subsequent Classical period for that.

Jack Botelho wrote (February 12, 2004):
[To Tony] You are absolutely right, Tony. Thanks for this. Later I will post an entry on 'sonata form' of the classical period, unless you would like to do so, to make the distinction clear and avoid any confusion.

Thanks again for the correction. Now I know for sure that these lists really do work(!) and we can all learn something from each other.

John Pike wrote (February 12, 2004):
[To Tony] Bach's sonatas for unaccompanied violin in G minor, A minor and C major all belong to the Church (or "da Chiesa") category, having 4 movements alternating slow-fast-slow-fast. The 3 partitas for solo violin, by contrast (B minor, D minor, E major) all consist of a series of dance movements.

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