Violin sonata

Last updated

A violin sonata is a musical composition for violin, often accompanied by a keyboard instrument and in earlier periods with a bass instrument doubling the keyboard bass line. The violin sonata developed from a simple baroque form with no fixed format to a standardised and complex classical form. Since the romantic age some composers have pushed the boundaries of both the classical format as well as the use of the instruments.


The early violin sonata

In the earliest violin sonatas a bass instrument and the harpsichord played a simple bass line (continuo) with the harpsichord doubling the bass line and fixed chords while the violin played independently. The music was contrapuntal with no fixed format. Georg Philipp Telemann wrote many such sonatas as did Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach also wrote sonatas with harpsichord obbligato, which freed the keyboard instrument from playing only a bass line accompaniment and allowed in to enhance the part of the soloist. He also wrote sonatas for solo violin without any kind of accompaniment.

The classical sonata form

Beethoven's 'Kreutzer' sonata is frequently performed. Beethoven.jpg
Beethoven's 'Kreutzer' sonata is frequently performed.

Mozart was instrumental in the development of the classical violin sonata of which at least 36 are known. Mozart wrote mostly two movement sonatas, generally a fast movement in sonata form and a second, slower movement in various formats. In his later sonatas he added a third fast movement in various formats. Several of his violin sonatas feature a movement in theme and variation format.

Beethoven wrote ten violin sonatas throughout his composing career. [1] His sonatas matured in both style and complexity; the Kreutzer Sonata is a work of extreme contrast. A rendition typically lasts forty minutes and is very demanding on both players. [2]

Brahms, Franck, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Prokofiev and Shostakovich amongst other later composers added to the repertoire pushing the form to its limits, or writing rules of their own. [3]

The modern violin sonata

Schnittke (with his polystylistic technique), and Henze are noted modern composers of the violin sonata who have all brought about radical reformation of the classical sonata form as well as new technical demands on the performers.

See also

Related Research Articles

Classical period (music) Genre of Western music (c. 1730–1820)

The Classical period was an era of classical music between roughly 1730 and 1820.

Isaac Stern American violinist

Isaac Stern was an American violinist.


In music, a cadenza is, generically, an improvised or written-out ornamental passage played or sung by a soloist or soloists, usually in a "free" rhythmic style, and often allowing virtuosic display. During this time the accompaniment will rest, or sustain a note or chord. Thus an improvised cadenza is indicated in written notation by a fermata in all parts. A cadenza will usually occur over the final or penultimate note in a piece, the lead-in or over the final or penultimate note in an important subsection of a piece. It can also be found before a final coda or ritornello.

Symphony Type of extended musical composition

A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, written by composers, most often for orchestra. Although the term has had many meanings from its origins in the ancient Greek era, by the late 18th century the word had taken on the meaning common today: a work usually consisting of multiple distinct sections or movements, often four, with the first movement in sonata form. Symphonies are almost always scored for an orchestra consisting of a string section, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments which altogether number about 30 to 100 musicians. Symphonies are notated in a musical score, which contains all the instrument parts. Orchestral musicians play from parts which contain just the notated music for their own instrument. Some symphonies also contain vocal parts.

A concerto is, from the late Baroque era, mostly understood as an instrumental composition, written for one or more soloists accompanied by an orchestra or other ensemble. The typical three-movement structure, a slow movement preceded and followed by fast movements, became a standard from the early 18th century.

Sonata Type of instrumental composition

Sonata, in music, literally means a piece played as opposed to a cantata, a piece sung. The term evolved through the history of music, designating a variety of forms until the Classical era, when it took on increasing importance. Sonata is a vague term, with varying meanings depending on the context and time period. By the early 19th century, it came to represent a principle of composing large-scale works. It was applied to most instrumental genres and regarded—alongside the fugue—as one of two fundamental methods of organizing, interpreting and analyzing concert music. Though the musical style of sonatas has changed since the Classical era, most 20th- and 21st-century sonatas still maintain the same structure.

