Six sonata first movements to explore

15 April 2021
By Guest Writer
Music educator Nigel Scaife walks us through 6 sonatas worth discovering, complete with some stunning performances

1. Mozart: Sonata in F K332

Straightforward in its form, this movement is a good example for easy analysis of a sonata form structure. The three ideas in the first subject group (bars 1-12, 12-22 and 22-31), each quite different in character, are followed by a bridge passage that is later adapted in the recapitulation.

Enjoy Maria João Pires's performance of the sonata below.



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2. Beethoven: Sonata Op 57 ‘Appassionata’

There’s no exposition repeat in this stormy movement and the development shifts into remote keys. The usual tonic resolution into the recapitulation is harmonically sidestepped and there’s a climax in the coda before its dramatic ending.

Murray Perahia performs 'Appassionata' below. Perahia appears on the cover of issue 69 of Pianist.



3. Schubert: Sonata in B flat D960

One of the longest in Schubert’s sonatas, the sublime first movement has a three-key exposition. It has many of the harmonic, melodic and expressive hallmarks of Schubert’s late style.

Watch Alfred Brendel's performance of the sonata below.



4. Liszt: Sonata in B minor

Structurally complex and endlessly intriguing, this one-movement sonata is a classic of Romantic piano repertoire. The core elements of sonata form are subverted and overlaid with other structures.

Yuja Wang performs this Liszt work below. The Chinese pianist appears on the cover of issue 105 of Pianist.



5. Dutilleux: Sonata

This combines traditional elements of sonata form with a personal language, often ambiguously combining major and minor modes, and a jazz-inflected rhythmic energy.

Enjoy François Killian's performance of this Dutilleux sonata below.



6. Barber: Piano Sonata Op 26

A fast and highly energetic movement which fuses sonata form with compositional techniques such as serialism. It has become a classic of 20th-century piano music.

Yeol Eum Son plays the sonata below. Son appears on the cover of issue 102 of Pianist.


This article is taken from issue 79 of Pianist. Nigel Scaife gives a lesson on Sonata Form in Part 12 of our Understanding Theory series.


About the author:

Nigel Scaife began his musical life as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral. He graduated from the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Yonty Solomon, receiving a Master’s in Performance Studies. He was awarded a doctorate from Oxford University and has subsequently had wide experience as a teacher, performer and writer on music.