(It., sounded, from suonare, to sound; Fr., Ger. Sonate).
Instr. comp. for pf., or for other instr(s). with pf. acc., e.g. vc. sonata, fl. sonata, in several movts. (sometimes in one, as in Liszt's B minor pf. sonata). Formal features of the sonata are found in other instr. comps., such as sym., qt., trio, but the term sonata is usually reserved for works involving not more than 2 performers. The sonata originated in the 16th cent., when it meant anything not sung but played. During early part of 17th cent., comps. for instr. ens., which were div. into 5 or more contrasting sections were known as sonatas. From these the baroque sonata developed, having 3–6 movts. like a suite, and taking 2 forms, the sonata da camera (‘chamber sonata’, often for 2 or more players with kbd. acc., in dance rhythms) and sonata da chiesa (‘church sonata’, of more serious character). The earliest sonatas for kbd. alone are by Salvatore and Kuhnau, and these reached their apogee with D. Scarlatti and C. P. E. Bach. Later in that century, the Viennese classical sonata of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, usually but not invariably in 3 movts., marked the greatest period in the development of the form, leading to the superb romantic era. Like the orch. sym., the sonata remains the most important form for 1 or 2 instr., and the majority of important 20th‐cent. composers have written them. Most sonatas are written in sonata‐form or a version of it. The Haydn/Mozart sonata is usually in 3 movts., allegro–andante–allegro. Beethoven introduced the minuet (later scherzo), as 3rd movt., but in his Op.111 pf. sonata he anticipated the 1‐movt. sectional structure adopted by later composers. The last movt. of a 3‐ or 4‐movt. sonata is often in sonata or rondo form, or is sometimes a set of variations. Some 20th‐cent. composers have revived 18th‐cent. application of term to works for several instr., e.g. Walton's Sonata for Strings and C. Matthews's Sonata for orch. The fact is that a sym. is a sonata for orch., a str. qt. a sonata for 4 str. instr., etc.