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Illustrating the brilliance and versatility of this defining structural framework rooted in the classical era of Western Art Music: the Sonata Form.

The word sonata pops up a lot. Let's talk about where it came from.

The term Sonata first popped up in the late 16th century as a way to distinguish whether something was sounded (sonata) or sung (cantata). As Western European art music evolved over the next century or so, the word gradually began to be associated with a more formal collection of associated pieces sewn together by a common tonality (key) and/or theme.

Some musicologists say it was CPE Bach who changed the game. Some say it was Haydn. Either way; something happened to the thematic formula of the first movements of these aforementioned collections of 'played' pieces in the middle of the 18th century. Instead of spinning endless melodies, composers began focusing on the concentrated development of shorter, more immediately tangible thematic fragments. By the peak of Beethoven's output, he had it down to 4 notes. Dun dun dun daaaaaaaaaaaaah...

Whether written for a solo instrument, a full orchestra, or any instrumentation between; in its purest state, sonata form looks like the diagram (above) from Eugene Chan's giggle-fest of a blog: Don't Shoot the Pianist (he is doing the best he can). Two (or more) main ideas are introduced in the Exposition, mutated in the development, and revisited (and sometimes expanded upon) in the Recapitulation. Eugene's greatest fear is one that many musicians have faced; including me. I remember playing the first movement of Beethoven's Moonlight sonata in my adolescence and going directly from the first theme in the Exposition to the second theme in the Recapitulation. It's like a musical trap door; one minute you're at the beginning and next thing you know, it's over and you have no idea where 70% of the sonata went.

Terrifying.

Anyway...

Aired first in 1964, Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra take us on a journey through the structural and thematic ingenuity of Mozart, McCartney, and Bizet in this CBS Young People's Concert.

NB: It's worth it just for the opportunity to watch Lenny sing and play a hit from the Beatles' A Hard Days Night (also released in 1964).

 

PART 1 of 4 

 

PART 2 of 4

 

PART 3 of 4

 

PART 4 of 4

 

Tune in next Wednesday for another episode of Mid-week Musicology here on Classic107.com!