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Musical form for one or more instruments, usually consisting of three or four movements. The name, Italian for sounded (on an instrument), originally simply indicated nonvocal music and was used for a confusing variety of genres into the late 17th century. In the 1650s two types of ensemble sonatas began to be codified, the sonata da chiesa (church sonata) and sonata da camera (chamber sonata). The former, intended for church performance, was generally in four movements, two of them slow; the latter was usually a suite of dances. The so-called solo sonata (for soloistusually violinand continuo) and the trio sonata (for two soloists and continuo) became standard. In the 1740s solo keyboard sonatas began to be written. C.P.E. Bach established the three-movement keyboard sonata as the norm, a status it would retain through the classical era. Duo sonatas in the same form, usually for violin and keyboard, simultaneously became highly popular. Keyboard and duo sonatas have remained the standard types to the present day. From Bach's time onward, the first movement was generally in allegro tempo and in sonata form. The second movement was usually slow. The last movement was generally a minuet, rondo, or theme and variations. In a four-movement sonata, the third was usually a minuet or scherzo. In these respects the sonata paralleled genres such as the symphony and the string quartet.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on sonata, visit Britannica.com.