It is vital that you have some clear models and inspiration for your composition. There are many pieces you could find, but you could use these annotated and commented examples as a starting point for your research Sonata Form Examples and Models (with annotated scores)
Other pages that might be useful:
- Writing a basic idea
- Phrase structures
- Writing for piano
- String quartet textures (could be adapted as accompaniment for a solo instrument)
- Modulations (advanced modulations)
- WCT fingerprints (and some material on codas and codettas)
- Sonata form project from year 12 (too formulaic for A level but useful reference)
Summary of sonata form
The first subject should:
- very clearly establish the tonic
- introduce some memorable melodic material
Usually the first subject is relatively regular in its phrasing and will introduce one clear thematic idea without any modulation.
A transition moves the music from the first key to the second and sometimes injects a bit of energy by being a bit busier and/or faster moving in its harmonic rhythm. The music is usually based on the first theme and/or it will be a bit more generic (i.e. less melodically distinctive). A transition will usually:
- start with a tonic phrase (often based on the first theme)
- pivot to the new key
- prepare for the second theme with some sort of arrival on the dominant of the new key
The second subject group should:
- clearly establish the dominant (or secondary key)
- provide some contrast to the first subject (in motif, character, texture, rhythm etc.)
The second subject is usually longer, a little more irregular and often introduces several themes, sometimes hinting briefly at a third related key.
Codetta (and/or Closing Theme)
Many sonata form movements add a codetta (little tail) to the end of the exposition, which might be a single short phrase based on previous material or be more lengthy and introduce new material.
- must bring the exposition to an emphatic close in the dominant
- is usually a bit more generic, using repetitions of stock cadential material
The development takes some material from the exposition and develops it whilst modulating to a range of contrasting keys (in the Classical and early Romantic styles these are mostly from the five closely related keys but you can also stray elsewhere). There are many different ways of constructing a development – you could use any piece in sonata form as inspiration. Developments typically include at least some of the following elements:
- Developing and combining fragments of thematic ideas from the exposition
- Harmonic sequences such as circles of fifths
- Modulation to the relative minor and passing modulations to several other keys
- Dominant prolongation at end of the development to prepare for return of tonic
The recapitulation brings back the material from the exposition. At its simplest, the first subject is completely unchanged and then the rest is modified so that instead of modulating to a secondary key it stays in the tonic.
Typically this remains unchanged from the Exposition (you can change small texture details if you wish)
This needs to be modified so that it ends on the dominant of the original key (rather than the dominant of the dominant).
The simplest course of action is to bring this back transposed into the dominant, but composers sometimes either change the second subject slightly to make it more concise or use it as an opportunity for some final development. This is more complex if you have first and second subjects in different modes (i.e. major and minor). In such cases you have several choices:
- Change the second subject so it is in the same mode as the first subject
- Start the second subject in its original mode but change it to the same as the first subject at some point
- Keep the second subject in its original mode throughout
This will usually be based on the material from the codetta but is often extended to make a more emphatic close.