String quartet Musical ensemble of four string players

A string quartet is a musical ensemble consisting of four string players: two violin players, a viola player and a cellist. It is also a musical composition written to be performed by such a group. The string quartet is one of the most prominent chamber ensembles in classical music; most major composers from the mid 18th century onwards wrote string quartets.

Chamber music Form of classical music composed for a small group of instruments

Chamber music is a form of classical music that is composed for a small group of instruments—traditionally a group that could fit in a palace chamber or a large room. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers, with one performer to a part. However, by convention, it usually does not include solo instrument performances.

A piano trio is a group of piano and two other instruments, usually a violin and a cello, or a piece of music written for such a group. It is one of the most common forms found in classical chamber music. The term can also refer to a group of musicians who regularly play this repertoire together; for a number of well-known piano trios, see below.

Recitative Ordinary speech-like singing in opera, cantata, mass or oratorio

Recitative is a style of delivery in which a singer is allowed to adopt the rhythms and delivery of ordinary speech. Recitative does not repeat lines as formally composed songs do. It resembles sung ordinary speech more than a formal musical composition.

Piano concerto

A piano concerto is a type of concerto, a solo composition in the classical music genre which is composed for a piano player, which is typically accompanied by an orchestra or other large ensemble. Piano concertos are typically virtuoso showpieces which require an advanced level of technique on the instrument. These concertos are typically written out in music notation, including sheet music for the pianist, orchestra parts for the orchestra members, and a full score for the conductor, who leads the orchestra in the accompaniment of the soloist.

In music, variation is a formal technique where material is repeated in an altered form. The changes may involve melody, rhythm, harmony, counterpoint, timbre, orchestration or any combination of these.

Sonata form is one of the most influential ideas in the history of Western classical music. Since the establishment of the practice by composers like C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert and the codification of this practice into teaching and theory, the practice of writing works in sonata form has changed considerably.

D minor

D minor is a minor scale based on D, consisting of the pitches D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. Its key signature has one flat. Its relative major is F major and its parallel major is D major.

F-sharp minor Minor scale

F-sharp minor is a minor scale based on F, consisting of the pitches F, G, A, B, C, D, and E. Its key signature has three sharps. Its relative major is A major and its parallel major is F-sharp major.

The modern form of the piano, which emerged in the late 19th century, is a very different instrument from the pianos for which earlier classical piano literature was originally composed. The modern piano has a heavy metal frame, thick strings made of top-grade steel, and a sturdy action with a substantial touch weight. These changes have created a piano with a powerful tone that carries well in large halls, and which produces notes with a very long sustain time. The contrast with earlier instruments, particularly those of the 18th century is very noticeable. These changes have given rise to interpretive questions and controversies about performing earlier literature on modern pianos, particularly since recent decades have seen the revival of historical instruments for concert use.

A solo concerto is a musical form which features a single solo instrument with the melody line, accompanied by an orchestra. Traditionally, there are three movements in a solo concerto, consisting of a fast section, a slow and lyrical section, and then another fast section. However, there are many examples of concertos that do not conform to this plan.

While a concerto is generally a piece for an instrument or instruments with orchestral accompaniment, some works for piano alone have been written with the seemingly contradictory designation concerto for solo piano.

Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1014–1019

The six sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord BWV 1014–1019 by Johann Sebastian Bach are works in trio sonata form, with the two upper parts in the harpsichord and violin over a bass line supplied by the harpsichord and an optional viola da gamba. Unlike baroque sonatas for solo instrument and continuo, where the realisation of the figured bass was left to the discretion of the performer, the keyboard part in the sonatas was almost entirely specified by Bach. They were probably mostly composed during Bach's final years in Cöthen between 1720 and 1723, before he moved to Leipzig. The extant sources for the collection span the whole of Bach's period in Leipzig, during which time he continued to make changes to the score.


  1. "Beethoven and the Violin Sonata". Archived from the original on 2015-06-03. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  2. "Beethoven's Sonatas for Violin and Piano" . Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  3. A Brief Analysis of Debussy's Violin Sonata, Brahms' Violin Sonata, Op. 78, and Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet, Op. 110