Nicholas P. '20
Many music theorists disagree on the properties of sonata form that best capture the practice of Classical period composers. What accounts for the friction and what are the differences between textbook definitions and those espoused by music historians?
For my senior plan, I wanted to do research on the different ways music scholars talked about sonata form and what best captures the practice of Classical period composers. My research question asked what accounts for the friction and differences between textbook definitions of sonata allegro and those espoused by music historians. I also wanted to show what I learned by composing my own first movement on paper and performing it.
At first glance, I would describe my sonata as simple and quite succinct harmonically. However, being the composer, I am able to see its creativity because of sonata form’s loose rules. As per most music theorists, I focused my work on harmonic events. I had a lot of free reign between each change in key, and I appreciate that while I used certain devices, my work is still unique. The idea of harmonic events focuses on four key turning points in the sonata allegro: an establishment of the tonic key, changing to the dominant key, confirming the dominant, and returning “home,” to the tonic. I organized my work in accordance with this structure, my sonata’s principal theme being upbeat and characterized by the G major scale. Broadly analyzed, my piece begins in G major and goes to D major before modulating through minor keys and returning and finishing in G. I tried to borrow as much as I could from past composers to help guide my work, as coming up with melodic and harmonic ideas is quite difficult. To characterize the upbeat nature of a major sonata allegro movement and to establish the key I worked a lot with the Alberti Bass, an alternation of notes in a chord played over two beats. In the development section, I paid homage to Stravinsky by borrowing a chord progression from Le Baiser de la Fé: Scene III.1 that went from A minor to F mixolydian to F# diminished, to which I then took to D major before returning to G (the aforementioned minor keys).
To write the sonata, I used a music app called “Notation Pad.” When I was first starting off, I just wrote a melody and simple chords under them indicating tensions and resolutions; only later on, did I go back and integrate Alberti bass patterns, scales, and arpeggios to make for a more realized sonata. Because of all this quick editing and because the app allowed me to hear the music instantly, I used it to most quickly compose my piece. Composing this sonata has been a very fun and fulfilling experience for me. I am very grateful to Mr. Ferraresi for his mentorship and the time he took to work with me. Admittedly, I found that there is still much I have to learn about sonata form and music theory, but this has been a great start to my career as a composer. I look forward to writing many more pieces in the future and am happy to have focused my senior plan on this.