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Topic: Sonata form in the 20th/21st century

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  1. #1

    Sonata form in the 20th/21st century

    Hello all!

    I have a question about sonata from and need a bit of help on the matter. I am composing my second string quartet and I want to follow a more traditional four-movement set up this time. I want the first movement to be in sonata form, but I am not going to use traditional tonality to make it happen. This is where I need some suggestions on how to do this since sonata form originally used tonality to signal each section's entry and departure.

    Also, maybe a list of 20th/21st century pieces to listen to that employ a more modern method of sonata form. I know that Bartok used sonata form in his string quartets (x,y,z, cells, etc.), but I'm not sure about the other composers. Thank you all!
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  2. #2

    Re: Sonata form in the 20th/21st century

    The typical approach is to emphasize the non-tonality aspects of sonata-allegro, i.e., ternary form, masculine and feminine themes, motivic & thematic development, coda, etc., while giving the harmony a much more free rein. Sort of like losing one of the five senses, the others then compensate -- after all, the traditional sonata-allegro is a creature of tonality.

    Yet, even doing this, it is still possible to establish "tonal planes" analogous to the outlines of the tonal plan of the traditional sonata-allegro, without adhering to traditional harmony. Formal sections may also be further delineated via various non-tonality techniques, such as clear changes in dynamics, texture, articulation, instrumentation, etc.

    The trick is to achieve as satisfying a final result as under common practice harmony. However, that is a real challenge, as the tonal harmonic plan is what gave the sonata-allegro its unity, strength, and sense of completion.

    This is the basic idea, and of course there is a wide range of possibilities in how this is done, with very slight variation from the established form, to sonata-allegri that are barely recognizable in kind to the casual listener.

    Some might argue modern harmony and the traditional sonata-allegro form are incompatible, at cross-purposes, sort of like new wine in old wine skins, and that the harmonic practice of today best develop its own forms in order to flower. I don't entirely agree with this view, but I can appreciate the contradiction.

    Good luck in your efforts!

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