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

  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!

    Captain Hook (if you see Pan let me know!)

  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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